Disordered eating

Topic Progress:

Disordered eating is defined as “a wide range of irregular eating behaviours that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder”. Thus, disordered eating differs from an eating disorder in the severity and frequency of behaviours. Disordered eating is a moderate risk factor for relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). 11

Warning signs of disordered eating may include the following:

  • Loss or disturbance of menstrual periods;
  • Signs of frequent vomiting – swollen cheeks/jawline, calluses on knuckles or damage to teeth;
  • Constant or repetitive dieting (e.g. counting calories/kilojoules, skipping meals, fasting, avoidance of certain food groups or types such as meat or dairy, replacing meals with fluids);
  • Evidence of binge eating (e.g. disappearance of large amounts of food from the cupboard or fridge, sweet wrappers appearing in the bin, hoarding of food in preparation for bingeing);
  • Evidence of vomiting or laxative abuse (e.g. frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals);
  • Over-exercising to make up for food eaten;
  • Frequent avoidance of eating meals by giving excuses (e.g. claiming they have already eaten or have an intolerance/allergy to particular foods, denial of hunger;
  • Deceptive behaviour around food, such as secretly throwing food out, eating in secret (often only noticed due to many wrappers or food containers found in the bin) or lying about amount or type of food consumed;
  • Increased preoccupation with body shape, weight and appearance;
  • Intense fear of gaining weight;
  • Extreme body dissatisfaction/negative body image.
RED-S and some of the issues relating to the diagnosis and treatment of disordered eating are considered in more detail in the “Female athlete” module.

Dr Mark Fulcher

Sport and Exercise Physician