The Difference Between an Eating Disorder and Dieting

Eating disorders are a group of serious illnesses that involve obsessions with body weight, size or shape. Approximately 30 million people in the United States are diagnosed with an eating disorder.1

Eating disorders can be fatal if not treated properly. These group of disorders has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The most common eating disorders are a binge-eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa.1

In today’s society, dieting is very common. Two out of three adults are either obese or overweight. 2 With so many people struggling with weight issues, dieting is a norm. In fact, in a recent survey, 80 percent of millennials said that their New Year’s resolutions involved losing weight or exercising more to be healthier. 3

Eating disorders involve some of the same behaviors that you’d see in dieting — monitoring weight, restricting food and counting calories. Some eating disorders even involve excessive exercise.

Research shows that dieting can progress to an eating disorder. In fact, 35 percent of people who occasionally diet progress to the point that they become pathological dieters. Among those people, 25 percent do develop an eating disorder.4

It can be hard to tell when one’s dieting has progressed to the point that it would be considered an eating disorder. However, there are clear differences between a diet and an eating disorder. The effects of an eating disorder are more severe and carry more consequences than a diet. Here are some common signs of an eating disorder.

#1 Skewed Body Image

One sign of an eating disorder is a persistent disturbance in body image. A person with anorexia nervosa, for instance, may be severely underweight and have visible ribs showing — yet believe that they are appear overweight. Even though everyone else around them can see that they are underweight, they don’t see it. They only see a person who needs to lose more weight.5

#2 Intense Shame And Guilt

Everyone who is on a diet will fall off the wagon from time to time. Most people don’t despair too much when they experience setback and eat more than they wanted to. However, someone with an eating disorder will feel extreme shame and guilt when they eat too much. For example, a person with a binge eating disorder will eat an excessive amount of food in a short time and then feel extremely disgusted with themselves afterward. They might even engage in self-harm as “punishment’ for binging. 6 If you or a loved one engages in this behavior, it is important to seek binge eating disorder therapy right away, from a facility like Oliver Pyatt which stresses shame-free but truthful treatment.

#3 Extremely Unhealthy Goals

When someone is dieting, they might have a specific goal like “I want to lose 30 pounds,” or “I want to decrease my body fat to 20 percent.” However, when a person has an eating disorder, their goal might be: “I want to clearly see every one of my ribs,” for example. If someone with an eating disorder does reach their goal weight —100 pounds for example — it won’t be enough. Then, the person will want to lose just ten more pounds and then ten more.

Eating disorders are not a choice. They cannot be controlled like dieting. So, if you believe that you or someone you know might have an eating disorder, seek treatment right away. Anorexia nervosa and binge eating treatment centers can make a recovery from binge eating disorder and other eating disorders possible.

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