An explanation of normal eating and disordered eating for parents and carers
What is “normal” eating?
Normal eating is flexible.
It varies in response to your emotions, schedule, hunger and proximity to food.
- Being able to eat when you’re hungry and continue eating until you are satisfied.
- Being able to choose food you like, eat enough of it, and not just stop eating because you think you should.
- Overeating and undereating at times
- Giving yourself permission to eat all foods
- Giving permission to eat something because you want it, feel happy, sad or bored
- Eating a varied range of foods to meet all nutrient needs
- Eating socially and flexibly
- Eating with minimal guilt
A variety of abnormal eating behaviours that, by themselves, do not warrant diagnosis of an eating disorder. However, disordered eating behaviours, and in particular dieting are the most common indicators for the development of an eating disorder.
Signs and symptoms of disordered eating may include, but are not limited to:
- Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
- Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
- Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight and body image
- A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
- Using exercise, food restriction, fasting
Signs of young person potentially struggling with their body image or with eating normally
- Noticeable weight loss/weight gain in short time frame
- Sudden change to physical appearance (hair, clothes, make-up). Baggy clothing or avoidance of tight clothing
- Significant increase in exercise from usual
- Increased illness
- Increased injuries
- Increased fatigue
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Exercising alone with inability to miss a day or breakfrom routine
- Skipping meals
- Increased dieting
- Increased language focused on weight or shape – ‘I can’teat that as it will make me fat’, ‘those foods are bad’
- Secret eating (empty food packets noticed)
- Regular dieting
- Increased focus on eating only ‘health foods’, avoiding specific foods or food groups thought to be ‘unhealthy’
- Decrease in mood
- Notable changes in personality e.g. Increased withdrawal
- Increased anxiety or stress (in particular around eating or social situations)
- Following of pro diet culture social media accounts
- Avoidance of social settings
- Avoidance of eating in front of others