A quick glance of health and beauty advice columns reveals something interesting: many people are confused about the difference between dieting and disordered eating. It isn’t surprising, as some behaviors are common to both. But there are also some important differences.
Someone who’s on a diet is typically focused on more than just weight loss. While losing weight may be one of the goals, it isn’t the only one. Dieters may want to become more physically fit, improving muscle tone or their cardiovascular health. They may want to cut back on junk food and start eating better. A healthy diet is typically the precursor to a healthier overall lifestyle.
On the other hand, someone who struggles with an eating disorder is focused only on weight loss and physical appearance. Nothing matters except the numbers on the scale and the image in the mirror. And the disordered eaters’ perception of both is skewed. They may be severely underweight, but when they look in the mirror, they see a fat person looking back at them. It doesn’t matter what their friends say, or even what a doctor tells them. They are so obsessed with weight that they are always trying to lose more.
A healthy diet consists not just of changes in eating habits, but changes in physical activity as well. Exercise is built into a person’s schedule to aid with weight loss and to improve physical fitness. People on a diet will exercise regularly, but not obsessively, and never if they are injured.
Not everyone who has an eating disorder exercises, but those who do are obsessive about it. They often exercise for hours each day, trying to rid themselves of every calorie they’ve consumed. They will even exercise when they’re injured, sick or exhausted.
People who are on a healthy diet will change what they are eating. They will eat less junk food, and more fruits and vegetables.
But people with eating disorders will place severe restrictions on their food intake. They won’t just cut out junk food; they may refuse to eat fruits that contain too much sugar, or drink nothing but water.
Ultimately, eating disorders aren’t fueled by desires to be healthier or more attractive. They stem from a desire for control, extremely low self-esteem or issues related to perfectionism. If you or someone who know has an eating disorder, seek help right away, either through therapy or a residential treatment program specializing in eating disorders. Eating disorders can be life-threatening if left untreated.
- By Stephanie Hamilton