Is it an Eating Disorder, or Just a Diet?

nutrition mental health

Imagine this scenario: a dear friend or family member is losing copious weight, has lost all interest in food, and makes comments on their appearance and what they consider to be their ‘problem areas’.  You suspect that they have an eating disorder, and recommend they see a counselor to treat their eating disorder.  However, when you confront them they’re angry, defensive, and say they’re simply dieting and ‘getting in shape’.

Are you wrong to be concerned?  Were you mistaken in assuming that your loved one is suffering and needs treatment for an eating disorder?

Having an eating disorder is much more than just being on a diet. An eating disorder is an illness that permeates all aspects of each sufferer’s life, is caused by a variety of emotional factors and influences, and has profound effects on the people suffering and their loved ones.  The differences are vast, and yet it does take a skilled eating disorder counselor to determine if the behavior is actually stemming from a harmful place – you can’t tell by the amount of weight lost if the individual is actually suffering from an eating disorder or not, and must instead consider their attitude toward their body image and food.

Dieting is characterized by losing a little bit of weight in a healthy way. Eating Disorders are about trying to make your whole life better through food and eating (or lack of).
Dieting is based on the premise of doing something healthy for yourself. Eating Disorders are about seeking approval and acceptance from everyone through attention.
Dieting is about losing a bit of weight and doing it healthfully. Eating Disorders are about how life won’t be good until a bit (or a lot) of weight is lost, and there’s no concern for what kind of damage you do to yourself to get there.
Dieting is about losing some weight in a healthy way so how you feel on the outside will match how good you already feel on the inside. Eating Disorders are about being convinced that your whole self-esteem is hinged on what you weigh and how you look.
Dieting is about attempting to control your weight a bit better. Eating Disorders are about attempting to control your life and emotions through food/lack of food — and are a huge neon sign saying “look how out of control I really feel”
Dieting is about losing some weight. Eating Disorders are about everything going on in life — stress, coping, pain, anger, acceptance, validation, confusion, fear — cleverly (or not so cleverly) hidden behind phrases like “I’m just on a diet”.
Dieters focus on healthy food choices Those suffering from eating disorders focus on food intake reduction or elimination

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, we have the knowledge and resources available in order to provide the help needed to get better.