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Humans have a complex relationship with food. Not only is it vital for sustenance, but food influences our lives in ways that go beyond nutrition — we eat when we’re happy, we eat when we’re sad, and we eat to commemorate certain holidays or occasions. For many, it can be hard to disentangle food from our emotions or self-esteem, which can lead to unhealthy eating habits that can undermine our health and wellness.

Sometimes, unhealthy food habits can lead to a toxic relationship with food, especially in a culture that is preoccupied with weight and body image. There’s pressure to look or feel a certain way, and the stress can trigger disordered eating patterns such as binging on junk food or constant dieting. Those who have experienced trauma may also be looking for ways to regain a sense of control or numb the pain, and use food to achieve these goals.

At The Guest House, we understand the complicated relationship we have with food and how disordered eating habits can develop as a way to cope with difficult feelings or emotions. If your relationship with food has begun to negatively impact your life, we can help you develop healthier eating habits with comprehensive care that nourishes your body, mind and soul for lasting recovery.

What is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating happens when our relationship with food becomes dysfunctional. In addition to close ties with mood, health and culture, food is also linked to body image and self-esteem. Overeating or an unhealthy diet can lead to obesity or weight gain, while extreme dieting or food restriction can lead to severe weight loss that is detrimental to bodily processes. In both cases, many are left feeling ashamed of their figure and food choices. This sense of shame is often reinforced by the media, which depicts a narrow standard of beauty for men and women that is, in reality, impossible to achieve. Through a combination of internal and external pressures, our relationship with food can become tarnished and result in an unhealthy preoccupation that can lead to problematic behaviors such as binge eating, yo-yo dieting and strict fasting.

While making smart food choices, limiting junk food and practicing self-control can be a good thing, disordered eating warps these otherwise healthy behaviors and turns food into an enemy. In extreme cases, disordered eating can lead to an eating disorder that severely impacts both mental and physical health, with long-term effects that include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, hormonal imbalance, decreased organ function and more. Factors such as trauma can increase this risk. Some types of disordered eating and eating disorders include:

If you or someone you care about is struggling with disordered eating, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Disordered eating can lead to a more severe diagnosis if left untreated, but it is possible to restore a healthy relationship with food before it reaches this point. Signs that disordered eating is progressing include dramatic weight loss, food aversion, compulsive dieting, food-related guilt or depression, overexercising and an alarming preoccupation with body shape or size.

How Do I Know if I Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Food?

Due to our culture’s obsession with body weight, shape and size, disordered eating has become fairly common. In the United States, some research shows that more than half the population demonstrates disordered eating behaviors, but the clinical occurrence of eating disorders is much lower. Although disordered eating doesn’t meet the criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis, unhealthy or compulsive food-related behaviors are harmful to our mental and physical health and can become more serious if not managed properly.

Signs of disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food vary from person to person but may include constant dieting, binge eating or using food to cope with difficult emotions. Ask yourself the following questions, and if the answer is “yes,” you may exhibit disordered eating patterns that are harmful to your health and well-being.

  • Do you eat mindlessly?
  • Do you turn to food for comfort?
  • Do you use food as a reward or withhold it as punishment?
  • Do you restrict or avoid certain food groups?
  • Do you obsessively count calories?
  • Do weight concerns dominate your eating habits?

In many cases, those with a disordered eating problem may also feel their self-worth is based on their body shape or size and experience guilt after eating. This can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or body dysmorphic disorder, conditions that are closely related to disordered eating and the development of eating disorders. With the right treatment, however, you can develop good eating habits and repair your relationship with food for a happy, healthy life free from dieting, binge eating or calorie counting.

Disordered Eating Treatment at The Guest House

Disordered eating can lead to a dangerous cycle of weight loss or gain, poor mental health and a dysfunctional relationship with food that impacts every facet of your life. Constant dieting, overeating, or using food to cope with pain or trauma is detrimental to your health and wellness, and could lead to the onset of a clinical eating disorder in some people if left unchecked. At The Guest House, our goal is to reverse the adverse effects of disordered eating and restore a wholesome relationship with food so you can begin to eat and live healthy again. We do this by identifying the cause of your disordered eating and helping you learn new coping skills so you can process intense emotions in a healthy way, eat with good intentions and let go of the need to assert control through food. Some of the techniques we use include:

We also understand that disordered eating may stem from unresolved trauma. Traumatic events such as sexual, emotional and physical abuse can negatively impact body image and self-esteem, and controlling food intake may be a way to deal with difficult emotions, regain a sense of power, fill a void or purge unwanted memories. As a treatment center that specializes in trauma-oriented care, we can help resolve any underlying trauma that may contribute to disordered eating and restore your mental, physical and emotional health for deep and lasting recovery.