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What's the Difference Between Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders?

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

This post was adapted from episode 3: "What's the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders?" of the Nourished & Free podcast.

Listen to the full episode: What's the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders?

a woman sits at a kitchen table with yellow measuring tape around her eyes while eating, thinking about disordered eating vs eating disorder

Disordered eating vs eating disorder - What is the difference? Are you a 'disordered eater'? How do you know if you have an eating disorder? Read on to find out!

To lay the foundation for this topic, our question can be answered by the following statement:

Everybody with an eating disorder has disordered eating, but not everyone with disordered eating has an eating disorder.

This might seem confusing, which is why I won't stop there when it comes to exploring the differences between disordered eating vs eating disorder.

Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorders: What Are They?

Disordered eating is any abnormal behavior with food. This may lead up to diagnosable eating disorder, but it may not. However, the behaviors are still abnormal and in need of attention.

Eating disorders are a diagnosable illness that can cause serious medical complications. In fact, eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction.


Anything between intuitive eating and an eating disorder is disordered eating.

Another way to put this is that anything between intuitive eating and an eating disorder is disordered eating. Intuitive eating prioritizes honoring our biology, fostering awareness, and living with abounding self-compassion. Once we step outside of that, we are in disordered eating territory.

Let's look into each category a little more in-depth.

Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorder: Different Kinds of Eating Disorders

Awareness of eating disorders is huge in understanding others and ourselves when problems arise. Education on the varying types of eating disorders can help us to know when to get help or encourage others to get help. This awareness is also key when determining the difference between eating disorder and disordered eating.

Therefore, I will list a few common eating disorders below and their key characteristics.

  • Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

This condition is heavily focused on weight loss and food restriction. The individual often sees themselves with a distorted view (body dysmorphia) and the quality of life they are living is greatly impacted. Restriction may be accompanied with binging or purging, excessive exercise, and/or misuse of laxatives.

This condition is not limited to white teenage girls, as we tend to assume. AN can be observed in people of any age, race, gender, etc.

  • Bulimia Nervosa (BN)

BN is marked by cycling through periods of binge eating and compensatory behaviors (self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise).

  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

The most common disorder, BED is diagnosed in individuals who have recurrent episodes of eating large quantities without compensatory behaviors. When it comes to disordered eating vs eating disorders, binge eating disorder is a common area of confusion. While many people who struggle with binge eating may not think they have an eating disorder, in many cases they actually do.

  • Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED)

A variety of eating disorders that are medically significant, but do not meet traditional criteria for the most common feeding and eating disorders. For example:

Atypical Anorexia Nervosa

AN without the typical criteria for weight being met.

Purging Disorder

Recurrent purging to influence weight/shape without the presence of binge-eating.


Obsession about clean eating or having the perfect ingredient list (note: this is not officially recognized in the DSM-5, but is becoming well known in the ED community).

For more eating disorders and their characteristics,

listen to Episode 3 of the Nourished & Free podcast!

What is Disordered Eating?

Are eating disorders and disordered eating the same thing? No, not exactly.

Disordered eating is very common. Engaging in abnormal behaviors with food or obsessive thoughts around food and the body is fairly disordered, but we don't realize it because it's a normal part of this ridiculous health-obsessed culture.

You are a disordered eater if you engage in dieting for any reason outside of medical necessity. For example, you're on the Mediterranean diet with no heart issues, or doing keto but you're not a child with epilepsy, or gluten-free with no evidence of celiac disease.

a woman wears a denim jacket and sits with her hands folded in her lap

When To Get Help for an Eating Disorder

If there's ever a feeling of guilt or shame with eating, we have an issue.

If there's ever a feeling of guilt or shame with eating, we have an issue. You don't need to feel that way about eating. Eating is a right of passage. If you're a human being, food is a part of our basic needs-- there should be absolutely no guilt or shame with it.

No matter whether you have disordered eating vs eating disorder, if you're struggling with disordered eating in any capacity it is worth getting help for. Contact your provider immediately if you think you may have an eating disorder.

Your body needs nutrition, and your body needs nutrients.

It's literally how we're designed to live.

A restrictive mindset and/or behaviors with food need to be healed. Let me help you in that journey! Explore my eating disorder treatment services and my binge eating group coaching program.

Listen to the Nourished & Free Intuitive Eating Podcast below! ⬇️

Episode 3: What's the Difference Between Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders?

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