What’s the Difference Between An Eating Problem and an Eating Disorder?

Do you recognize unhealthy eating habits in your own life? Maybe you are concerned that a friend or family member may have an eating disorder? Getting down to brass tacks, just what is the difference between abnormal eating and developing a full-blown disorder? These are all great questions, and you may think a long, drawn-out answer is needed to explain the differences between an eating disorder and “disordered eating”.

Not so.

Doctor and eating disorder author Laura Collins used to believe that it was all about personal choice. After years of research, she understands that choice has very little to do with it. She states that any of the accepted eating disorders have 2 very clear characteristics:

1 – They fit perfectly into a specific diagnostic category.

2 – They are a mental disorder or illness.

So if you attempt a new diet a couple of times a year, or believe in “good” and “bad” foods, you may not have a problem. You might be an overeater, undereater or “fussy” eater. But unless you have a compulsive mental drive that removes all choice from your eating habits, you probably do not suffer from an eating disorder.

The problem is with the tens of millions of people around the world that have developed a serious eating disorder. Let’s take a look at some common, and not so common, eating disorders, what causes them and how to treat them.

Different Types of Eating Disorders

The “Big 3”

Thanks to global access to information, most people have heard about 3 of the most common eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are considered by many health professionals to be the “big 3” eating disorders. They often make up the 3 most commonly diagnosed problems when a serious eating issue is treated. Let’s take a closer look at these 3 possibly life-threatening conditions that touch so many lives around the world.

1 – Anorexia Nervosa

Commonly known as simply anorexia, this condition is medically described as a loss of appetite for food, which results in an extremely unhealthy body weight and physical characteristics. This is classified in most cases as an emotional disorder. It is usually present with an “obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat”.

This often comes about from an unnatural and distorted image about how a person looks. Someone who is drastically underweight may actually feel they are fat or “disgusting looking”. This causes them to diet constantly, dangerously limiting the amount of food they eat. In many cases, the anorexia nervosa suffer will deny there is a problem.

The anorexic state is achieved by either purging or restricting food. The restricting type of anorexia uses fasting, exercising and extreme calorie restriction to attempt to achieve a never-achievable physical result and mental state. Anorexia by purging uses laxatives, diuretics and vomiting to get rid of food and calories after they are consumed.

2 – Bulimia Nervosa

This is a debilitating eating disorder that actually combines 2 opposite problems. Bulimia is characterized by binge eating and purging. Imagine a mental state where you feel powerless to stop your desire to lose weight, as well as an overwhelming drive to binge eat.

This leads to dangerous mental and emotional feelings for the bulimia sufferer. Affecting women and men of all ages, bulimia causes so many health problems, because your body is constantly overeating and binging. As many as 5,000 calories (2 to 2.5 times the daily requirement for most men and women) can be consumed in a single hour when the bulimia sufferer is binge eating.

A feeling of panic and distress or anxiety almost immediately begins after that eating session is over. The need to “reverse” the binge can lead to unhealthy periods of extreme exercise, vomiting, laxatives and other dangerous cleansing approaches.

3 – Binge Eating Disorder

Every person overeats once in a while. You have skipped a meal, or you are enjoying food that is so tasty you eat too much. This is an absolutely normal condition. However, binge eaters feel compelled to eat for up to 2 hours, sometimes eating and resting for an entire day.

Binge eaters will consume massive amounts of calories even after they feel full. In many cases binge eaters focus on foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates, and low in healthy nutrients and minerals.

The difference between binge eating and bulimia is there is no “clean out” stage in this process. Bulimia sufferers in many cases have an extreme desire to conquer their problems, yet they feel so out of control to do anything about it, as if someone were holding a loaded gun to their head and forcing them to eat.