Disordered Eating: 9 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship with Food

This week, the Savvy Psychologist reveals 9 signs of disordered eating so prevalent they pass as “normal”--plus 4 tips on how to improve your relationship with food, and your body.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #35

Disordered Eating Sign #3: The Tyranny of the Scale

You weigh yourself daily or several times a day, and the resulting number on the scale impacts your mood or sense of worth.  If you can’t weigh yourself, like when staying at a hotel, you feel anxious, and if you gain a pound, you feel really anxious.

Disordered Eating Sign #4: Rigid Exercise

You have a set-in-stone exercise routine, and when you can’t follow it, you get stressed. You may exercise even when you’re sick, exhausted, or injured. Your exercises are strategically chosen based on how many calories they burn.  Likewise, when you exercise, you measure by calories; for example, you might run on a treadmill until you’ve burned your “required” number of calories, or have "compensated" for eating a dessert.

Disordered Eating Sign #5: The Mental Screen Saver

You think about food all the time. Food or weight is your “mental screen saver”—what you think about by default, when you’re not distracted by something else. And planning, obtaining, preparing, or consuming food takes up a lot of your time, and makes you anxious.

Disordered Eating Sign #6: Mismatch Between Weight, Shape, and Perceptions

Your weight falls within a healthy, or even an underweight, range, but you think you’re too fat. Thinking about your thighs, stomach, or another body part has the power to send your mood plummeting.

Disordered Eating Sign #7: Strategic Substitutions

You eat lots of non-caloric foods like diet drinks, sugar-free Jell-O, gum, tea, coffee, or ice to try to save calories. In addition, you might use caffeine—or smoke—as an appetite suppressant.

Disordered Eating Sign #8: Public Versus Private

You might eat like a bird in public, and then pig out at home or in your car. You might avoid eating out so you can control your eating, or you may get anxious about social situations where there is food, like a potluck, picnic, or party.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.

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