What is Otherwise Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)?

The illustration shows a young woman wearing a green jumper looking thoughtful. The text above reads: "What is OSFED?" and the bubbles around her show the various symptoms

Hey! I’m Molly, a previous intern at The Mix and a volunteer at First Steps, an eating disorder charity based in Derbyshire. I always aim to empower and inspire young people to be the best that they can be. My interests include promoting positive wellbeing, travelling, being outside, listening to music and being with friends. 

Otherwise Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

An Otherwise Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder is just as serious and valid as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. The thing that sets it apart from the others is that it may present itself differently.

What are the symptoms?

A sufferer of OSFED is likely to be ‘unidentifiable’ in regards their physical shape and appearance – they are likely to be a healthy weight. According to BEAT the main signs of OSFED include:

  • Preoccupation with and secretive behaviour around food
  • Restricting
  • Binging
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Self-consciousness when eating in front of others
  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Poor body image
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating

My experience

Due to poor body image and insecurities, I decided to go on a mission to lose weight when I was 15 years old. Before I knew it, I had eliminated almost all of my calorie intake, meaning I became extremely irritable and tired.

One day I got sent home from school because I was so tired from a lack of energy that I felt sick. I couldn’t stand people talking about food, I couldn’t stand being around food and I tried to avoid any outings with my friends that surrounded food. I became anti-social, miserable and self-absorbed – all in a desperate attempt to lose weight.

And I did lose weight, just in the worst way possible. I didn’t gain any confidence, but I lost it, because I was so anxious all the time. Dreading meals. Dreading starving myself but also dreading the thought of putting on weight. It was a never-ending and unresolvable cycle. Food became an item of fear, rather than pleasure.

Food was constantly on my mind – a possessive pervading thought that would never leave, not even when I slept. How many calories have I eaten so far today? What would Mum make for dinner? Shall I weigh myself when I get home?

I would ask people what they had eaten to make myself feel better about having starved myself, and any discussion of food would make me feel uncomfortable to the point where I would have to leave a room, especially any mention of the word ‘diet’ or ‘gym’. It was mentally and physically draining.

Binging

I also experienced binging. As I was becoming so hungry to an uncontrollable point, binging happened frequently. I sometimes looked forward to the cycle of binging then starving, because at least I got to eat nice food for one day. Although, the taste was not what I was focusing on – it was eradicating the feeling of hunger. I felt helpless and ashamed.

Recovery

By the time I was diagnosed with OSFED aged 16, I was wrapped up tightly in this vicious cycle of restricting and binging. After months of this destructiveness, finally, I went to see my GP. I was finally realising that these thoughts and behaviours weren’t normal, and I’d had enough. Now looking back, my behaviour is overwhelming to me, but at the time it was my life – I didn’t recognise that it was irrational. I needed professional support before this disorder really began to ruin my life.

Family support

My family had clearly noticed my changes in behaviour, especially picking up on my tiredness and irritability. However, I think to start with, none of us understood the extremity of what was going on as we had never experienced any kind of disordered eating in the past.

As time went on my family were always there for me, after every distressed episode, breakdown, and especially during recovery. I couldn’t have got through it all without them and communicating with them about how I felt was key to my recovery.

Therapy

I can prove to you now, six years on, that recovery IS possible. Always. I learnt the hard way that losing weight is not the key to happiness. With therapy, support groups and self-care it is completely achievable to live a life free from OSFED. My main means of recovery came from 1-1 counselling sessions at First Steps Derbyshire, a local charity that helps eating disorder sufferers.

I found my counselling sessions at First Steps so effective as both of my counsellors had experienced eating disorders when they were younger. Therefore, they had a real understanding of my emotions and feelings – this empathy was essential for my recovery.

I also attended support groups with other young people who were experiencing different patterns of disordered eating, which really reassured me to know that I was not alone. And you are not alone in this.

Other things that helped

Other things that really helped me included my friends and family being sensitive to comments about food and not discussing anything related to diets or weight, especially in the early stages of recovery. I am fortunate enough to have people in my life that do not associate my value and worth to my physical appearance; they just wanted me to love myself and find a healthy relationship with food. Ultimately, just knowing that they were there for me, when I needed them most, was enough.

Do you need support for an eating disorder?

Living with an eating disorder can be really tough and we want you to know that you’re not alone. If you want to speak to someone, our support services are free and confidential and our team of experts and trained volunteers are here to help.

Read our expert chat with eating disorder charity, Beat.

You can also read our article on how to beat an eating disorder relapse.

Head to our community boards to read our expert chat for Eating Disorder Awareness Week, featuring Molly and Hope Virgo.

Next Steps

  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • The Self-Esteem Team (SET) run workshops in schools across the UK to help tackle young people's issues with body image, self-worth and mental health.
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 05-Mar-2020

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