What Is Disordered Eating?

February 26, 2021

unhappy asian teen is on dieting time looking at broccoli on the fork. girl do not want to eat vegetables and dislike taste of broccoli; blog: What Is Disordered Eating?

Eating Disorder Awareness and Screening Week is recognized at the end of February. It raises awareness about the dangers of eating disorders and disordered eating in both children and adults. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), eating disorders most commonly start in girls between ages 14 and 17 but can be seen in younger children and adolescent boys.

Many people have heard of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. However, there are a number of other different eating disorders that many people struggle with. While it’s not always classified as part of a diagnosed eating disorder, what is referred to as disordered eating can lead to serious help problems.

Disordered Eating

Disordered eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.


Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, or AN, or bulimia nervosa, or BN, are diagnosed according to specific and narrow criteria.

Many individuals with disordered eating symptoms were previously diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or EDNOS. But now the official diagnosis is Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED).

Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorder

The most significant difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is whether or not a person’s symptoms and experiences align with the criteria defined by the American Psychiatric Association. The term “disordered eating” is a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis. 

Thus, while many people who have disordered eating patterns may fit the criteria for EDNOS, it also is possible to have disordered eating patterns that do not fit within the current confines of an eating disorder diagnosis.

Still, eating concerns falling short of a diagnosis deserve attention and treatment as they may turn into more problematic eating disorders and put individuals at risk of serious health problems.

Symptoms of Disordered Eating

Signs and symptoms of OSFED may include, but are not limited to:

  • Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods, or meal skipping 
  • Chronic weight fluctuations
  • Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
  • Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
  • Preoccupation with food, weight, and body image that negatively impacts the quality of life
  • A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
  • Using exercise, food restriction, fasting, or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed

The Risks of  Disordered Eating

Many people who suffer from eating patterns that are considered disordered either minimize or do not fully realize the impact it has on their mental and physical health. This lack of understanding may unnecessarily make disordered eating more harmful.

Detrimental consequences can include a greater risk of obesity and eating disorders, bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, low heart rate, and blood pressure, increased anxiety, depression, and social isolation.

OSFED is a serious health concern that may be difficult to detect since a person with these eating patterns may not display all of the classic symptoms typically identified with eating disorders. It’s important to remember that even a person exhibiting these eating habits and behaviors also may be experiencing significant physical, emotional, and mental stress.

Getting Help

If you think your child or teen may have the signs and symptoms of OSFED or an eating disorder, it’s important to take action as soon as possible. Your child’s doctor can help you get on the right track. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) can help you find resources like dieticians and counselors. They also have helplines available via phone, chat, and text. 

Contact Holly Springs Pediatrics

If you have concerns about your child and their eating patterns and habits, reach out for help as soon as possible and contact their pediatrician. Holly Springs Pediatrics is committed to providing quality care to your kids at all times. That includes being there in uncertain times. We will always prioritize the health and safety of your family. Call our Holly Springs, NC pediatric office at (919) 249-4700 to schedule an appointment or talk to a staff member.