Other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED)
OSFED stands for Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders.
A person with Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) may present with many of the symptoms of other eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder but will not meet the full criteria for diagnosis of these disorders.
This does not mean that the person has a less serious eating disorder. OSFED is a serious mental illness that occurs in adults, adolescents and children. Around 30% of people who seek treatment for an eating disorder have OSFED.
People with OSFED commonly present with extremely disturbed eating habits, and/or a distorted body image and/or overvaluation of shape and weight and/or an intense fear of gaining weight (if underweight). OSFED is the most common eating disorder diagnosed for adults as well as adolescents, and affects both males and females.
Having awareness about eating disorders and the warning signs and symptoms can make a marked difference to the severity and duration of the illness. Seeking help at the first warning sign is much more effective than waiting until the illness is in full swing.
The warning signs of OSFED can be physical, psychological and behavioural. It is possible for someone with OSFED to display a combination of these symptoms
- Weight loss, weight gain or weight fluctuations
- Loss of or disturbance of menstrual periods in girls and women and decreased libido in men
- Compromised immune system (e.g. getting sick more often)
- Signs of damage due to vomiting including swelling around the cheeks or jaw, calluses on knuckles, damage to teeth and bad breath
- Fainting and dizziness as a result of dehydration
- Preoccupation with food and eating
- Preoccupation with body shape and weight (in men this can be a preoccupation with increasing muscle bulk)
- Extreme body dissatisfaction
- Having a distorted body image (e.g. seeing themselves as overweight even if they are in a healthy weight range for their age and height)
- Sensitivity to comments relating to food, weight, body shape or exercise
- Heightened anxiety and/or irritability around meal times
- Depression, anxiety or irritability
- Low self esteem and feelings of shame, self loathing or guilt
- ‘Black and white’ thinking – rigid thoughts about food being ‘good’ or ‘bad’
- Dieting behaviour (e.g. fasting, counting calories/kilojoules, avoiding food groups such as fats and carbohydrates)
- Evidence of binge eating (e.g. disappearance or hoarding of food)
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals which could be evidence of vomiting or laxative use
- Compulsive or excessive exercising (e.g. exercising in bad weather, continuing to exercise when sick or injured, and experiencing distress if exercise is not possible)
- Eating at unusual times and/or after going to sleep at night
- Changes in food preferences (e.g. claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed, sudden preoccupation with ‘healthy eating’, or replacing meals with fluids)
- Obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (e.g. eating very slowly, cutting food into very small pieces, insisting that meals are served at exactly the same time everyday)
- Anti-social behaviour, particularly around meal times, and withdrawal from social situations involving food
- Secretive behaviour around food (e.g. saying they have eaten when they haven’t, hiding uneaten food in their rooms)
- Increased interest in food preparation (e.g. planning, buying, preparing and cooking meals for others but not actually consuming; interest in cookbooks, recipes and nutrition)
- Increased interest and focus on body shape and weight (e.g. interest in weight loss websites, books, magazines or images of thin people)
- Repetitive or obsessive behaviours relating to body shape and weight (e.g. weighing themselves repeatedly, looking in the mirror obsessively and pinching waist or wrists)
- Increased isolation, spending more and more time alone and avoiding previously enjoyed activities
The risks associated with OSFED are severe. People with OSFED will experience risks similar to those of the eating disorder their behaviours most closely resemble:
- Inflammation and rupture of the oesophagus and stomach from frequent vomiting
- Chronic constipation or diarrhoea
- Kidney failure
- Osteoporosis – a condition that leads to bones becoming fragile and easily fractured
- Irregular or slow heart beat which can lead to an increased risk of heart failure
- Loss of or disturbance of menstrual periods in girls and women
- Increased risk of infertility in men and women
While the goal of diagnosis is to accurately describe symptoms and seek the right help for them, a large number of people have other significant eating and feeding issues and distorted body image which are not covered by these categories.
As a result of the atypical nature of OSFED, it is most effective to follow the treatments recommended for the eating disorder that most closely resembles the individual person’s eating problem. For example, if a person presents with many but not all of the symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa, it is recommended for that person to seek the same treatment approaches recommended for people with Bulimia Nervosa.
Recovery is possible
It is possible to recover from OSFED, even if you have been living with the illness for many years. The path to recovery can be very challenging. However, with the right team and a high level of personal commitment, recovery is an achievable goal. Treatments for OSFED are available; seek help from a professional with specialised knowledge in eating disorders.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has OSFED, it is important to seek help immediately. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. While your GP may not be a specialist in eating disorders, they are a good ‘first base’ and can refer you to a practitioner with specialised knowledge in health, nutrition and eating disorders.
For support, information, access to resources or referrals, you can also contact Butterfly’s National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (8am-midnight, AEST, 7 days a week), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or use our Helpline chat.