How do I know if I have an eating disorder?

 How do I know if I have an eating disorder? 

My best friend just told me that she thinks I have an eating disorder.  We were out to lunch and I asked the waiter if some calorie saving modifications could be made to a menu item that appealed to me.  The waiter wasn’t bothered by my questions but my friend told me that my preoccupation with calorie counting made eating out together unpleasant.  My friend is average size and has never had to struggle with her weight the way I do.  In order for me to maintain a healthy weight I have to pay very careful attention to what I eat.  The conversation left me feeling ashamed and pretty insulted.  It’s true that I sometimes fast for several days and I do restrict my food choices and do my best to avoid foods made with sugar.  While it is sometimes difficult to resist temptation, being strong enough to say no is the only way I can avoid weight gain.  How do I know if this is unhealthy eating or if it’s an effective approach to maintaining healthy weight?  What do I tell my friend since I don’t want to end our friendship but I don’t want to eat to please her to prove that my eating isn’t “disordered?”

Lynn, Chicago


Dear Lynn

There are no absolutely clear answers to your questions.  The when, why and what each person eats to be healthy is truly an individual formula.  While there are some eating behaviors that are definite indicators of an eating disorder, what you describe doesn’t lead me to conclude that your eating behavior is unhealthy.  You might want to talk to a therapist or nutritionist about your questions.  Is your discipline around food too rigid?  Do you put too much pressure on yourself about your weight?  Do you eat enough to have sufficient energy to function fully your life?  We live in a society that values thinness and many women struggle to meet unrealistic body shape and size standards.  Is the weight standard you’ve set for yourself about living with good health or trying to meet some number that puts you in perpetual tension?

In trying to figure out your relationship to food I’d recommend a great little book:

The Rules of Normal Eating:  A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters and Everyone in Between by Karen R. Kenig, LICSW, M.ED.

The other questions are about your relationship with your best friend.  Sounds like the two of you need to talk about how her observation felt to you.  A calm, non-defensive conversation about your right to feed yourself in a way that works for you and a willingness to hear the concern in her observations might be the way to mend your disconnection.

A few sessions with a therapist might help you begin to better understand your relationship with eating, your body and your friend.  If you’d like to schedule a first appointment, please send me a message.

Be Well,


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