Although anorexia and bulimia tend to get the most attention, OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder), formerly known as EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified), actually makes up a larger percent of eating disorder diagnoses in the United States. An OSFED diagnosis is given if a person does not fully meet the criteria for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder but still has behaviors around eating that are significantly disruptive to their life. For instance, one criterion for bulimia is binging and purging more than twice a week for at least three months. If someone binges and compensates less than twice a week, he or she may not meet the requirements for a bulimia diagnosis but could be diagnosed with OSFED.

Though OSFED is less well-known than other eating disorders, it can be just as serious and requires comprehensive treatment that addresses compulsive behaviors and underlying issues like trauma or co-occurring mental disorders. Learn more about The Ranch eating disorder rehab program’s whole-person approach to eating disorder treatment or call 844-876-7680.

OSFED Warning Signs

OSFED (formerly known as EDNOS) is more common in women, especially young women, than in men, but like anorexia and bulimia, it can occur in anyone of any age or sex. Women with OSFED may be of normal weight, but their eating has become highly erratic or tightly controlled. Some women describe riding a roller coaster in which they may binge for a time followed by a plunge into strictly controlled food intake.

Most typically, eating disorders like OSFED begin in adolescence or young adulthood. The signs and symptoms of OSFED are very similar to those for bulimia and anorexia and can include:

  • A constant awareness, bordering on obsession with food, calorie counting, exercise and weight
  • Behaviors that are meant to compensate for eating, which can include vomiting, using laxatives or exercising
  • Disappearance of food in large quantities, spending a lot of time alone or spending a long period of time eating
  • Restricting food intake and calorie consumption
  • Cycles of restricting food, binging, feelings of shame and guilt, and then purging
  • Strict, restrictive rules about food, such as foods that can never be eaten, times of day to avoid eating, etc.
  • Using food to cope with unpleasant emotions or finding satisfaction from exerting control through food

Unfortunately, it usually isn’t until the person passes out in front of others, habitually eats alone, or reveals worrisome weight losses that others begin to realize there is a serious problem.

Types of OSFED

Eating disorders are not black and white. Many individuals exhibit symptoms of a combination of disordered eating behaviors and are not strictly anorexic or strictly bulimic.

Types of OSFED include:

  1. Atypical anorexia nervosa – exhibits characteristics of anorexic behaviors like restricting, but may not meet the weight or other criteria for an anorexia diagnosis.
  2. Bulimia nervosa – exhibits the binging and compensatory behaviors like purging, excessive exercising and laxative use of bulimia, but at a lower frequency or shorter amount of time.
  3. Purging disorder – exhibits compensatory behaviors like vomiting, laxative and diuretics abuse, and over-exercising that does not include a binging component.
  4. Night eating syndrome – recurring episodes of night eating that may include eating more after dinner than during it or awakening from sleep and feeling the need to eat in order to fall back asleep.

Dangers of OSFED

The medical risks and complications associated with OSFED are serious and mimic many of the dangers associated with bulimia and anorexia. Purging can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, and even heart problems and death. In extreme cases, binging can cause stomach rupture. Restricting calories can result in heart failure, low blood pressure, a reduced heart rate, a hormonal imbalance, bone weakening, and mental and emotional issues. Like those who suffer from bulimia and anorexia, women with OSFED experience disruptions in ability to concentrate, menstruation, sleep and body temperature.

One of the dangers of OSFED is that it may seem less serious than anorexia or bulimia. The label can make the affected person feel as if their disorder is not as serious or as common, or even as important as the more well-known disorders. The truth, however, is that more people suffer with OSFED than with anorexia and bulimia combined. And these people struggle with the same feelings of fear, self-loathing, shame and obsession, and engage in the same risky behaviors.

Treatment for OSFED

Because the behaviors and underlying issues associated with OSFED may vary, it is important that treatment plans are individually tailored to address the individual’s specific needs. At The Ranch treatment center, we draw upon a number of proven eating disorder interventions including dialectical behavior therapy, individual counseling, nutrition education, trauma-focused therapies and group therapy to provide clients a wide range of ways to heal. Co-occurring mental health disorders, sex and intimacy issues, and substance use disorders are treated simultaneously.

Learn more about The Ranch eating disorder program or call 844-876-7680.