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What’s the difference between Disordered Eating & an Eating Disorder?

June 18, 2024

Disordered eating vs eating disorders. Understanding the difference can be key in your recovery.

Disordered eating and eating disorders are both terms used to describe different relationships with food, eating habits, and body image. While they share some similarities, they represent distinct experiences that involve varying degrees of severity and impact on an individual’s physical and psychological well-being.

Understanding the difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder can help you recover.

Disordered Eating

Disordered eating refers to a range of irregular eating behaviors that may not necessarily meet the criteria for a specific diagnosable eating disorder. These behaviors can include occasional episodes of overeating, skipping meals, restrictive dieting, or using unhealthy methods to control weight. Disordered eating patterns often stem from societal pressures, body image concerns, or emotional distress. It’s important to note that disordered eating can still have negative consequences for an individual’s health and self-esteem, even if they do not meet the criteria for a clinical eating disorder.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, on the other hand, are serious mental health conditions characterized by a persistent and often extreme disruption in eating behaviors, body image, and emotions related to food and weight. They typically involve a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. These disorders are typically diagnosed based on specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

A New York City woman eating pizza after finding freedom from disordered eating.

Eating disorders are more severe than disordered eating and can have profound physical and psychological consequences. They often involve a compulsive preoccupation with food, weight, and body shape that can interfere with daily functioning and overall quality of life. Individuals with eating disorders may experience intense feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem, which can contribute to a cycle of disordered eating behaviors. These behaviors can lead to serious health issues, including malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and heart complications.

Treatment Options

Recognizing the difference between disordered eating and eating disorders is crucial for understanding when professional intervention is necessary. Disordered eating may benefit from early interventions such as nutritional counseling, support from mental health professionals, and education about healthy eating habits and body image. It can also be addressed through self-awareness and adopting a more balanced approach to food and weight management.

Eating disorders, however, often require more intensive and specialized treatment, such as psychotherapy, medical monitoring, and sometimes medication. Our goal at Manhattan Wellness is to help clients establish a treatment team with a plan that is tailored uniquely to you and your needs. The goal of treatment is to address the underlying psychological issues, help individuals develop healthier relationships with food and their bodies, and support overall physical and mental health.

Establishing a treatment team, level of care and providing referrals 

A New York City woman enjoying her dinner after treatment for an eating disorder.

At Manhattan Wellness we prioritize tailoring each client’s treatment plan to their unique experience. For individuals suffering with disordered eating or eating disorders, we operate at an outpatient level, meeting weekly or twice weekly with clients, to support them. We work with clients who are stepping down from higher levels of care, have been in treatment before or clients who are unsure about their treatment needs and are looking to build their first team of support.

Manhattan Wellness has an extensive network of providers in the NYC area and beyond that we are proud to offer as trusted referrals for clients. We work alongside dieticians, psychiatrists, medical doctors and treatment groups / programs to establish a continuum of care to meet all of our clients’ needs. Our providers serve as not only therapists, but as case managers to ensure consistent communication between all of our clients’ providers, ensuring a clear and connected support system. If our clients’ needs change and they require a different or higher level of care, we work with our clients to support this transition as well.


At Manhattan Wellness, we understand that your relationship with food can be complicated. With all the messages and images we are bombarded with on social media, it can be difficult to navigate a positive relationship with food.  That’s why our female therapists want to support you in tackling your eating disorder with compassion and care. Let us help you create an empowering narrative that will benefit all aspects of your life. If you are interested in beginning counseling for women:

  1. Submit a Contact Form or Email Us at
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Our therapists understand that life in New York City is not always easy, and that other issues can come up along the way. To better support you, we offer a variety of services to cater to your individual needs. The therapy services we offer are Therapy for Self Esteem, Anxiety Treatment, and therapy for dating and relationship issues. As well as therapy for college students, support for maternal mental health, body image therapy, and so much more. Do you feel like you’re not living the life you want and need to make changes? Let’s talk about it.

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