The Disordered Eating Epidemic

One need not look hard to find someone trying the newest fad diet or experimenting with an eating regimen that worked for a famous celebrity.  Think about it for a moment.  How many times in the last week have you heard someone talking about their new diet?

It is estimated that around 45 million Americans go on a diet every year.   On the surface hearing this number seems promising.  If even half of these yearly dieters have success we would see the worlds obesity epidemic trending positively downwards.  Unfortunately this is far from the case as the country’s weight problem continues to worsen.  These dieters are overwhelmingly likely to fail—then continue to fail time and time again.

The statistics are discouraging, but seeing this trend play out first hand is heart-wrenchingly painful.  The topic hits close to home for me,  I struggled with my weight for well over a decade.  The joy of finally learning to control my diet quickly faded.  Most of my family, and many close friends, were still obese and struggling to remedy their situation.  This is an issue that affects the every day lives of people from all walks of life in nearly every country.  As a society we recognize the problem.  Below is the CDC’s recommended strategy for preventing obesity:

The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t short-term dietary changes; it’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity.

It’s likely this is not the first time you’ve heard something like this.  This message made it to the masses because of organizations like the CDC.  Unfortunately public knowledge of these strategies alone has done little to reverse the problem.  The burden of solving this issue lies solely on those afflicted.  Governments and organizations are trying to fix things, but each individual decides what goes into their own mouth

Disordered Eating Epidemic - Boy Eating Apple

Encouragingly the vast majority of these individuals are attempting to make the change.   But the odds are stacked against them.  Think back to the people you know who are on a new diet.  Is this their first?  Do you think it will be their last?  With more than 95% of people relapsing from their diet within 5 years, it’s likely it won’t be.

Disordered Eating Epidemic

Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia have specific definitions, but the description of disordered eating encapsulates a much broader spectrum of issues.  Below are some of the signs of disorder eating habits:

  • Chronic yo-yo dieting
  • Frequent weight fluctuations
  • Extremely rigid food and exercise regime
  • Feelings of guilt and shame when unable to maintain food and exercise habits
  • Pre-occupation with food, body and exercise that causes distress and has a negative impact on quality of life
  • Compulsive or emotionally-driven eating

Over 10% of the U.S. population perennially goes on a new diet, but their weights are not trending any lower.   The country’s dieters, therefor,  are chronically yo-yo dieting.  Astoundingly it is estimated that three out of four women has some kind of disordered eating behavior.  The obesity epidemic garners attention from the media while the disordered eating epidemic quietly effects millions.

The demographic trying their hardest to change, now has not one problem but two.  They need to lose weight to improve their health and now must also work through their troubled relationship with food.  I believe that herein lies the heart of the problem.  The advice to make long term changes and think about a healthy lifestyle may work well for somebody new to this arena, but the majority of us are not new to dieting.  The average American tries to implement some kind of diet about four times every year.  The starting line to the marathon that is weight loss just moved a few miles in the wrong direction.

Disordered Eating Epidemic Marathon Starting Line

Overcoming the Addiction

Though not as extreme as anorexia or bulimia, disordered eating habits are nothing to scoff at.  Many people, specifically those who have done a variety diets, have had a complicated relationship with food for years.  A large amount has been written on the topic of disordered eating, much of which are excellent resources.  One of my personal favorite books on the topic is Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch which personally helped me to work through my own problematic eating habits.    The following 10 principles make up the backbone of the book.

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect Your Fullness 
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor 
  7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food 
  8. Respect Your Body 
  9. Exercise–Feel the Difference 
  10. Honor Your Health

The book is centered around the premise that all diets are doomed to fail.  The evidence overwhelmingly backs this up.  Statistically speaking if twenty people attempted to start a diet only one would be able to successfully keep the weight off.  In lieu of recommending a singular diet, the authors focus on getting in touch with your body’s intuition.  Teaching how to recognize your biological hunger signals and cues your body gives when you are eating in a healthy manner.  Respecting these signals is a valuable lesson.  Alongside rejecting the diet mentality is the idea to give up the notion of “good foods” vs “bad foods” as it can create a distorted relationship with food.  Among the book were also recommendations for mindfulness in eating, finding alternative ways to deal with feelings, and learning to exercise in a way that makes your body feel good.

Disordered Eating Epidemic Hiking


Reading this book truly did change my life for the better, I recommend it to anyone who has had a complicated relationship with food and diets.  With that said I feel the book, and others like it, are lacking something.  The main reason many people begin dieting in the first place is that they have weight to lose, and their reasons for losing it are justified. Being overweight comes with a laundry list of health issues.

  • All-cause mortality
  • High blood pressure
  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea and breathing problems
  • A variety of cancers
  • Low quality of life
  • Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
  • Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning

This list is terrifying.  It is completely possible, likely even, that a person can vanquish their disordered eating habits and still end up being significantly overweight.  To change one’s relationship with food for the positive can impact nearly every facet of your life.  Most books on the topic of overcoming disordered eating habits stop here.  And can you really blame them?  The last thing a person who recently overcame detrimental eating habits would want to do is change up their diet.  This leaves them in a precarious position.  On one hand, they have succeeded.  Unfortunately, their health may still be far from ideal.

Things are more complex for those of us with health issues related to food.  Take for example someone with pre-diabetes attempting to conquer an eating disorder using the principles laid out in Intuitive Eating.  We know that someone with pre-diabetes should be avoiding sugar like the plague.  But this runs contrary to the prescription to stop demonizing food or labeling certain items as “good” or “bad”.  What’s this person to do?

Disordered Eating Epidemic Vegetable Platter

This situation isn’t all that unique.  Although not everyone has pre-diabetes, dietary intervention can improve a great many health issues.  Are the people who have some kind of disordered eating habits supposed to simply ignore the science?

Ordered Eating

You may be expecting a proposed solution to the disordered eating epidemic,  I do not have one.  I feel this topic is one of the most difficult issues facing the world today and there is no simple answer.  Fixing this problem is going to be an incredibly personal and ongoing journey for each of us that undergo it.  What you can find here is guidance.  Guidance alongside details of struggles, successes, failures, and things learned along the way.

Ordered Eating is not some new diet to follow.  It is an idea.  One that we can set our sights on and aim to move closer to together.

Simply put, ordered eating is the opposite of disordered eating.  Where disordered eating is defined by the absence of control, ordered eating is defined by its presence.  Control over emotional eating.  Control over weight and health outcomes.  Control of your life.

Throughout this website, you will find a plethora of resources spanning many topics.  These resources have an underlying theme, moving towards control in our dietary and health habits.  Not everything discussed here will work for you.  The goal is not to provide you with the answer, but with the tools necessary to gain an understanding of your mind and body.  Each of us will have a different journey to becoming a more ordered eater.

Here is to helping each other along the way.

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