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Since disordered eating is not only normalized but often praised in our culture, it can be very difficult to recognize when your relationship with food is unhealthy.

In my own story, this was certainly the case. Everyone praised me for my “discipline” when I brought my Tupperware of salad to high school instead of going out for bagels with my friends. 

“She’s so into healthy eating and cooking,” my family members would say when they described me.

Of course, what they didn’t see was the out of control binges, the constant stress and anxiety about food, and the crippling shame I experienced when I perceived myself as being “bad” or “off plan.” 

It wasn’t until my freshman year of college when I learned about intuitive eating in my dietetics classes where I actually recognized that I was struggling with my relationship with food.

Part of why it took me so long to see and validate my own struggles with food was because I didn’t meet the stereotype of an eating disorder that I’d heard about in the media. 

I was not making myself vomit, I wasn’t losing weight rapidly, my body didn’t appear emaciated, and though the quality of my life was suffering, I was still functioning day to day. 

What I know now, as an intuitive eating dietitian, is that so many people with disordered eating fall through the cracks because they don’t meet the stereotypical image of a person who is struggling with an eating disorder. 

The reality is, you can have a disordered relationship with food without having a diagnosed eating disorder. In fact, this is the case for many of the clients who I see.

If your relationship with food and your body is impacting the quality of your life– if it’s causing you stress, anxiety, and shame–  you deserve healing.

Here are some of the– often sneaky– ways I’ve seen disordered eating show up in my work with clients and in my personal story.

Trigger warning: explicit disordered eating behaviors are discussed below. It may feel difficult to read through these depending on where you’re at on you’re healing journey. 

1.) You find yourself overly interested in what others are eating and/or how they are working out

This is a sign that you’re not secure in your relationship with food and body. When you have a healthy relationship with food and body, you don’t feel the need to compare your lifestyle choices to others because you trust that you’re doing what’s right for you in any given moment.

2.) You tend to mentally audit the foods you ate throughout the day

I call this one “rolling the tapes.” If you feel the need to “check” what you ate throughout the day, this is a sign that you don’t trust your body to govern your eating. It’s also a sign that you you still have rules about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods — hence, you feel the need to audit to determine if you were ‘good’ or ‘bad’

3.) You feel a little excited when you’re sick and lose your appetite, thinking it might help you lose weight

This thought (which you are not alone in thinking) is a sign that your desire to shrink yourself has become so prominent that you would literally be willing to trade your health for thinness. This is, for obvious reasons, disordered.

4.) You feel like the day is ruined if you eat a “bad” or “off-limits” food

This is a sign of all-or-nothing mentality which is a hallmark of diet-mindset. As an intuitive eater, no single food has the power to “ruin” your day. Food is just food. You eat the things that feel good for you and move on without spiraling into this black and white thinking.

5.) Going on a trip gives you anxiety because you fear you won’t have access to safe foods or enough time to workout

Lack of flexibility is another tell-tale sign of disordered eating. If your relationship with food and exercise is impacting your ability to be present on trips when you are away from your normal routine, it’s time to reevaluate.

6.) You feel like you didn’t “earn” a shower unless you sweat before

These types of harsh self-imposed rules are often indicators of a highly critical, shame-based relationship with food and body. You do not have to “earn” a shower by sweating. You are worthy of basic hygiene regardless of whether or not you worked out.

7.) You feel out of control around food at restaurants, social events, and holidays

This is an indicator that you’re likely (consciously or unconsciously) restricting certain types of foods.Then, when you’re around these forbidden foods at special events or social outings, your brain is like “we have to gorge ourselves now while we have the chance before this food is restricted again.”

Final Thoughts

The above outlined signs are certainly not the only indicators of disordered eating, but they are some of the most common ones I see in my practice as an intuitive eating dietitian. If reading this piece is leading you to the realization that you or a loved one is strulggling with disordered eating, I have so much compassion for you, and I hope you can have some compassion for yourself.

Struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder is not your fault. In our diet-obsessed, wellness-crazed, weight-focused culture, navigating food and body image can be so difficult.

If you’re looking for more support on your intuitive eating journey, I’d love to invite you to apply to my signature 1:1 coaching program, The Embodied Method. 

This program has helped dozens of humans heal from disordered eating and body hate. Questions about the program? Email me at leah@leahkernrd.com, I’d love to hear from you.

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