The Hidden Eating Disorder – OSFED

The first time I heard about eating disorders was probably in my American Girl Doll book my mom bought me, The Care and Keeping of You, when I was a pre-teen. I remember that they had a feature where girls had written in questions about navigating life and they would get responses. A Dear Abby sort of scenario. One girl asked about her friend who would go to the bathroom after lunch and throw up. I was unsure of what to think about this. The next time I learned about eating disorders was most likely in health class in 6th grade? I know we talked about them in 8th-grade health. My friend did her report on Bulimia Nervosa. We also reviewed what Anorexia Nervosa was. I remember looking at the pictures of the thin women and telling myself that I didn’t have an eating disorder. I couldn’t have had one because I looked nothing like those women.

I knew my eating was different than my friends, but I didn’t fit the criteria of any of the eating disorders presented in class, and I used that as a way to deny that I had any sort of issue. I was in denial for a long time and wasn’t able to fully acknowledge I had an eating disorder until I was diagnosed with anorexia as a 20-year-old in the ICU. Little did I know…I did have an eating disorder back then when I was 13, and it’s called OSFED.

OSFED stands for Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder. The DSM 5 essentially defines OSFED as an eating disorder that doesn’t fit the criteria for Bulimia Nervosa or Anorexia Nervosa but still poses distress, impairment, etc. in the person’s life (Note – this disorder used to be called EDNOS or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified but was changed in the DSM 5). There are five subtypes, and one of them is called Atypical Anorexia Nervosa. The disorder is defined as a similar disorder to Anorexia Nervosa, in symptoms and behaviors, but without the same amount of weight loss. None of the health class I took ever mentioned that disordered eating where you were restricting calories, losing weight, counting calories, etc. could still be an eating disorder even if I hadn’t lost a specified amount of weight…I had no idea that I had an actual eating disorder and this is dangerous. 

Research has been done that shows OSFED could be the most dangerous and deadly eating disorder of all! Why? Well, take my life, for example, I was 13 when my eating disorder began, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 20 years old and my body suffered more damage than necessary because of the lack of awareness of OSFED. Because of this lack of awareness, individuals with this disorder often struggle for ages without anyone knowing, while they slowly destroy their bodies. Often times, by the time it’s discovered that they have an eating disorder, they have done a significant amount of damage to their body physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes this damage ends up being too great especially since the individual has lived with the secret for so long. OSFED and its subtypes are real disorders, and they are just as severe and important as other more publicized disorders.

If health teachers started adding OSFED to their curriculums, if teachers knew the signs to look for, if parents knew, if friends knew, if struggling 13-year-olds like me knew, then maybe we could help stop the growing epidemic of girls and boys struggling with these life-threatening disorders.

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