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 #9: Emotional Eating

You eat to procrastinate, to entertain yourself when you’re bored, to reward yourself, to console yourself when you’re sad, or otherwise connect food with emotion. And you have one emotion in spades: guilt.  You feel super guilty when you eat something “forbidden,” or lose control when eating.

So there we have 9 signs. Now what? Indeed, even if disordered eating is “normal,” why be normal?  We can do better, and be happier and healthier for it. I’ll let Nutrition Diva’s fabulous wisdom help you with eating real food and listening to your body.

In the meantime, though, let’s chip away at one of the biggest drivers of disordered eating: poor body image. Notice I said body image, not actual body weight or shape. 

Better Body Image Tip #1: Think of Your Heroes

Think of the people who you admire. Perhaps those who have mentored or inspired you, or who have simply made your world a better place. They might be famous or perfectly ordinary. Now, think about whether their weight or body shape was an important part of their impact on you (and their overall awesomeness). Bring these people to mind for a quick shot of perspective when you feel your body image sinking.

Better Body Image Tip #2: Make This Your Mantra: “Life is Too Short to Hate Myself”

Go deeper and ask how it’s benefitting you to focus on your thighs, agonize over that extra pound, or drill yourself through 20 extra minutes on the treadmill because you looked at a doughnut.

Better Body Image Tip #3: Think of Your Body as a Person

Think of your body as a friend—someone who isn’t perfect, but is loyal, hardworking, and generous to you. How would you treat that friend? Would you starve her, hate her, disguise her with clothes she doesn’t even like, and criticize her smallest flaws? My hunch is no. It gets a little trippy to think about yourself in the third person, but you get my point. Treat yourself as you would anyone else: with respect.

Better Body Image Tip #4:  Consider Talking to Someone

If you recognized yourself in the 9 signs, you may be tempted to seek out some professional guidance. Consider talking to a therapist, coach, or a nutritionist who either specializes in eating disorders, or partners with a mental health professional.

Notably, individuals with disordered eating often turn to a nutritionist for help. However, chances are the problem lies not with your diet, but with your emotions, body image, or self-confidence. If the thought of seeing a therapist leaves you colder than a Skinny Cow fudge pop, or therapy seems too expensive, check out 5 Therapy Myths and Fears Busted from the Savvy Psychologist archives.


Get more savvy by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or get the episode delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the newsletter.  Plus, follow me on Facebook and Twitter.


Reba-Harrelson, L., Von Holle, A., Hamer, R.M., Swann, R., & Bulik, C.M. (2009).  Patterns and prevalence of disordered eating and weight control behaviors in women ages 25-45.  Eating and Weight Disorders, 14, 190-8.

Serdula, M.K., Collins, M.E., Williamson, D.F., Anda, R.F., Pamuk, E., & Byers, T.E. (1993).  Weight control practices of U.S. adolescents and adults.  Annals of Internal Medicine, 119 (7 Pt 2), 667-71.

Photos of eating disorder word cloud, woman chained to scale, and body image disorder courtesy of Shutterstock.


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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