What It’s Like To Be A Highly-Functioning Disordered Eater, by Kristen Kenward

If the title of this article has caught your interest, you probably know all too well the frustrations that come along with being a High-Functioning Disordered Eater.

You are probably driven, committed, somewhat perfectionistic and tend toward people pleasing. You probably care about nourishing your body with healthy foods, and exercising daily. You most likely also experience frequent bouts of anxiety, self-hatred and compulsion toward control, and maybe even bouts of hidden depression.

Does all this sound too familiar?

It may be because Disordered Eating has become too common a phenomenon in our society. We are encultured from a young age to use how we appear as a control mechanism over how we feel about ourselves in relation to the world…while also being more disconnected to our inner selves (our holistic being) than ever. We have come to view this desperate control over our bodies as a normal part of daily living, and we are even praised for adhering to this destructive culture that parades as ‘healthy’…

Okay…let’s take a breath…and back it up a bit.

High-Functioning Disordered Eaters (let’s call us HDFE’s) live a life that seems very ‘normal’ from an outsider’s perspective. We hold down jobs, exercise consistently, have a circle of close friends, a vibrant social life, and are often in loving partnerships.It’s behind closed doors, and deep within our minds, that a struggle-storm is constantly brewing.  A tornado that makes life not only more difficult than it needs to be, but also a lot more confusing.


HDFE’s can be thought of as compliant.  

  • We have listened to the messages Western society has provided about how both our bodies should look and how we should conduct ourselves socially. We have come to agree, whether we are aware or not, that appearance is worth more than what we have to offer intellectually or emotionally. And these things have taught us to forget who we are in service of what we do.
  • We have become increasingly disconnected. From others, from ourselves, from our nature…and this has resulted in us losing touch with how to properly care for ourselves in a holistic and embodied way.
  • We all want to fit in. To be accepted by our tribe and feel safe throughout our day to day.

If you aligned with a lot of the traits explained at the beginning of this article, you have also most likely noticed your relationship to food and exercise become obsessive at some point in your life.  Many people, whether we realize it or not, begin to control how our bodies look in order to remain acceptable to social norms.

Being called FAT can be one of the worst things to be called because it denotes that we do not fit the mold that our society puts on a pedestal of success and reverence. Therefore, if one is Fat, we are rejected from our tribe. This idea becomes SO backward because to be fat in our society, now actually means being at a healthy weight for most people. Even our BMI calculations do not take into account muscle mass, or individual body inclinations and stature.  The World Health Organization lists over 28% of the Canadian population as obese. I not only find that hard to believe, but it saddens me that the inherent belief about this as an insidious issue in our society suggest that being overweight is in itself a major fault of character.


Fat-phobia drives Disordered Eating and Self-Hatred because we all want to ‘fit’ in.

Many of us have taken to overriding the natural inclinations of our bodies, such as hunger and tiredness, in order to fulfill the mold of a fit, healthy, strong, diligent…persona. What we lose out on by doing so is learning to honor who we are as an individual and as a human-being.


Forgoing our basic needs to please a nameless, faceless ideal that most of us have blindly accepted.

I know there are definitely exceptions to this rule, and I applaud those who are able to stay true to themselves in the face of social media influence (which is much more than just Instagram and Facebook).  What I am hoping to address is the great suffering that is going on behind the scenes…that is, for the most part, kept unaddressed and made taboo.

To be a High-Functioning Disordered Eater is, in a word, EXHAUSTING. It’s lonely, it’s scared, and it’s real.

If you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned actual food too much in this article, that is because there is so much more to the issue….

Food (and exercise) control are the symptom of this much larger problem.  HFDE’s have a bad relationship to food, no doubt, but it’s the negative thought patterns and the beliefs about the self that are the real culprit.


And it’s here that we can start to make a change.

  • Media Literacy, conscious awareness of the media you are consuming while also having the ability to question when you don’t agree with what you see, needs to be encouraged and taught from young age.  When we are able to disassociate our-selves with the airbrushed, preened, and perfected (ahem: NOT REAL) images that we see on a daily basis, we can view them just as images and not as messages about how we should show up in the world.
  • We also need to be more aware of the thoughts that we think… especially those that are negative and destructive to our beings.  We need to know how to disrupt these negative thought patterns and feel comfortable speaking to ourselves in a compassionate way. It is okay to struggle, it is not okay or necessary to use struggle as a tool to reach your goals.  This method may be effective in the short term (in fact it is what drives HFDE’s) but it will lead to burnt out, sickness, and just plain discontent with life in the long run.
  • Community and connection are the last piece I will mention, and are so vital to healing your relationship with yourself.  Cultivating a group of people around you that deeply understand you as an individual and not only support your dreams and desires, but help you along the path to figure out what you want, makes the process a hell of a lot easier and more enjoyable.


You are not alone.

There are people out there who are struggling with the same things as you, in fact probably many more than you could ever imagine. To be able to find these people you must be honest with yourself about your struggles, and be willing to open up, to share.

The world needs you to speak up.

Find a safe place where you can share yourself.  Start small. Hire a coach.  Join a team. Bond with your Mum or Dad…you never know who will be right there beside you on the journey.



About Kristen Kenward:  I am anorexia and binge-eater recovered for almost 7 years. I work as a Body Positive Personal Trainer and Life Coach around the Vancouver area. My business, VibrantMe Coaching focuses on helping those who struggle to find their unique voice, get past limiting beliefs about themselves and their society, and connect to themselves and the world wholeheartedly.

Dont be a stranger!
Visit my facebook page, tweet @Kelisabeth or follow me on Instagram @vibrantme_ today! 



One response to “What It’s Like To Be A Highly-Functioning Disordered Eater, by Kristen Kenward

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



We invite people of all ages to share insights, personal experiences, and helpful tips about eating disorders as part of our ongoing awareness campaign...
find out more.