Find A Therapist logo.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) Explained

Written by:

published on:

Updated on:

Contents:

Note: Your support drives Find-A-Therapist. We earn a commission if you purchase services through our ads.

Looking for a therapist?

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, commonly known as EDNOS, is a term that once encompassed a wide range of eating behaviors that did not meet the strict diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The classification of EDNOS was critical in highlighting the diverse presentations of eating disorders, acknowledging that individuals could suffer from serious eating-related concerns that require attention and intervention.

Understanding EDNOS

EDNOS

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), now referred to as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), encompasses a variety of eating disorder symptoms that do not neatly fit into the classic definitions of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Binge Eating Disorder.

With the revision to DSM-5, the term has evolved into OSFED to reduce the stigma of a “not otherwise specified” diagnosis and to recognize the severity of these disordered eating behaviors.

Diagnostic Criteria of EDNOS

The diagnostic criteria for EDNOS/OSFED, according to DSM-5, are intentionally broad to include a range of symptoms that signify serious eating disorders without adhering to the strict boundaries of better-known conditions.

To qualify for an EDNOS/OSFED diagnosis, individuals must experience significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning due to their eating behaviors.

Types of EDNOS

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) encompasses a wide range of eating-related issues that are significant yet diverse. 

The types of EDNOS can be broadly classified, demonstrating the complexity of this diagnosis.

TypeDescription
Atypical Anorexia NervosaIndividuals who meet most of the criteria for anorexia nervosa but maintain a weight within or above the normal range.

They may exhibit restrictive eating patterns, fear of gaining weight, and body image disturbances.
Bulimia Nervosa of Low Frequency and/or Limited DurationIndividuals who experience episodes of binge eating and compensatory behaviors such as purging, but at a lower frequency or for a shorter duration than required for a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)Individuals who regularly engage in binge eating episodes but do not engage in compensatory behaviors such as purging.

BED is now recognized as a distinct eating disorder in its own right, but prior to its official classification, it fell under the category of EDNOS.
Purging DisorderIndividuals who engage in purging behaviors (such as self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives or diuretics) to control weight or shape without engaging in binge eating episodes.
Night Eating SyndromeIndividuals who consume a significant portion of their daily caloric intake during the evening and/or wake up during the night to eat.

They may experience insomnia and have difficulties falling asleep without eating.

The recognition of these subtypes within EDNOS aids in the understanding and treatment of individuals who don’t strictly fit into other eating disorder categories.

Research suggests that symptoms related to weight and shape concerns in EDNOS patients might be as severe as those diagnosed with more well-known eating disorders.

Signs and Symptoms

Distorted Body Image

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) is characterized by a variety of physical, behavioral, and emotional indicators that might not meet the strict diagnostic criteria for other specific eating disorders.

Understanding these signs and symptoms is crucial for recognition and appropriate intervention.

Physical Indicators of EDNOS

  • Weight Fluctuations: Individuals with EDNOS may experience significant weight loss or fluctuations that are not associated with medical conditions. Their weight may cycle between normal, underweight, and overweight categories without a steadiness found in other disorders.
  • Gastrointestinal Complaints: Unspecified eating disorders can cause a variety of digestive issues, from constipation to abdominal pain, often resulting from irregular eating habits.

Behavioral and Cognitive Symptoms

  • Preoccupation with Food: They might demonstrate an unhealthy focus on food, calories, dieting, or body image that occupies significant cognitive space.
  • Distorted Body Image: These individuals may express a persistent belief that they’re “fat,” despite evidence to the contrary or the lack of objective overweight.
  • Exercise and Bingeing/Purging: Unusually rigorous exercise routines or sporadic binge eating followed by purging behaviors are potential behavioral symptoms of EDNOS.

Emotional Manifestations

  • Emotional Distress: Symptoms can include severe emotional turmoil related to eating habits or body image.
  • Anxiety and Depression: Feelings of anxiety or episodes of depression commonly accompany EDNOS, often exacerbated by food intake or self-perception.
  • Fear of Eating Publicly: They may avoid meals in social situations due to a fear of being judged or a desire to conceal their eating patterns.

Causes and Risks

Risks

When examining EDNOS, it is essential to understand that the causes are multifaceted and the risks are varied.

The condition can stem from a blend of genetic predispositions, environmental influences, and psychological factors. Individuals with EDNOS are at a heightened risk for a spectrum of health concerns.

Genetic and Environmental Factors

Research indicates that genetic makeup plays a crucial role in the susceptibility to EDNOS. Specific genes may increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

However, it is not an isolated cause; environmental stressors such as cultural pressure, traumatic events, or family dynamics can act as catalysts.

It is the combination of these genetic vulnerabilities and environmental triggers, such as significant stress, that may lead to the manifestation of an eating disorder.

Psychological and Emotional Contributors

Psychological components, including anxiety and depression, are often intertwined with EDNOS. High levels of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy may contribute to the development of disordered eating patterns as maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Emotional turmoil can disrupt a person’s self-image and result in a reliance on eating disorder behaviors as a form of control or emotional regulation.

Health Risks Associated with EDNOS

The health risks of EDNOS are substantial and may sometimes be comparable to those associated with acknowledged eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.

These risks include but are not limited to:

  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Cardiovascular problems

It is crucial to recognize that individuals with EDNOS may experience severe health consequences, including increased mortality risk, which necessitates timely intervention and treatment.

Treatment Options

Therapy

Different modalities are utilized in the treatment of Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), now more commonly referred to as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).

These include medical interventions, various forms of psychotherapy, and nutritional management.

Medical Interventions

Medical interventions are typically the initial step in treatment, ensuring the stabilization of the patient’s health.

This might involve addressing acute medical issues resulting from the eating disorder. The goal of medical treatment is to restore physical health to a point where psychological therapies can be effective.

Nutritional Management

A crucial part of recovery involves nutritional counseling and management, which educates patients on the importance of a balanced diet and guides them toward restoring healthy eating habits.

Nutritional management aims to support the patient’s physical recovery while also addressing the psychological aspects of the disorder.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy forms the backbone of EDNOS treatment with various methods proven beneficial. 

To find licensed therapists who assist in providing tools to address EDNOS, individuals may utilize online directories such as Find-a-therapist.com, or they can explore online therapy platforms like BetterHelp or Teen Counseling, which cater specifically to the teenage population.

Some specific therapies that may help in the recovery process include

Enhanced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT-E)

Enhanced cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT-E, is a first-line treatment specifically adapted for eating disorders. 

This approach focuses on identifying distorted thought patterns and developing practical skills to challenge and change these thoughts and behaviors.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) assists patients by concentrating on social roles and relationships.

The therapy helps individuals understand and work through problematic relationships that may be contributing factors to the development or maintenance of their eating disorder.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) emphasizes the development of coping strategies to manage stress, regulate emotions, and improve relationships. 

This method is beneficial in addressing the emotional dysregulation often present in those with EDNOS.

Family Therapy

Family Therapy

In some cases, particularly with adolescents, family therapy may be recommended as part of the treatment plan. 

This therapy involves family members in the treatment process, promoting understanding and support within the family dynamic.

Living with EDNOS

Living with EDNOS presents unique challenges that demand consistent management of symptoms and dedicated effort toward long-term recovery.

Individuals coping with this condition need to build a robust support system and cultivate a deep awareness of their disorder and their lifestyle.

Managing Symptoms Day-To-Day

To manage EDNOS symptoms on a daily basis, individuals often need to balance their weight and nutrition carefully. Some strategies may include:

  • Keeping a food diary: Monitoring eating habits can help in identifying patterns that may trigger symptoms.
  • Setting small, achievable goals: This could involve eating regular meals or trying new, healthy foods in a supportive environment.

Long-Term Recovery and Maintenance

Long-term recovery from EDNOS is an ongoing process that involves both psychological and physical aspects, such as:

  • Securing professional help: Regular therapy sessions can aid in addressing underlying issues tied to the eating disorder.
  • Lifestyle changes: Incorporating regular exercise and stress-reduction techniques can be beneficial.

Awareness of one’s own progress and triggers is vital for sustainable recovery.

Building a Support System

Group therapy

A strong support network is essential in the journey against EDNOS:

  • Support groups: Peer-led or professionally guided support groups provide a sense of community and shared experiences.
  • Family involvement: Educating loved ones on EDNOS can bolster understanding and empathy within personal relationships.

By cultivating such a network, one ensures emotional and practical support is available when challenges arise.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is EDNOS considered a dangerous eating disorder?

EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, is considered hazardous due to its ability to cause severe physical and psychological harm comparable to other specified eating disorders.

It includes a wide range of disordered eating behaviors that do not fully meet the criteria for other diagnoses, yet still pose significant health risks.

How does EDNOS differ from OSFED?

EDNOS was a term previously used in the DSM-IV for eating disorders that did not meet the strict criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

OSFED, or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders, is essentially the updated term used in DSM-5 to encompass a broader scope of specific eating disorders that do not qualify as other classifications.

How does EDNOS compare to anorexia nervosa?

While EDNOS can contain elements of anorexia nervosa, the difference lies in the diagnostic criteria; individuals with EDNOS may not exhibit all the symptoms required to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

For instance, a person with EDNOS may engage in severe restriction of food intake but may not have the low weight characteristic of anorexia nervosa.

References

Camarena, B., Hernandez, S., Gonzalez, L., Griselda, F., David, L., & Aguilar, A. (2018). Association study between the triallelic polymorphism of SLC6A4 gene and eating disorders. Am J Psychiatry Neurosci6(4), 104-107. Link.

Moor, S., Vartanian, L. R., Touyz, S. W., & Beumont, P. J. V. (2004). Psychopathology of EDNOS patients: To whom do they compare?. Clinical Psychologist8(2), 70-75. Link.

Thomas, J. J., Vartanian, L. R., & Brownell, K. D. (2009). The relationship between eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) and officially recognized eating disorders: meta-analysis and implications for DSM. Psychological bulletin135(3), 407. Link.

Turner, H., & Bryant‐Waugh, R. (2004). Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS): profiles of clients presenting at a community eating disorder service. European Eating Disorders Review: The Professional Journal of the Eating Disorders Association12(1), 18-26. Link.

Additional Resources

Prioritizing our mental well-being is paramount in today’s fast-paced world. The digital age has redefined therapy and psychiatric care, making support more accessible than ever. To guide you towards a healthier state of mind, we’ve partnered with pioneering names in mental health.
Note: We collaborate with top-tier mental health companies and we earn a commission if you purchase services through our ads.

Online Therapy

Discover a path to emotional well-being with BetterHelp – your partner in convenient and affordable online therapy. With a vast network of 30,000+ licensed therapists, they’re committed to helping you find the one to support your needs. Take advantage of their Free Online Assessment, and connect with a therapist who truly understands you. Begin your journey today.

Relationship Counceling

Whether you’re facing communication challenges, trust issues, or simply seeking to strengthen your connection, ReGain’s experienced therapists are here to guide you and your partner toward a healthier, happier connection from the comfort of your own space. Get started.

Therapist Directory

Discover the perfect therapist who aligns with your goals and preferences, allowing you to take charge of your mental health. Whether you’re searching for a specialist based on your unique needs, experience level, insurance coverage, budget, or location, our user-friendly platform has you covered. Search here.

About the author

Eliana Galindo
Eliana is a dedicated psychologist from Colombia who has gained extensive experience and made significant contributions in child development, clinical psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. Her work as a rehabilitation psychologist with disabled children has been transformative and compassionate. In the child development field, she creates nurturing environments through assessments, interventions, and collaboration with families. In clinical psychology, she supports individuals overcoming mental health challenges with empathy and evidence-based approaches. Inspired by her experiences, Eliana is motivated to write about mental health, aiming to raise awareness and advocate for a compassionate and inclusive approach to well-being.

You might also be interested in

Disclaimers

In some articles, we include products we think are useful for our readers. When you buy through these links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.

Information on our website is for educational and informational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute, nor does it replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a mental healthcare professional.

If you need an immediate assistance:

Medical Emergency (US) – 911
Medical Emergency (Global) – 112
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – 988
Full List of Emergency Resources 

Online Therapy, Your Way

Discover the ease of starting therapy with BetterHelp. Complete the assessment and connect with a licensed professional therapist online.
Note: We earn a commission if you purchase services through our ads.