OSFED may not have the same level of awareness as other eating disorders, but its effects on sufferers can be no less significant. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness and understanding can lead to sufferers isolating themselves from those who want to help them. At UKAT, we understand the challenges you face with OSFED. We assure you that with the right support, determination and courage, you can overcome OSFED and truly transform your life. This comprehensive guide will explore everything you need to know about OSFED: its causes, symptoms and, most importantly, effective treatment options.


What is OSFED?

OSFED stands for “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder”. This term came into use with the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), replacing what was previously known as “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” (EDNOS). The change reflects a more nuanced understanding of eating disorders, acknowledging that many individuals suffer from significant eating-related issues that do not fit neatly into the specific categories of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.

What differentiates OSFED from other eating disorders is its variety of manifestations. The DSM-5 outlines several subtypes, each with its own set of criteria:

Atypical anorexia nervosa

This diagnosis is given to those who meet all of the criteria for anorexia nervosa but, despite significant weight loss, their weight is within or above the normal range. This usually occurs as they were previously overweight before the condition manifested.

Bulimia nervosa (of low frequency and/or limited duration)

This subtype includes individuals who meet all of the criteria for bulimia nervosa except that binge eating and compensatory behaviours occur less frequently or for a shorter duration than required for the full diagnosis.

Binge-eating disorder (of low frequency and/or limited duration)

Similarly, this is when all of the criteria for binge-eating disorder are met, but the behaviour occurs less frequently or for a shorter period than a BED diagnosis requires.

Purging disorder

Purging disorder is characterised by recurrent purging behaviour to influence weight or shape. This includes self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives or diuretics and extreme exercise habits. It differs from bulimia as there is no binge eating involved.

Night eating syndrome

NED involves recurrent episodes of night eating as evidenced by eating after awakening from sleep or excessive food consumption after the evening meal. This behaviour is not better explained by external influences such as changes in the sleep-wake cycle or other social norms.

What causes OSFED?

The causes of OSFED, like many eating disorders, are multifaceted, often stemming from a complex mix of genetic, psychological and environmental factors. It is crucial to understand that while the manifestations of OSFED are diverse, the underlying causes often share commonalities with other eating disorders. Understanding these causes is a critical step towards recovery, as it helps in tailoring OSFED treatment to address the specific factors:

Genetic factors
Studies have shown that genetics can play a significant role in the development of eating disorders, including OSFED. Essentially, if a close family member has an eating disorder, the risk of developing one increases.
Psychological factors
Certain psychological traits are more common in individuals with eating disorders. These include perfectionism, neuroticism and impulsivity. People with OSFED may also struggle with low self-esteem, negative body image or a history of trauma or abuse.
Environmental factors
The environment, including cultural, familial and social influences, significantly impacts eating behaviours and body image. This means that societal pressure to conform to certain body standards, stressful life events or dysfunctional family dynamics can all contribute to the development of OSFED.
Dieting and body image concerns
Engaging in restrictive dieting can be a precursor to eating disorders. For some, what starts as a simple diet can spiral into obsessive behaviour around food and weight.
Co-occurring mental health issues
Many people with OSFED also suffer from other mental health conditions like anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders. These can trap you in a cycle of mental distress and related dysfunctional eating, which can complicate both OSFED treatments.

Common OSFED symptoms and signs

OSFED symptoms and signs can vary significantly from person to person, depending on which subtype they are suffering from. This can make both OSFED diagnosis and treatment very difficult. However, some common OSFED signs and symptoms include:

  • Preoccupation with weight and body shape: An intense focus on body weight and shape, often accompanied by frequent checking in mirrors or avoidance of mirrors altogether.
  • Eating habits: Irregular eating habits like skipping meals, restrictive dieting or overeating.
  • Emotional changes: Increased irritability, mood swings or depressive symptoms related to eating habits or body image.
  • Physical changes: Unexplained weight loss or weight gain, digestive issues or changes in menstrual cycle in women.
  • Social withdrawal: Avoiding social situations, especially those involving food or withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities.

Recognising these OSFED signs is often the first step in seeking help before the situation becomes even more dangerous.

What are the effects of OSFED?

The effects of OSFED can also vary depending on how the disorder manifests in each person. However, some common physical effects of OSFED include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Extreme changes in weight
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Dental, hair and skin issues
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Sleep issues
  • Psychologically, OSFED can lead to:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Distorted body image
  • Self-harming/suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Socially, OSFED can cause:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Negative impacts on relationships
  • Disruption of day-to-day functioning
  • Poor education or career prospects
  • Generally poor life quality
  • What does OSFED diagnosis Involve?

    Given its diverse manifestations, a thorough evaluation is essential to ensure an accurate OSFED diagnosis and effective treatment plan. Healthcare providers need to consider the person’s overall life context, including family dynamics, social situation and any past trauma or stressors that might be contributing to the disorder. This holistic understanding is vital for identifying their unique needs and creating an effective OSFED treatment plan. OSFED diagnosis may involve:

    Physical OSFED assessment

    The first step often involves a physical examination to assess your health. This may include checking vital signs, body weight and any physical symptoms related to eating patterns. Blood tests and other investigations may also be conducted to rule out medical conditions that could mimic or contribute to OSFED symptoms.

    Psychological OSFED assessment

    A detailed psychological evaluation is crucial. Mental health professionals will explore your relationship with food, body image, self-esteem and emotional well-being. This often includes discussing eating habits, attitudes towards weight and body shape and any co-occurring mental health issues like anxiety or depression.

    Nutritional OSFED assessment

    A nutritional assessment by a dietitian is key to understanding your dietary habits, nutritional intake and any misconceptions about food and nutrition. This assessment helps in identifying specific nutritional deficiencies and in planning a balanced diet to support physical OSFED recovery.

    Compassion and sensitivity are imperative throughout the OSFED diagnosis process. OSFED, by its nature, can be challenging to identify and discuss, and individuals may feel vulnerable or misunderstood. Therefore, a supportive, non-judgemental approach fosters trust and encourages open communication.

    What does OSFED treatment involve?

    OSFED treatment requires a multifaceted approach tailored to each individual’s unique needs. At UKAT’s Banbury Lodge, we offer a holistic recovery programme that addresses not just the symptoms of OSFED but also the underlying causes and triggers of OSFED. Our OSFED rehab treatment includes:

    One-to-one therapy
    Individual therapy sessions provide a safe space to explore the feelings, thoughts and behaviours surrounding OSFED. Your therapists will use various techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), to help you understand and change harmful thoughts and eating patterns.
    Group therapy
    Group therapy sessions offer you the opportunity to share experiences and learn from others who are facing similar challenges in rehab. This can foster community and help you build new relationships and support networks.
    Meditation and mindfulness
    These practices can help reduce stress, improve emotional regulation and foster a healthier relationship with food and your body.
    Family therapy
    Family therapy can be crucial, especially if family dynamics play a role in OSFED. It helps family members understand the disorder and learn ways to support OSFED recovery.
    Nutritional counselling
    A dietitian will work with you to develop a balanced eating plan, address nutritional deficiencies, and challenge unhealthy beliefs about food and body image.
    Aftercare is an essential part of the recovery process. At Banbury Lodge, it includes weekly group therapy sessions to help you maintain the progress you have made and prevent relapse.

    Begin the OSFED recovery journey today

    Embarking on the journey to OSFED recovery requires bravery and dedication. At UKAT, we are committed to supporting you on every courageous step. Remember, OSFED recovery is not just about overcoming an eating disorder; it is about reclaiming your life and realising your full potential. With the right support and determination, you can achieve lasting recovery and live a fulfilling life free from the shackles of OSFED. Contact UKAT today to get started.

    Call us now for help


    How serious is OSFED?
    OSFED is a serious condition that should not be underestimated. Although it may not fit the strict criteria of more well-known eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, it can still have significant physical, psychological and social consequences. Individuals with OSFED can experience a range of serious health complications, emotional distress and disruptions to their daily lives, so early and effective treatment is crucial for recovery and long-term health.
    Is OSFED a mental illness?
    Yes, OSFED is classified as a mental illness. It is recognised in the DSM-5, which is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals. The DSM-5 describes OSFED as encompassing various eating and feeding disorders that cause significant distress or impairment but do not meet the full criteria for disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. However, as a recognised mental health condition, individuals with OSFED need to seek professional help and treatment.