How to address disordered eating patterns in young adults

March 01, 2024

At Cornerstones of Maine, many of our clients present with disordered eating tendencies or are coming to us after attending an eating disorder treatment program. For Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2024, Cornerstones clinicians Kristen Gieras, MSW, LCSW and Megan Roy, LMCHC share some insight on how our direct care teams work with a client, their primary care physician, and our dietitian consultants to address disordered eating behaviors. Additionally, Kristen and Megan identify four key factors to consider when addressing disordered eating patterns in young adults.


What is disordered eating?


The National Eating Disorders Association characterizes disordered eating as the spectrum of problematic eating behaviors and distorted attitudes towards food, weight, shape, and appearance. Disordered eating patterns can vary in severity but the frequency, duration, and psychological criteria does not meet the standards of a diagnosable eating disorder. Research indicates that disordered eating patterns commonly co-occur with depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. As a result, it is not uncommon for young adults with mental health conditions to exhibit dysfunction surrounding eating and how they view their bodies. 


Four key factors of disordered eating patterns:


1. Interoception and Hunger Cues


  • Evaluate Awareness: Does the young adult notice physical and emotional signs related to hunger, such as stomach growling, tiredness, and irritability?

  • Identify Patterns: Note whether hunger cues are regular or sporadic, and observe responses to these cues.

  • Develop a Routine: Incorporate regulated meals that fulfill dietary needs to restore hunger cues and address disordered eating patterns.

2. Sensory Challenges with Food


  • Identify It: Does the individual, especially when anxious, struggle with the sensory experience of food? 

  • Find Accommodations: Offer a list of safe or easy foods and suggest starting with easy-to-swallow options like smoothies or soups. Additionally, keep healthy easily accessible snacks around such as protein bars, nuts, and fruit. 

  • Gradual Exposure: Over time, the client’s treatment team, in coordination with registered dieticians, encourages clients to safely expand their palate by introducing new foods. 

3. Body Image Work


  • Relationship to the Body: How does the young adult feel about their body? Explore their beliefs about good versus bad bodies and where they believe their own body falls on that spectrum. 

  • Promoting Body Neutrality: Introduce the concept of body neutrality as a step away from body hate or rejection.

  • Be Encouraging & Intentional: Encourage body image work and self love practices. If there is a formally diagnosed eating disorder present, wait until regular eating patterns have been restored.

4. Societal Influence and Diet Culture Habits


  • Awareness of Societal Pressures: Discuss the impact of societal standards on body image and beauty ideals. Explore the young adult’s family orientation towards food and body size.

  • Identifying Diet Culture: Define and recognize diet culture habits, such as calorie counting and food categorization. Does the young adult engage in any of these habits?

  • Social Media Audit: Encourage clients to unfollow accounts promoting diet culture and replace them with intuitive eating resources. 



By addressing these key factors, we collaboratively support our clients to develop a healthful relationship with food, body image, and exercise, paving the way for long-term well-being and personal growth.








Baker Dennis, PhD, FAED, Amy. “Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association, 8 Jan. 2024,