What is disordered eating? Interview with Dr. Tognozzi

What is disordered eating? | UPMC Italy

What is disordered eating and how does it differ from eating disorders?

Today with Dr. Deborah Tognozzi, nutrition biologist at UPMC Salvator Mundi International Hospital, we talk about an important and often underestimated topic.

Doctor, what is disordered eating?

By disordered eating we mean a series of unhealthy behaviors related to the way food is taken in terms of both quantity and frequency. Disordered eating does not represent an overt eating disorder or eating behavior disorder, but refers to erroneous eating behaviors that may cause distress and impair social or work function. Such behaviors could become health-threatening, but a disordered eating pattern does not represent a definite future eating disorder. Unlike eating disorders, which must meet specific criteria, disordered eating itself is not a diagnosis.

What are the most common warning signs of disordered eating?

A person with "disordered eating" eats or fasts regardless of feeling hungry or full.

The most common warning signs of disordered eating include:

  • Going on extreme diets.
  • Following the diet in an oscillating manner ("yo-yo dieting").
  • Experiencing anxiety associated with specific foods.
  • Skipping meals.
  • Undergoing chronic weight fluctuations.
  • Adopting strict routines and rituals related to food and exercise.
  • Experiencing shame and guilt after eating.
  • Having a fixation on food, weight, caloric intake or body image that negatively affects quality of life, and potentially even health.
  • Feeling a loss of control when eating, including compulsive eating behaviors or binge eating.
  • Use exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging (such as self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives) to compensate for eating large amounts of food or less nutritious foods.
  • Use weight loss pills, laxatives or diuretics.

What are the dangers associated with disordered eating?

If disordered eating is untreated, it can increase the risk of physical health problems, such as loss of bone mass, gastrointestinal problems, electrolyte and water imbalances, even to the point of negatively affecting blood pressure and the heart. It can also lead to mental distress, states of anxiety and depression, and social isolation. Most importantly, underestimated disordered eating can over time develop into a full-blown eating disorder.

What is the cause of disordered eating?

There is no specific cause for disordered eating, but some people are more at risk. Risk factors include biological, psychological, and sociocultural aspects such as age, gender, mental disorders, genetics, social pressure, discrimination based on weight, and body shape.

When is the time to seek help?

Recall that the two parameters to watch for are the frequency and severity with which disordered eating episodes occur. When one or both indicators increase, it is necessary to seek professional help. Evidence-based interventions for unhealthy eating behaviors can improve health, relationship with food, weight, and quality of life. Disordered eating can thus be a warning sign of dysfunctional eating behavior that can be, as mentioned, a precursor to a future eating disorder diagnosis.

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