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Explains eating problems, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
An eating disorder is a medical diagnosis based on your eating patterns and medical tests on your weight, blood and body mass index (BMI). This page lists common eating disorders and other disordered eating diagnoses.
Food is one of the many mediums through which our emotions and distress can be expressed, so you may have a very difficult relationship with food which impacts on your mental health, but doesn't fit into any of the current categories of diagnosis. It's also possible to experience more than one eating disorder, or to experience some symptoms from each disorder.
If your problems with eating aren't easy for your doctor to categorise, they might not give you a specific diagnosis. But even if you don't have a diagnosis, or prefer to think about your experiences in a non-medical way, you may find it helpful to understand some of the feelings and behaviours that can be associated with specific eating disorders.
If you get an anorexia diagnosis, this is because you are not eating enough food to get the energy you need to stay healthy. Sometimes people assume anorexia is just about slimming and dieting, but it is much more than this. At its core it is often connected to very low self-esteem, negative self-image and feelings of intense distress.
"I started starving myself as a means of control. Everything else had been taken out of my control, but no one could force me to eat. I'd enjoy and crave the feeling of my stomach being... empty."
If you have binge eating disorder you might feel that you can't stop yourself from eating, even if you want to. It is sometimes described as compulsive eating. If you experience binge eating disorder, you might rely on food to make you feel better or to hide difficult feelings.
"I dread any event with a buffet. Because I know I'll eat and I'll keep eating and I won't even enjoy it but I'll eat because I feel somehow I have to. I'll eat even when I'm feeling full, when I'm feeling bloated, feeling pain in my gut, feeling sick."
OSFED is a diagnosis that is becoming more common. In the past you may have been given a diagnosis of eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) – but this isn't usually used any more.
If you are given a diagnosis of OSFED it means that you have an eating disorder but you don't meet all the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. This doesn't mean that your eating disorder is less serious, it just means that it doesn't fit into current diagnostic categories. You might experience any of the behaviours, feelings and body changes associated with other eating disorders.
Getting a diagnosis of OSFED can help you access treatment and support.
"I was assessed by my local [eating disorder] service and was given a diagnosis of EDNOS [now OSFED]. I managed to get my eating back on track. I continue to work on the feelings with the help of my therapist and am very much in recovery."
"My eating disorder has never been about body image or control, and I've had it for as long as I can remember. When I'm faced with certain foods I feel a reaction in the pit of my stomach like someone has put a plate of the most disgusting things in front of me. I can only equate the sensation to walking past an open sewer."
This information was published in June 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
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