The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Food Rituals: When Weird Becomes Harmful


The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt partnered with Seventeen Magazine to conduct a survey to look at disordered eating among young women between the ages of 13 and 20-years-old. Seventeen’s recent article, Are You a Freaky Eater?, published in the August 2008 issue, brings to light results gathered from the survey and also explores the nuances of, and behaviors associated with, “freaky eating” – systematic eating patterns categorized as “weird” and most frequently used as a coping mechanism to mask underlying mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety.

Certain experiences can trigger the onset of ritualistic eating patterns, such as a trauma or stressful event in a person’s life. One way an individual may cope with personal issues is by developing coping mechanisms like the one known as “freaky eating.” If not treated, these bizarre, yet calculated eating habits can spiral out of control, resulting in full-blown eating disorders.

When determining if an individual has developed obsessive regimented “rules” for eating, it’s best to look for common signs and symptoms that characterize their love/hate relationship with food. Recognizing these specific signs and symptoms can help individuals and families identify the need to seek appropriate professional treatment. “Freaky” eating behaviors and patterns to look out for include:

  • Cutting food into tiny pieces
  • Showing discomfort when eating in front of others
  • Labeling certain foods as good and other foods as bad – strictly avoiding the ‘bad’ foods
  • Not allowing certain foods to touch each other on the same plate
  • A desire to keep food habits or patterns as secretive or low-key as possible

A tumultuous relationship with food can cause an individual to experience low self esteem, cause social isolation due to avoidance of eating with others and can impair an individual’s mood as a result of decreased intake and/or concerns about intake.

If you’re concerned that a friend or family member may be developing an eating disorder as the result of unusual eating patterns, please take our online assessment.

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