Why Healthy Women Develop Disordered Eating

Why Healthy Women Develop Disordered Eating

So many normally healthy women experience anxiety, fear, guilt, or stress around food. They think about food all the time, feel like food controls them and frankly it becomes debilitating.

We would go as far as to say up to 80% of the women that we work with have some sort of disordered eating around food.

That is not 80% with clinically diagnosed eating disorders, that is 80% of women that experience women habitually feel negative emotions around food. HUGE NUMBERS = BIG PROBLEM!

This is also an effect that is becoming more prevalent in men as the modern male is becoming more body conscious. However, this issue is still predominantly a female problem as women more commonly feel pressured to look a certain way, and that pressure is typically oriented towards weight / fat loss and controlling and restricting food intake.

The biggest trigger for developing an unhealthy mindset around food is the rules that specific diets impose on people.

This is even the case with many seemingly “sensible” diets and eating plans.

Most diets have rules of some description:

  • No carbs
  • No food at certain times of the day
  • No sugar
  • Etc

It will be obvious to most people the harm that ridiculous rules place on people such as zero carb, low fat, or excessively low calorie.

If you eliminate an entire macronutrient group you’re obviously going to get cravings! If you restrict calories excessively you’re obviously going to suffer with hunger, cravings, and low energy, in addition to the harmful effects on your health and metabolism – all of which lead you to gain more weight in the future (and probably struggle with binge eating in the short term!)

However, what is less obvious is the harm that even the seemingly more sensible rules create.


Rules are useful because they eliminate thinking and calculation. You don’t need an education, you don’t need to think for yourself, you just execute the rules and lose weight – easy!

Why do you think most people like a meal plan? – They don’t have to think!

Unfortunately strict rules immediately set your psychology up for failure.

Firstly, when you have rules, people inevitably begin to think of foods as being either “good” or “bad”.

This very easily lapses into days being labelled as “good” and “bad” days whether you follow the rules or whether you “break your diet” by having a “bad” food. This can even lapse further into labelling yourself as a “bad” person, weak or lacking in will-power if you happen to have a “bad” day.

This breeds fear of certain foods, and anxiety in certain situations where there is temptation because you always want what you can’t have. The longer you keep reminding yourself “don’t think about chocolate” the harder it becomes not to think about it!

Having strict rules immediately puts you into a deprived, and restrictive mentality because now you’re “on a diet” and very much aware of what you can’t have, and place great importance on what it means to stick to the diet, as well as what it means should you break your diet.

Also the very nature of being on a diet is finite in duration because the implication is that at some point you will come off your diet.


The deprived and restricted mentality that the rules of a diet create also encourage binge eating behaviours. Somebody resists a particular temptation as long as they can, but then when they do give themselves a little slack, all hell breaks loose.

Unconsciously their mind anticipates a period of restriction and deprivation just round the corner, and it doesn’t know when it will be able to get this feeling again in the future so it tries to stock-pile as much of that feeling as possible – resulting in a full on binge.

The initial effects of dieting rules on the individual are seemingly small and insignificant to begin with. You simply feel frustrated with those times you break the rules. However, you repeat that pattern for a few years and you start asking yourself

“Why can’t I do this?” “What’s wrong with me?” That easily develops into self doubt, guilt, and anxiety around food.

Evidently we need some sort of confinement, rules, or guidance, otherwise you end up eating whatever you want whenever you want, which is what got you into trouble in the first place!


Some people in the fitness industry are keen proponents of flexible dieting, or IIFYM (if it fits your macros). With this approach you have daily targets for total calories, and totals for your macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein). So long as your end of day totals meet your targets you have significant flexibility to eat what you want.

Scientifically this is a very precise and accurate way of doing things. Unfortunately, in practise it neglects the psychological impact it has on the vast majority of people, and I’m sure you can see the biggest flaw with this approach – it is a massive hassle!

You have to weigh, track and measure everything you eat, inputting data into an app all throughout the day. Inevitably most people either don’t keep this up, or they eat the same thing every day.

Flexible dieting also carries the significant risk of perfectionism – a serious problem for so many dieters and fitness professionals alike. With perfectionism you become neurotic about hitting your number targets and you’re back to our original problem of a disordered relationship with food, with anxiety, and stress.

Not to mention here the almost “cult” beliefs that surround various dieting methods. The shame inflicted on those that are unable to follow such ridiculous rules is not uncommon. You get made to feel like an idiot if you are the only one “weak enough” to break your diet. You now think you are stupid. Or is it the diet that is actually stupid?!

So we have two extremes – diets with rules and too much confinement, vs flexible dieting that allows flexibility but carries too much hassle and very low compliance rates.

The solution lies between these two extremes.

The solution is in fact… drumroll… being sensible, being self aware, and doing things in moderation!


You have lost the art of moderation and you keep going to extremes and inevitably suffer as a result.


The challenge with a non personalised article such as this one is we don’t know which end of the spectrum you are.

Some people are so loose and make up their own rules all the time and need more guidance on how to structure their meals on a daily basis.

Others are so restrictive and paranoid about getting their diet “right” (read perfect) that they suffer the consequences outlined above.


Ultimately we want guidelines, not rules, where we do the right things most of the time. We want a simple structure – a broad pattern of eating that we can duplicate that uses very easy, visual portion control, and that incorporates flexibility to substitute foods, as well as flexibility to include some of your favourite treats in moderation. YES – you SHOULD be able to include some of your favourite foods!

Once you have established a sustainable, broad pattern of eating each week that keeps you on track without suffering with hunger, energy, or cravings. Then if you need to make adjustments later on you can simply increase or decrease your food intake slightly over the long term average without having to resort to extremes or knee jerk reactions.

Do not underestimate the results you can achieve with such a seemingly simple approach. We have found this to be the most effective way of achieving sustainable, long term body transformations.

Whilst this approach is very simple, it takes a fair bit of information to explain precisely how to do it and is beyond the scope of this article. We cover the art of sustainable nutrition in Chase Life Nutrition.

However, the most important point I want to get across is that strict diets with rigid rules set up a framework that is very conducive to a disordered relationship with food.

Stop taking extreme measures to transform your body and instead emphasise sustainability, and learn the art of MODERATION.


Welcome to Chase Life Nutrition!

Say good bye to calorie counting and tracking macros, stress, perfectionism and anxiety over food!

Rachel & David xx