Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)

Eating disorders not otherwise specified, or EDNOS, is the term medical professionals use when an eating disorder is apparent but does not fit within the definitions of other eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, etc...Keep reading for more information on EDNOS.

Though some eating disorders fall into clear-cut categories, like anorexia or bulimia, others are harder to define, or are only now coming to the attention of the medical profession. These lesser known or lesser understood eating disorders are called eating disorders not otherwise specified, or EDNOS.

EDNOS examples

EDNOS are sometimes variations of anorexia or bulimia. Binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating disorder are considered eating disorders not otherwise specified.

In another example of an EDNOS, the person may obsess about the kind of food they eat or only eat one type of food. This is not the same as being a vegetarian or a vegan, which can be a healthy lifestyle choice as long as the person is getting a good variety of healthy foods and eating enough of them. A person’s eating choices may be considered an EDNOS when they are obsessive about what they eat or are depriving themselves of good nutrition. This may include being addicted to fad diets.

Using drugs or medications to manipulate one’s weight or appearance may also be considered an EDNOS. A teen with this type of eating disorder may combine steroids with unhealthy eating to bulk up, or abuse medications to burn more calories.

EDNOS risk factors

While some types of eating disorders are much more common among female teens, EDNOS affect males and females about equally. Male teens who have an eating disorder are more likely to have an unspecified one. This may be because, while many girls with eating disorders are trying to be thinner, teen boys with eating disorders may be trying to lose weight and gain muscle, so they may use a variety of unhealthy eating habits in combination.

Eating disorders not otherwise specified usually begin in the teen years, when young people often become very body conscious, though younger children and adults can also develop EDNOS.

EDNOS often appear with other problems in teens, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Body dysmorphic disorder, where the teen has an obsessive concern over some part of his or her body

Teens who are at higher risk for an EDNOS include those who:

  • Are overweight teens or have a negative body image
  • Feel bombarded by pressure from peers, family, or the media to be thinner or look a certain way
  • Are involved in athletics, especially those that focus on weight such as wrestling, track, or swimming
  • Are gay or bisexual
  • Have a mental illness or a history of trauma or abuse

Symptoms of an EDNOS

Unspecified eating disorders may be harder to recognize than other eating disorders because the teen’s weight may not change as dramatically. There are some signs that indicate a teen may have an EDNOS:

  • Changes in weight or eating habits, other than normal fluctuations in a teen’s eating and growth
  • Hiding or storing food or food wrappers
  • Obsession with weight, calories, or appearance
  • Only eating certain, very limited types of foods
  • Taking medications not intended for them or using steroids
  • Becoming depressed and withdrawn
  • Excessive exercising or working out
  • Long-term eating disorder symptoms like obesity or organ damage

These symptoms could indicate a problem with a teen, so if parents notice them they should talk to the teen about their concerns.

How to help teens avoid or overcome EDNOS

Parents and other caring people can play an important role in preventing eating disorders or helping teens overcome an EDNOS. Some of the ways they can help include:

  • Don’t make negative comments about your own or other people’s weight or body and don’t allow other people to do so around you or your teen
  • Focus on attributes other than a person’s weight when complimenting them, like having talents, a great smile or laugh, nice eyes, or good fashion sense. Help teens focus on these kinds of positive traits about themselves
  • Teach teens about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity, and set a good example by practicing those things yourself
  • Don’t label certain foods as bad or forbid them completely, except for religious reasons, but do teach moderation and stock healthy snacks instead of unhealthy ones
  • Don't use food as a reward or motivation to get kids or teens to do something
  • Teach kids and teens to view the media critically, especially the way it portrays body image
  • Don't put teens on a diet unless under a doctor's supervision for medical reasons
  • Encourage teens to have friends who are not obsessed with weight or body image, such as girls who only want to be thin, or boys who are focused on body building
  • Help teens find activities they enjoy and can feel good about, including volunteering
  • Show kids support for the things they enjoy doing and let them know that you love them no matter what - regardless of appearance or success in sports or other activities
  • Teach teens that happiness and self confidence are traits that will make them attractive regardless of their body shape

If a teen does have an EDNOS, he or she will need medical treatment and supervision to overcome the disorder. In addition to medical care, therapy, nutrition counseling, and sometimes medications can help teens overcome their eating disorder.


National Institute of Mental Health, "Eating Disorders" [online]

Dr. Michael Levine, National Eating Disorders Association, "10 Things Parents Can Do to Help Prevent Eating Disorders" [online]

Related Article: Warning Signs of Eating Disorders >>