Diet or Disorder?

Many people start dieting in their teenage years as they become more aware of their self image, and body image. Extreme dieting can lead to eating disorders. Keep reading to learn the difference in diet or disorder when it comes to diet, body image, eating habits, and exercise.

It is very common to want to lose weight. In fact, there are many people who are dissatisfied with their bodies, and who want to lose weight. However, it is important to understand the difference between a diet and an eating disorder. Some of the behaviors seen with dieting can bear a resemblance to an eating disorder. It is also important to recognize when someone has crossed the line from healthy dieting to a disorder that could be dangerous to health.

Below is a discussion about dieting and disorders, and the key differences between the two:

 Diet or Disorder? - Losing weight

Diets and disorders are both marked by a desire to lose weight. But that desire is manifest in different ways, depending on whether a diet or disorder is at the root of the desire.

Diet: Someone who is on a healthy diet has other goals beyond just losing weight. She or he should also be concerned about a healthier lifestyle. Concerns such as bringing down cholesterol, improving one’s shape, or a desire to reduce the amount of junk food they are eating marks out dieters. These are people whose goal to lose weight is about more than just appearance; a healthy diet is about making a lifestyle change.

Disorder: With a disorder, weight loss is the only goal. The motivating factor is to just lose weight. There may not even be a goal weight in mind. Someone with a disorder is obsessed with physical appearance and convinced that he or she must be skinnier in order to be attractive. It doesn’t matter how much weight has been lost already; someone with an eating disorder always sees someone who needs to lose more.

Diet or Disorder? -  Body image

The way someone views her or his body can be an indication of dieting or an eating disorder.

Diet: A dieter may not be happy with the way he or she looks, but still generally understands that it is important to be content with the body. There is not really an element of self-loathing. Healthy dieting carries with an implication that you want the body to healthy, and you are generally pleased at positive changes happening.

Disorder: Someone with an eating disorder hates the way his or her body looks. The body image is unrealistically distorted to the point where no matter how much weight is lost, the person still considers her or himself “fat”. There is no sense of accomplishment in small victories - only the obsession to remake the body.

Diet or Disorder? - Eating habits

The way people eat can reveal whether they are on a healthy diet, or whether an eating disorder is a problem.

Diet: Dieters practice portion control, trying to reduce how much they eat to an actual serving, and reducing their intake of sweets and other junk food. But they also increase the amount of fruits and vegetables they are eating. Additionally, they occasionally have a treat.

Disorder: When someone has an eating disorder, he or she refuses to eat when possible. Or, if she or he does eat something, it is followed by a purging session, or by strenuous exercise. Someone who has an eating disorder may also avoid fruits because they “have too many sugar calories.” Someone with an eating disorder may also feel shame or self-loathing after eating.

Diet or Disorder? - Exercise

Dieters and those with disorders all usually exercise. However, there are some differences in the way exercise is handled.

Diet: With a dieter, exercise is part of the process. A dieter tries to exercise regularly, and build physical activity into the schedule. This is done to aid in weight loss, as well as to increase one’s fitness. However, a dieter has days when he or she does not exercise, due to lack of motivation, illness or injury.

Disorder: Exercise is a means to an end, used to burn off everything eaten during the day. There is an obsession with exercising, going beyond just exercising for 30 to 60 minutes, to going for hours. Additionally, someone with an eating disorder often exercises obsessively, doing so even when injured or sick. This can even lead to a compulsive exercise disorder.

Bottom line - Diet or Disorder?

Dieting carries with it an implication that there is a goal, and that goal is about more than just being skinnier. Those goals may be to reach and maintain a certain healthy weight, improve one’s fitness, eat better and improve one’s lifestyle. An eating disorder, on the other hand, does not include additional motivations. It’s not about being healthy or even necessarily about being attractive. It’s about trying to reach some perfect ideal that is usually unattainable.

Related Article: Myths About Eating Disorders >>