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What Causes Disordered Eating?

It is not uncommon for people to experience complicated relationships with food. Oftentimes, eating disorders and/or disordered eating are associated with purging or starvation. However, these experiences are very complex and vary between clients. Eating habits vary across clients and, regardless of the relationship with food, all eating disorders and disordered eating habits are valid. It is important to gain an understanding of the difference and relationship between disordered eating and eating disorders. There are differences in what causes disordered eating, and understanding these root causes is also important for the healing process.

Healing is a very complex journey, and redirecting one’s relationship with food can be tasking. However, The Guest House is here to offer guidance, support, and services to encourage healthy relationships with food. Coping with eating disorders or disordered eating does not need to be lifelong and there are ways to overcome them. Root causes, such as stress, depression, and other mental health disorders, may be underlying disordered eating. This is why working alongside professionals to identify root causes is crucial to the healing process of any condition. Every client is different, and with The Guest House’s help, this process becomes less daunting and stressful.

When seeking treatment for eating disorders or disordered eating, taking the time to learn about oneself is equally as important as understanding the logistics of the two and how the two exist in different ways. Unhealthy eating habits are not lifestyle choices and are very dangerous. Regardless of how “healthy” one looks, an underlying eating disorder can cause major problems to mental and physical health alike. Seeking treatment and beginning the healing journey is the first step of recovery from eating disorders and/or disordered eating.

What Is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating stems from a culture obsessed with weight and body image, which is detrimental to vulnerable, young minds. This fixation on one’s physical appearance creates unhealthy eating habits in order to achieve this physicality. However, everyone’s body is different, and one’s optimal health looks completely different from another person’s. There is pressure to look a certain way, leading to stress. Constant dieting, trying fad diets, or turning to food as a mental-emotional coping mechanism are all examples of disordered eating. In addition, fasting, restricted eating, yo-yo dieting, laxative or diuretic use, meal skipping, and emotional eating are also signs that indicate potential disordered eating.

Further, eating habits and relationships with food often become dysfunctional, and this is often closely associated with mood, health, culture, body image, and self-esteem. Mainstream media portrays “ideal” physical appearances, and this can have severely negative effects on the general public. Men and women alike have beauty standards that can greatly affect their eating habits. Severe weight loss or weight gain are among the most common signs of disordered eating habits.

Disordered eating can limit one from a happy, healthy life. Other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphic disorder can form due to these unhealthy eating habits as well. Specific signs of disorder eating, aside from tracking one’s eating habits on the dietary level, can include:

  • Mindlessly eating
  • Turning to food for comfort
  • Using food as a reward
  • Restricting food as a punishment
  • Avoiding certain food groups
  • Obsessively counting calories
  • Letting one’s weight determine eating habits
  • Experiencing food-related guilt or depression
  • Overexercising
  • Hyperfixating on body shape, size, and/or weight

Seeking treatment for disordered eating is important, as creating a healthy relationship with food helps one create a healthy, happy life without feeling restricted by eating.

Relationship Between Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders

Disordered eating and eating disorders are different. An unhealthy relationship with food does not necessarily meet the clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder; however, disordered eating can turn into an eating disorder.

Different Types of Eating Disorders

There are a number of eating disorders. At the Guest House, we treat the following eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder (BED)
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
  • Purging disorder

Both mental and physical health are drastically affected by eating disorders. Eating disorders can lead to long-term consequences, including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, hormonal imbalances, and decreased organ functioning among others. Mentally, clients may experience depression, anxiety, self-harm, or other suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Anorexia Nervosa

Two separate categories, restrictive and binge-purge, highlight the two types of anorexia nervosa. Restrictive anorexia nervosa occurs when one severely limits the amount of food they consume. Binge-purge, on the other hand, occurs when the client restricts their food consumption, has purging episodes where they eat large amounts of food in a short period of time, and then proceeds to vomit or use laxatives/diuretics to empty their system of food that was consumed. Continuous weighing or seeing oneself as overweight when severely underweight are signs of anorexia nervosa.

In addition, other signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Extreme restrictive eating and/or thinness
  • Pursuing thinness to the extent of refusing to maintain one’s normal, healthy weight
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image and self-esteem issues
  • Bone thinning (i.e. osteoporosis)
  • Mild anemia, muscle wasting, and weakness
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry, yellowish skin
  • Constipation
  • Slow breathing and pulse, low blood pressure
  • Brain damage
  • Body temperature drops, feeling cold all the time
  • Infertility

Bulimia Nervosa

Recurrent and frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food while feeling out of control define bulimia nervosa disorder. After this period of binging, one often forces vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, and/or excessively exercising. Bulimia nervosa symptoms and signs may include:

  • Inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw
  • Worn tooth enamel, sensitive or decaying teeth
  • Acid reflux or other gastrointestinal problems
  • Intestinal distress and irritation
  • Dehydration and purging fluids
  • Electrolyte imbalance

Binge-Eating Disorder

When one experiences a loss of control over eating and eats large amounts of food, this is known as a binge-eating disorder. The one difference between binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa disorder is that binge eating does not result in the client purging, exercising, or fasting. Clients are often overweight or obese due to their binge-eating disorder. Signs and symptoms of binge-eating disorder are:

  • Consuming large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
  • Eating even when full or not hungry
  • Fast eating during a binge episode
  • Eating to the point of being uncomfortably full
  • Being alone or in secret to eat to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distress, shame, or guilt
  • Frequent dieting


This disorder was previously known as selective eating disorder, where clients limit the amount of food they consume or limit the food groups they consume. It is often referred to as “picky eating” becoming worse. A distorted body image and/or extreme fear of gaining weight are not present in ARFID. In children when ARFID exists, the child does not consume enough calories to develop properly. For adults with ARFID, the lack of calorie consumption can interfere with basic body function. Signs and symptoms of ARFIRD include:

  • Dramatic restriction of certain types/amounts of food eaten
  • Lack of appetite or interest in food
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Stomach issues
  • Limited range of preferred foods

Healing from eating disorders or disordered eating starts with obtaining knowledge about what the disorders are as well as what causes unhealthy eating habits. This baseline of understanding allows clients to blossom in their recovery and heal fully from the disorder or destructive habits at hand.

Misconceptions About What Causes Disordered Eating

There are many misconceptions or myths about what causes disordered eating. The main misconception is that disordered eating is a matter of choice, lifestyle, or a phase. Eating disorders and disordered eating are not active choices that come from a place of mental well-being. Clients experiencing disordered eating are often deep into their eating habits where they feel as if they cannot stop. Disordered eating habits should also not be considered to be a healthy lifestyle choice as these habits can lead to very detrimental effects.

Another misconception is that disordered eating exists as a way for the person to gain attention. When disordered eating or eating disorders are present, clients often struggle with self-esteem or body image issues to the extent of getting caught up in their eating habits. Some also believe that those at normal body weight or who appear thin and “fit” do not have eating disorders. On the other side, some may believe that those who appear to be overweight do not have However, this is a dangerous notion to have as anyone – regardless of weight or physical appearance – can have an eating disorder.

A final misconception regarding disordered eating is that recovery is based on eating more or eating less. However, eating disorders and disordered eating are very complex and have deep-rooted factors that go beyond the act of eating. Food often becomes a comfort or, on the other hand, becomes something like an enemy. Healing and recovery begin with understanding what causes disordered eating and learning how to navigate healing from these underlying issues.

Realities About What Causes Disordered Eating

Disordered eating and eating disorders may be caused by genetics, hormones, social/cultural factors, biology, or trauma,  depending on the client. Family history, mental health issues, stress, and a history of bullying are all factors that can influence the development of disordered eating or eating disorders as well. Every client is different, meaning each person’s experience with their eating habits is unique to them. In treatment, clients need to develop an understanding of their eating disorder or disordered eating to heal properly.. These underlying causes are vital in achieving whole-person healing.

For instance, clients who have experienced trauma, including sexual abuse or physical and emotional abuse, may have difficulty time coping with these powerful emotions. They often lose sight of themselves and lose control over their lives, such as with their eating habits. Food intake may be a coping mechanism they use to fill a void or feel like they have control.

By taking the time to gain a full understanding of what causes disordered eating or eating disorders, clients can begin to regain control over their lives and eating habits. The Guest House works to help clients find healing, delving into what causes disordered eating.

Finding Healing for What Causes Disordered Eating at The Guest House

Restoring a healthy and wholesome relationship with food is The Guest House’s priority when it comes to treating clients with eating disorders and/or disordered eating habits. For clients struggling with eating habits due to using food as a coping mechanism, the team at The Guest House helps them learn and practice new, healthy coping mechanisms. By processing emotions and learning to eat with good intentions, clients regain control over their eating habits and food intake.

The following services at The Guest House are offered for clients coping with disordered eating/eating disorders:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Breathwork practice
  • Mental health treatment
  • Trauma-specified care
  • Experiential therapies
  • Nutritional wellness

A combination of holistic, experiential, and clinical care is important for clients with disordered eating or eating disorders. Clients are able to heal all elements of their dysfunctional eating, from the root causes to the surfacing effects. This includes the mental-emotional aspects of their eating habits. Rather than treat the surface-level effects or symptoms, clients are able to heal fully with The Guest House.

Individual Therapy for Disordered Eating at the Guest House

The Guest House offers multiple therapies for clients to participate in. Individual therapy is one of the clinical options that involves the client speaking about experiences they avoid openly discussing. There are often overwhelming feelings of anxiety or guilt associated with one’s eating habits, and this avoidance of speaking about eating habits is normal. The Guest House pairs clients with therapists whose expertise is best suited to their background and needs. Clients can explore emotional and mental difficulties they have experienced in order to discover new strategies and coping mechanisms for a healthier life.

For clients coping with disordered eating or eating disorders, they learn healthy coping mechanisms and how to express their destructive eating habits verbally. This is a nonjudgmental and completely safe place for clients to open up and be vulnerable about their experiences with food. Disorders are very complex, and the staff at The Guest House is here to listen and guide one towards a healthy, happy life. The staff understands that every client is different and that their needs and progress through recovery will look entirely different from other clients. Healing is a personal journey, and The Guest House works to help clients rediscover control in their lives and healthy coping mechanisms for optimal health.

Meditation and Mindfulness for What Causes Disordered Eating at the Guest House

This program at The Guest House works to help clients calm their body and mind. Practicing meditation can help decrease health risks, such as heart attacks, hormone imbalances, blood pressure, and fight-or-flight responses. Clients in meditation and mindfulness also engage in introspection of the meditation through body movement. Yoga is the physical movement clients participate in during sessions to bring a sense of peace to their lives.

Clients with disordered eating or eating disorders often experience stress and tension. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are holistic approaches that help reduce these overwhelming feelings. Those coping with self-destructive behaviors and/or self-harm learn how to calm the mind and refocus thoughts to achieve a sense of inner peace and well-being.

The meditation and mindfulness program is led by trained professionals at The Guest House. Meditative practices use conscious connected breathwork to help inner strength and bring peace to the subconscious mind. When paired with clinical therapies, such as CBT, clients achieve a whole-scale version of healing that addresses both surface-level issues or symptoms while delving deeper into the roots of the disorder. In this holistic program, clients learn healthy coping mechanisms they can continue to practice outside of treatment to persist in recovery.

At The Guest House, eating disorders and disordered eating are two areas that our therapists and specialists help clients with. Eating disorders and disordered eating are very complex disorders that are not easily “fixed” by altering one’s eating habits. There are deep-rooted causes of unhealthy and destructive eating habits that are crucial to understanding in order to fully heal from the disorder or disorders. Many factors, such as genetics, biology, social influences, and mainstream media all impact one’s relationship with food. There are also many different types of eating disorders that are important to understand as well to make sure one’s treatment is personalized and specific. To learn more about disordered eating and/or eating disorders, call us at (855) 483-7800.