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Disordered Eating

What is disordered eating?


The term "disordered eating" is a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis. Disordered eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder. Still, eating concerns falling short of a diagnosis deserve attention and treatment as they may turn into more problematic eating disorders and put individuals at risk of serious health problems.

If you or someone you know at THS is struggling with unhealthy eating behaviors, you can make an appointment or a referral with a school therapist here.

Symptoms of disordered eating

  • Signs and symptoms of disordered eating may include, but are not limited to:

  • Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping 

  • Chronic weight fluctuations

  • Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise

  • Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating

  • Preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life

  • A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits

  • Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to "make up for bad foods" consumed

Disordered eating can lead to many health concerns, which can include bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, low heart rate and blood pressure, increased anxiety, depression and social isolation. Disordered eating can also escalate into a diagnosable disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.


Disordered eating can be treated through individual and group therapy, the assistance of a nutritionist, and support from family and friends.

Find Local Resources

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline

Monday through Thursday, 9am-9pm or Friday 9am-5pm ET at 800.931.2237

ANAD Helpline


Treatment Centers

(check if they take your insurance or MediCal)

Local Medical Stabilization Programs for Adolescents

For more tips and resources, Support at Every Stage Guide.

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Common Signs and Symptoms Associated with an Eating Disorder*

This isn’t intended as a checklist. Someone struggling with an eating disorder generally won’t have all of these signs and symptoms at once, and the warning signs vary across eating disorders and don’t always fit into neat categories. Rather, these lists are intended as a general overview of the types of behaviors that may indicate a problem.


  • Weight loss, dieting, and control of food are primary concerns

  • Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)

  • Food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group [e.g. condiments], excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch)

  • Secretive eating

  • Social withdrawal

  • Appears uncomfortable eating around others

  • Frequent dieting, body checking

  • Extreme mood swings

  • Wearing loose or bulky clothing to hide weight loss/gain

  • Excessive exercising


  • Noticeable weight fluctuations

  • Gastrointestinal complaints

  • Dizziness upon standing

  • Difficulty concentrating, sleeping

  • Constant fatigue

  • Muscle weakness or constant cramping

  • Feeling cold all the time

  • Poor wound healing

  • Issues with dental, skin, hair, and nail health

  • Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting

  • Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low white and red blood cell counts)

  • For assigned female at birth - menstrual irregularities

How to talk to someone who might have an eating disorder

  • Gather the facts. Realize and accept that no action may be taken after the first conversation.

  • Remain calm and express your concern using “I” statements – shame is a part of any eating disorder or addiction. It’s important not to blame or make assumptions about what someone else is going through.

  • Listen with empathy and care

  • Suggest getting help. Resources like  ANAD’s helpline/website are available to help connect people to an eating disorders professional

How to help if someone doesn’t want help

  • Find a middle ground between forcing the issue and ignoring it.

  • Ask if they want help making the first call or appointment. They may just need support making that first call.

  • Sometimes it takes several tries before a person identifies the right clinician to help with their eating disorder. Remember that though eating disorders share commonalities, everyone is unique.

  • Even though these conversations are difficult, often people just need a little support and compassion. Not talking about it only encourages feelings of being isolated, ignored, and unimportant.  The best thing you can do is to listen and to let the person know you care about them, are concerned for them, and want to help.

When speaking with someone about eating disorders, you may be met with ambivalence, denial or reasons why the person doesn’t feel they need or want help. Try not to be discouraged, because simply having the conversation can open the door to more communication. For more tips and resources, on this topic, download the Support at Every Stage Guide.

*Most of this information was taken from ANAD and NEDA.

Torrance High School's Counseling Department

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