“Do I Have An
You don't need to have an eating disorder to be struggling in your relationship with food and your body. We can help you heal that relationship.
“But do I have an eating disorder?”
By Ellie Herman LCSW
I hear this question A LOT. Eating disorders are complex mental health diagnoses and considering the criteria for diagnosis can be overwhelming and confusing.
Mental health counselors and therapists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM V) to decide if a client has an eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men will experience an eating disorder in their lifetimes.
Importantly, not everyone who struggles with food/body relationships will have enough symptoms to have an eating disorder. This does not mean, however, that they do not struggle. Nor does it mean that they cannot benefit from an improved relationship with food/body. So many people fall on the spectrum of disordered eating. These people cannot necessarily say they have anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or ARFID. And this is problematic.
My rule of thumb: you do not need to “have an eating disorder” to be struggling in your relationship with food and your body.
Nor do you need to “have an eating disorder” to deserve or benefit from online therapy with an eating disorder therapist.
It is difficult to evaluate your relationship with food and your body. After all, the longest relationship we will ever have is the one we cultivate our body and our mind. You cannot leave that relationship.
With such a long and complicated relationship, how do you know if it’s a good one? I like to think of your relationship with food as you would a relationship with a friend or partner, actually.
A good friend is someone who supports you, comforts you, encourages you, and entertains you. A good partner respects you, nurtures you, and is consistent. Being around such a person brings us peace and sometimes joy. But a good friend or partner is also not someone we think about every minute of the day.
How does that apply to your relationship with food?
Food should support you, comfort you, and encourage you to go about your day with the energy you need. Our food choices should be those that respect our body’s physical needs, nurturing us from the inside out, and we should be consistently fed. Food should bring you joy at times, peace at other times, and should not be a source of tension or anxiety.
And, food should not be something you think of every minute of the day. It should not be a source of guilt, worry, or discomfort.
Similarly, do you have a good relationship with your body?
Do you support your body? Allow it to seek comfort? Encourage it to mobilize your however you need and are able? And do you find pleasure living in it?
Do you respect your body and its limits and needs?
Do you nurture it with rest, water, and foods it enjoys?
Do your treat your body with consistent care and feel at peace with it?
If so, bravo!
Did you find yourself instead pushing your body into scenarios, exercises, diets, and systems it and you do not enjoy? Or did you note that you are often speaking unkindly to it or about it, neglecting to rest, or feeling shame about how it looks? If so, your relationship with your body is likely causing additional stress and tension in your already-complicated life.
So, do you have an eating disorder?
If you find yourself in a relationship with food and your body that does not feel like a good friendship, you likely fall somewhere on the disordered eating spectrum.
Together, we can find greater peace, acceptance, and compassion for yourself. We can learn to look differently at food, to allow it to be “just a part of your day” – not the main event or worst part. We can learn a new language that your body understands; we can take care of your body in ways that nurture and support it (so that it can nurture and support you too).