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The Disordered Eating Guide to Healthy Weight Loss

girl with tape measure around her mouthAre you a disordered eater? Disordered eating is the more common cousin to eating disorders. It encompasses a much wider array of unhealthy eating habits. I’ve struggled with disordered eating for as long as I can remember, and the following 5 tips have helped me tremendously, and I hope they do you too.

Note: If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, consult professional help.

Admit You Have a Problem

I know that conjures up images of Alcoholics Anonymous, but this is a must first step to taking back control of your eating habits. For the longest time, I never thought I had a problem, but the more I thought about it, I could see how my nutrition obsession was negatively affecting me. Before I could fix my eating problem, I had to understand there was a problem to fix.

Don’t Count Calories

This is one of the first positive choices I made. I used to count every calorie, know my macronutrient breakdowns, and know how many calories I burned every day. I’d log every meal, and count every step taken in a day.

I don’t have a problem with calorie counting. I think it teaches you a lot about your food, and I think everyone should do it for at least a couple of weeks. However, counting calories had me thinking about food nearly every waking hour.

The good news is that all those years of calorie counting gave me a good idea of where my calorie intake was. I can now eat based on how I feel instead of what my spreadsheet says. The feeling is quite liberating.

Every so often I’ll log a day’s worth of calories to make sure I’m still in the ballpark. Or if I have very specific goals I’ll start tracking again. But I try not to obsess over it anymore.

Don’t Weigh Yourself

This is going to be one of the hardest things for most people. The scale keeps them in check, but it’s that feeling of being out of control that’s a problem for many. The reading on the scale influences their whole day. It changes your emotional state, and it makes you eat more or less.

I still weigh myself, but now it’s more of a tool for calculating body fat percentage. For some people, numbers are triggers. Those people may be better served not measuring anything and going by how they feel and look. Otherwise, taking skinfold measurements are a good compromise.

Don’t Deprive Yourself

I used to swing back and forth between periods of no-mistake eating and week-long binge fests. I quickly learned that my binging was brought on by feelings of deprivation and restriction. The thought of never getting to indulge can be a difficult one to accept.

Realize that there isn’t an on/off switch to healthy eating. There’s an in between that you can settle into and be happy with. You can have some of those “forbidden” foods in moderation and still make progress. You just have to put rules into place that keep you working towards your goals.

Change Your Environment

Sometimes all you need is a change in your environment to change your eating behaviors. If counting calories is negatively affecting you, delete the journaling app you have on your phone. If you obsess over your weight, put your scale out of site. If binge eating is your problem (hello, that was me), find out your trigger points and then change your environment so they are less likely to be experienced.

For me, that meant not bringing low-quality food home. If I want something not-so-healthy to eat, I go to the food. That environment change alone was the biggest contributing factor to getting my binge eating under control.

Disordered eating is not a death sentence for your weight loss goals. With a little awareness and pro-activeness, you too can gain back control of your eating habits and be successful.

  • RobynLB

    I love thise artilce. It’s a topic a lot of people don’t talk about, but I think it’s an issue that most women I’ve known have dealt with on some level, and an unhealthy pattern of behavior that chronic dieters fall into wihtout realizing how coutnerproductive and even destructive it can be.

  • Amanda

    Thank you for this article! I needed to read this.
    I have gotten so obsessed with counting calories that my whole days consist of planning meals and snacks and workouts. Its gotten out of control.

    • Coach Calorie

      Been there, done that too. Fitness should be happening in the background as we live our lives. Make it a priority, but don’t obsess to the point it consumes your life.

  • Jen Wb

    agree with not weighing yourself! Just wish my doctors would agree the same thing because until they stop fixating on a number/range/weight, I can’t drop it 100% either- we already know the BMI chart is about as useful as a bucket with holes in yet to all the medics and specialists I see, it’s used as the gold-mark standard for “health” and “wellness” and weather or not you continue to get help and support, by all of them.

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Jen, I’d find a new doctor. Find one that measures body fat. They are out there, but hard to find.

      • Joe Leech

        Interesting point Jen. I think the GP has to weigh you though as it’s likely he or she does not remember your weight from last time and it’s their responsibility to notice whether you have any underlying concerns eg you may have lost 10kg in a short space of time and thought that was “good dieting”, when in fact it could be medical.
        But I read a recent study (forgot where!) that found patients who are told to lose weight at the GP don’t actually lose any weight (statistically insignificant changes), which means it’s in fact pointless for the doc to tell a patient to shed some lbs.

  • helen

    I’m having a hard time with disordered eating. Caught myself at it tonight so threw away what i’d bought to binge on. I shouldn’t have skipped the gym! When will i learn. Its hard work finding that balance i find; i’m either all or nothing. Great article!

    • Coach Calorie

      Great job on throwing away the food. That’s a victory for you, and one small step for gaining back more power.

  • Sally

    I am wondering if I don’t eat enough calories, and therefore that is the reason for my not losing weight. I probably only eat about 1100 a day, sometimes less, and exercise 5 days a week covering aerobics; running; pilates and weights. I am a 50year old woman and have always been active. I have never had a problem with my weight until now and am getting increasingly fed up with putting it on now. What is your opinion?

  • Coach Calorie

    It’s hard to say Sally. 1100 calories does seem low, but everyone is different. There is only one way to find out – add about 300 calories of whole foods to your diet and monitor over the course of 2 weeks. Measure your body fat first if you really want all the information. Living on 1100 calories the rest of your life sounds miserable to me :)

  • Shanda

    I have a problem with binge eating that sounds like what you used to go through, and it’s getting in the way of losing weight and I’m tired of it. I think I remember reading that you cut out processed foods for a month to help with the addiction. I was wondering specifically what processed foods means, and what types of foods you ate that month that helped. Do you have a past article about this? If not you should write one! :)

  • Michelle Delios

    As someone who has been anoxeric twice, once in my teens and once just a couple of years ago in my 40’s, I totally get this. I no longer own a scale, my gym does not have one. I do not obsess about calories, and just eat a clean diet. I work out daily, but always change it up and have added weights now so I am starting to feel really good about myself. Plus I got out of a terrible marriage, and that is what helped the most.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the article. As someone who was anorexic twice, once in my teens and once in my 40’s just a couple of years ago, this hits home. I have thrown away my scale, my gym does not have one, and I no longer count calories. I eat sensibly, exercise both cardio and also weights. I have fun and eat well. One thing that really helped was to leave my controlling marriage and just relax with my four boys. Most important thing I could have done. thanks again.

  • Nappycakes

    Hi Coach, Ive been reading a lot of your articles and love your blog. I’m a new mom of a 6 month old. I’m currently not breastfeeding. I’ve been exercising (Zumba, and crossfit type of exercise) 5 days a week, eating 1200 calories, and drinking a lot of water. My prep regnant weight was 150, after giving birth and following this diet and exercise I still weigh 195 and haven’t drop weight whatsoever. It’s very depressing. I don’t know what else to do. I have a clean diet, what do you recommend? Please help! Thank you thank you thank you!

    Btw…I’m 26, 5’4

  • Coach Calorie

    That’s hard to say, as so much can be happening with your hormones right now. 1200 calories is a little low. Have you tried increasing them a few hundred a day?

  • Coach Calorie

    Hi Shanda, I did cut them out for a month and it helped greatly. However, as I tried reintroducing them, the frequency between processed food meals got smaller and smaller until I reverted back to my old habits.

    I think going for at least 2 weeks without processed foods is the minimum time to break the addiction cycle. From there, you have to use the tips in this article and do some self-reflecting to find out what your triggers are.

    Processed foods are man-made products. Most of the stuff in the aisles of grocery stores are processed. Jillian Michael’s explained it like this – “if it didn’t come from the ground, or it didn’t have a mother, don’t eat it.”

  • Joe Leech

    Hi Tony great article, and area that is discussed too few times in health & fitness.
    I especially like the points to stop counting calories and stop weighing yourself.
    The problem with frequent weighing is that our self-value gets determined by numbers “the lower the number the higher your self-worth”. It’s all wrong and is the first and foremost thing that needs to be addressed when we are talking about health.

  • kc

    I’m addicted to food…..I obsess over what each meal will be for both my husband and myself….also I will pick some really bad cheat food and tell myself I can have it in a few days and I obsess and countdown till that time. I will sometimes give in and cheat before then and I blow the whole day. It’s exhausting at times….

  • MsAnita

    Thank you finally someone who can put a name on it.. I have struggled with binge eating my whole life.. I thought I out grew it and here I am 50 years old and still struggle, but I can control it.. there are times that emotions get me and I think it is because I do deprive my self…. I do weigh my self, and I track my food I do find this does keep me accountable, I try not to be so obsessed with tracking and I am not one these people who count every little tiny morsel of food but I do track.
    It has gotten better for me. in the sense that my binging maybe only happens once a month vs once a week.

  • Heather

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I know what I should and should not eat. No donuts for breakfast, no BAG of candy for a snack. Lots of water. Fresher food. I’m in the process of cutting my added sugar intake down. I knew I should have been doing all these things the whole time. Now I see that.

  • kathleen

    Really good article Tony (well I love your writing period).. I have found that one with an eating disorder (that is me too) is a profoundly different animal from one who just doesn’t know now to eat. It’s been quite the adventure being a Certified Personal Trainer as well who also has an eating problem, BUT, i also think it’s been ad advantage wherein those personal struggles and successes can be shared to another with that issue. To bless the love of food, the love of wanting to be healthy and fit (or fitter) and facing it head on in a breathable, livable, likeable even, fashion. It can be an extremely liberating experience and I love the aha moment in a client’s eye when they finally start to “get it”. Thanks so much for all you write. It is always a pleasure to read and love the angle from which you approach this world. – Kathleen

  • Regina

    Loved this post! I have 5+ yrs of spreadsheets of calories consumed, calories burned, macros, daily weight, trending weight, body comp, etc. I have a food scale, heartrate monitor, Fitbit, & Garmin. I’ve paid hundreds of dollars for dietitians, nutritionists, trainers, and various body comp tests. Nutrition and the scale are my 1st thoughts in the morning & last at night. I listen to weightloss podcasts & devour every book & blog I find. This is all in a quest to lose the “last 10#” and has resulted in gaining 12#!! I’ve been told to eat as low as 1300 calories and as high as 2200 calories, workout more – workout less, don’t eat carbs – eat carbs only AM – eat carbs only PM. I find myself not even hungry after a PM workout but eating anyway because I have to hit my macros.

    Exercise and health foods aren’t a problem. I do Crossfit and/or boot camp 5x/wk and like the way I feel eating whole foods. I’ve tried tightening up things several times but maybe it’s time to loosen the reins. I may try ditching the scale & not counting calories for 30 days to see what happens. Thanks for your commitment to making us all healthier.