It stands for ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’ and is also known as OSFED (Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder). It refers to eating disorders that display some of the characteristics of other illnesses (such as Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa) but whose behaviours do not fit the full criteria of these conditions. EDNOS consists of cycles of restricting food, then binging, followed by purging after feelings of shame and guilt. An obsessive nature and over-awareness is common surrounding food, weight, and calorie control, and restricting and avoiding meals is another of the many symptoms. Someone living with EDNOS may have certain rules about the types of food they can or can’t eat, and at what times they believe they are allowed to eat. Behaviours such as using laxatives, vomiting, or over exercising are often expressed as a way of compensating for eating. A sufferer may binge on large quantities of food, and follow it with a period of restriction or purging.
EDNOS makes up a large percentage of eating disorders worldwide, but is massively under-reported in the media. I remember searching online for the term and reading through every bullet point, and I suddenly realised I could relate to every single symptom. It was then that it hit me that I had actually been suffering from a real condition all this time.
For nearly nine years I spent each day in fear of being overweight. The idea of getting ‘fat’ terrified me. I don’t think I can remember a time when I was ever happy with my body (although now I am learning to be). I was always overweight growing up, and I had massive insecurities by the age of 13. I was bullied for most of my childhood, mainly about my weight, and I hated the way I looked with a passion. I began to restrict my eating to the bare minimum and the weight fell off. The thought of eating made me feel sick, and I would sometimes make myself vomit.
Over time, my lovely thick hair fell out and I was left with a big bald patch on the back of my head. I still have noticeably thinner hair to this day. I managed to slip out of this initial eating disorder a year or so later without much thought to it, and regained the weight I had lost quickly as my metabolism had dissolved into virtually nothing.
At age 18, however, EDNOS returned at full force after I managed to break free from a manipulative and emotionally abusive relationship. My self-esteem had plummeted, and I reverted to my calorie-counting addiction. I started starving myself again, obsessed with being thin. But I was never happy. It didn’t matter how thin I got because I never believed I was.
I was fighting a losing battle. It was a never-ending cycle: restrict, binge, purge, repeat. It was only a thought, which became a behaviour, which turned into a habit, which ended up second nature, until finally EDNOS was all there was.
Each morning started in the same way. I would wake up and feel my stomach without even thinking about it. If I couldn’t feel my hipbones as prominently as I could the morning before, an overwhelming feeling of misery and guilt would kick in and I would plan out my ‘allowance’ for the day. If I’d binged the day before, or eaten what I thought was too much, then I would be beating myself up and spending the day in disgust with myself for being so greedy. Of course, it made no difference if I did believe I could feel my bones more, or that my stomach seemed flatter, because once again I would plan out what I could or couldn’t have that day so that I could wake up the next day feeling even thinner. I weighed myself daily, sometimes several times a day, and I could go for days on just liquids. This this was often followed by a binge, where I would make myself sick as I thought I’d eaten too much.
I would spend most of my time daydreaming about food and obsessing over what I could and could not eat. I would decide what I was allowed to consume to make sure that I would weigh less and feel ‘better’ the next day. I would count every calorie that entered my mouth, and throughout the day I’d do several mental recaps to ensure that I hadn’t gone beyond my set limit. My metabolism was basically non-existent of course, so the longer this went on, the harder it became to lose weight and feel thinner; my body had entered starvation mode and clung on to any food I was giving it.
I spent four more years trapped in this vicious cycle, lying to my wonderful partner of three years and denying myself the truth. It had become overwhelmingly hard to hide my behaviours from my partner once we moved in together. One drunken evening last year, he caught me making myself sick. I broke down and told him everything, and the next day I saw a dietician who diagnosed me with EDNOS.
Over the past nine months, I’ve been working on my journey to recovery. I’ve been sticking to a meal plan and having regular CBT sessions. I’ve had slip-ups at times, but by speaking to my partner and my therapist I’ve managed to get myself back on track. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but with every step I take I’m growing into a more positive and fulfilled person.
I hope to use my story to motivate others to do the same. I want to spread awareness of EDNOS. If I’d known it existed years ago, I might have realised sooner that I had a real disorder. I didn’t think I was bulimic because I wasn’t making myself sick all the time, and I thought that I wasn’t thin enough to be anorexic. That’s the danger of stereotypes around eating disorders; they’re about so much more than just weight. I believe there are many others out there like me who don’t believe they have an eating disorder because they are not aware of this condition.
This EDAW, know that EDNOS exists. Know that there are people out there who are struggling. If you are, then please see a doctor. You don’t have to struggle alone!
– Amy Whittle, #EDAW