Disordered Eating & Dieting

Disordered eating is a disturbed and unhealthy eating pattern that can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals.

What is disordered eating

Disordered eating can include behaviours that reflect many but not all of the symptoms of feeding and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder or other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED).

Disordered eating behaviours, and in particular dieting are the most common indicators of the development of an eating disorder. Disordered eating has been linked to a reduced ability to cope with stressful situations, as well as an increased incidence of suicidal thoughts and behaviours (particularly in adolescents).

Examples of disordered eating

  • Fasting or chronic restrained eating

  • Skipping meals

  • Binge eating

  • Self-induced vomiting

  • Restrictive dieting

  • Unbalanced eating (e.g. restricting a major food group such as ‘fatty’ foods or carbohydrates)

  • Laxative, diuretic, enema misuse

  • Steroid and creatine use – supplements designed to enhance athletic performance and alter physical appearance

  • Using diet pills

Why are disordered eating and dieting dangerous?

Dieting is one of the most common forms of disordered eating. Research shows that dieting is common among people with eating disorders.

Severely restricting the amount of food you eat can be a very dangerous practice. 

Feelings of guilt and failure are common in people who engage in disordered eating. These feelings can arise as a result of binge eating, ‘breaking’ a diet or weight gain. A person with disordered eating behaviours may isolate themselves for fear of socialising in situations where people will be eating. This can contribute to low self-esteem and significant emotional impairment.

Diets don’t work

Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they have lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher. Weight loss and ‘fad’ diets do not take people’s individual requirements into consideration and can result in a person feeling hungry, experiencing low moods, lacking in energy levels and developing poor health.

What are the risks associated with disordered eating and dieting?

The risks associated with disordered eating are severe. People with disordered eating may experience:

  • A clinical eating disorder - anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating or other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED)

  • Weight gain

  • Osteoporosis - a condition that leads to bones becoming fragile and easily fractured

  • Fatigue and poor sleep quality

  • Constipation and/or diarrhoea

  • Headaches

  • Muscle cramps

Is it possible to change disordered eating and dieting behaviour?

Yes. It is possible to change eating behaviour, even if you have been engaging in disordered eating and dieting for many years. With the right support and treatment and a high level of personal commitment your body can learn to function to its full capacity again.

Seeking help from a practitioner with specialised knowledge in health and nutrition can assist you in reversing the adverse effects of disordered eating and restoring emotional, mental and physical health.

Getting help

Dieting is the number one cause of the onset of an eating disorder and seeking help early is the best preventative measure. Contact your GP for a referral to a practitioner with specialised knowledge in health, nutrition and eating disorders.


See also

Body Image

Body image is a combination of the thoughts and feelings that you have about your body. Body image may range between positive and negative experiences, and one person may feel at different times positive or negative or a combination of both. Body image is influenced by internal (e. g.


People Living in Larger Bodies & Eating Disorders

Living in a larger body (or 'obesity’, as it is referred to in a biomedical context) is not an eating disorder or mental disorder.  Language is important as labels can be stigmatising.


Risk & Protective Factors

Like most other psychiatric and health conditions, the development of eating disorders is likely to involve a combination of complex factors, including psychological, sociocultural and genetic.  Risk FactorsGenetic factorsGenetic vulnerability refers to a person’s ability to inherit an eating disorder from their biological parent.



Research indicates that there are generally low levels of mental health literacy in the community; however, general beliefs and misunderstanding about mental health affect community responses to eating disorders. It is important that everyone understands the facts about mental health and eating disorders.


Help us improve!

Give us feedback!

We will continue throughout 2020 to update and improve the NEDC website and welcome any feedback you may have on the site.

Provide feedback