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Healthy dieting vs disordered eating: know the signs
by Fading Light. June 3rd 2014, 06:04 AM

Healthy dieting vs disordered eating: know the signs
By Chess (Mercicle.)

There can be a fine line between dieting in a healthy way and developing a pattern of disordered eating, or even an eating disorder. Many of the indicators marking this line are less about the actual weight being lost and more about the person's mindset. It can be difficult to tell the difference, and dangerous if the wrong approach is taken, so this article will cover some of the main ways to distinguish between healthy dieting and disordered eating (which could lead to an eating disorder).

Goal weight
If the ‘goal weight’ is within normal parameters (i.e., a weight which would not be cause for concern when taking the person’s age, height, and lifestyle into consideration), then this suggests the person is probably aiming to diet in a healthy way. If the goal weight is below ‘normal’ or if it frequently changes (for example, if a person reaches the weight they decided upon, and then decides to lose a certain amount more), then it is more worrying.

Flexibility with regard to food
People who are legitimately trying to lose weight via a healthy way will generally be more flexible when it comes to foods they will eat. They may make exceptions and eat junk food every now and then, even if their diet says they shouldn’t. In contrast, people who have or are developing an eating disorder will often have ‘safe foods’ which they will consume, and also ‘off-limits’ or ‘dangerous’ foods which they will not consume, no matter what the quantity or occasion. Such ‘dangerous’ foods are usually believed to be high in calories or kilojoules, or otherwise likely to lead to weight gain.

Reaction to gaining weight
Neither diets nor eating disorders are completely guaranteed to result in only weight loss. Sometimes a person who is following all the right steps may gain weight, to which people will have different reactions. People on a healthy diet will usually be more pragmatic about it, and understand that it is all part of the journey. People on the eating disorder side, however, may react very strongly and quickly by restricting their food intake, exercising excessively, or expressing negative emotions or thoughts (such as ‘I’m a failure’ or ‘I will always be fat’).

Willingness to talk about it
When someone is trying to lose weight in a healthy way, they will often be open about it with friends and family. They may ask for support, advice, or tips every now and then, and allow their loved ones to act as a support network on their journey. Conversely, people who are approaching weight loss in a less healthy way will usually be secretive about their habits, for fear of being judged or being forced to change. This is because on some level they are aware that their actions are unhealthy, but they are of a mindset where they believe this course of action is necessary, no matter how dangerous.

Discussing it with a doctor
Before beginning a diet of any sort, it is a good idea to consult with a doctor. They can help come up with an exercise plan and provide information about nutrition and healthy living. They will usually be informative and supportive, and may even check up on the person throughout the diet. People with disordered eating will usually not consult their doctor, and may go to great lengths to keep it from them.

Showing progress
A person who is losing weight in a healthy way will usually proudly show it off, perhaps by wearing tighter clothing or even announcing how much weight they've lost. They will feel good about all they've achieved, and may even celebrate milestones with their loved ones. Those who are losing weight in an unhealthy way will be less open, and may even hide their weight loss by wearing loose-fitting clothing or even altering their movements or postures. Although the person's actions are justified in their mind they are worried that people will notice their weight loss and think it is unhealthy. In this case the person’s self-perception may be off, because oftentimes their intended or even actual weight loss is not within the normal range.

Attitude/intent
Those intending on losing weight in a healthy way will usually have clear goals, in many cases health-related. These include wanting to lower the risk of heart disease, a desire to feel better about their body, or wanting to go back to a previous clothing size. They usually have a balanced attitude, and may even discuss their goals and motivations with those close to them. A person with disordered eating, in contrast, usually has more ‘extreme’ motivations, more negative thoughts, and a tendency towards black-and-white thinking. They may express a desire to be ‘beautiful’ or to live up to society’s expectations, and may believe that nobody will ever love or respect them until they are ‘thin enough’ – which in itself is a dangerous thought, because for them there may never be a 'thin enough’. It can easily become a never-ending cycle.

These are some of the major differences between healthy dieting and disordered eating, although there are other signs. If you or someone you know is falling into the latter category, it is important to seek help immediately, whether from your doctor, a therapist, or even your friends and family. It is entirely possibly to lose weight in a healthy way, and to feel good about yourself without going to extremes.
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