Signs and Symptoms of OSFED


Signs and Symptoms

Defining an eating disorder is a restrictive process. There are incredibly tight parameters and definite numbers and percentages an individual must display and tidily fit into. To meet the stringent checklist, receive a diagnosis, and subsequently receive treatment is to be suffering from a narrowly defined list.  But what about those who are suffering but can’t check off the small and specific boxes an eating disorder diagnosis requires? Are they undiagnosable, therefore unable to receive treatment? Does this disqualify their suffering or the ramifications their undefinable eating disorder has on their body? Absolutely not!

What is the definition of OSFED?

Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED) comes in. OSFED was previously referred to as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). OSFED is meant to act as a net that can capture those who suffer from a significant eating disorder but do not exclusively meet the criteria of Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge Eating Disorder.  OSFED is less well known than other eating disorder diagnoses, but OSFED impacts the highest percentage of individuals worldwide.  It is estimated that OSFED impacts 32 – 53% of individuals with an eating disorder, making it the most common, but also the least well known, and therefore least talked about. OSFED is an incredibly important reminder to everyone that those who do not definitively identify with three narrow eating disorder definitions, does not mean that they are not suffering and struggling. Those with OSFED are equally as deserving of help, compassion, and support.

What are the symptoms of OSFED?

Symptoms of OSFED are no different than symptoms of other eating disorders. For context, the below is some insight into OSFED:

  1. Criteria for Anorexia is met, however, the individual’s weight is clinically normal
  2. Criteria for Anorexia is met, however, menstrual cycles are regular
  3. Criteria for Bulimia is met, however binging and purging happens less than two times a week
  4. Purging after meals with a clinically normal body weight
  5. Repeatedly chewing and spitting out large amounts of food
  6. Criteria is met for Binge Eating Disorder

What are the psychological symptoms of OSFED?

The psychological symptoms of OSFED are no different than the psychological symptoms of other eating disorders. They include:

  • Ruminating thoughts about food and weight
  • Intense anxiety around food
  • Chronic dieting
  • Avoidance of other people and social gatherings
  • Misusing laxatives and other medication to promote weight loss

What causes OSFED?

There are no definitive causes of eating disorders. It is believed, however, that those who develop eating disorders are genetically predisposed to them.  Therefore, an individual’s environment, coupled with their predispositions is the catalyst to eating disorder development. Below is a list of particular situations, circumstances, or environments that may nudge an individual down a path that leads to ED development:


    History of substance abuse

    Personality types

  • Perfectionist
  • Obsessive tendencies

    Cultural + Societal pressures

  • Sexualization of Women
  • Diet Culture
  • Social Media

    Co-occurring disorders

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder

What is the treatment for OSFED?

Treatment for OSFED follows a similar structure to all other eating disorders.  Although the structure remains constant, specific treatment, timing, and professionals involved will differ vastly depending on the individual in need.  Getting to the root of an eating disorder is facilitated through therapy, the most arduous albeit important step in treatment and eventual recovery.  Eating disorders are mental health diagnoses, therefore working with a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or social worker is a critical component of treatment.

Related Article: Difference Between EDNOS and OSFED

Dr. Natalie Mulligan graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). She completed her clinical internship at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic with a focused interest in mental health. Prior to attending CCNM, she completed a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Waterloo.