When Eating Disorders Don't Fit the Mold

If your child had an eating disorder, you would like to think that you would recognize the signs.  And while this sounds like a pretty reasonable assumption, the troubling fact is that some of the most common eating disorders don't follow the expected presentation-result they can often be very challenging for parents to identify.

Know the Warning Signs

You probably know the warning clues that your child could be grappling with anorexia nervosa or bulimia. People who suffer from these serious conditions have a distorted body image and will go to great lengths to lose large amounts of weight. As a result, over time, the symptoms become increasingly difficult to miss.

But what if your child is especially preoccupied with eating and calorie intake, yet is still eating normal meals and maintaining a reasonable weight? The latest research reveals that with such characteristics, she could fall within the spectrum of eating disorders but her condition may not have a formal name.

Unusual Eating Disorders

A growing number of young people and adults today are being diagnosed with Ednos, which stands for an "eating disorder not otherwise specified." Further, Ednos affects even more people than anorexia and bulimia today, but the symptoms are so varied that they can be easy to miss. For instance, a study published in the September 2009 issue of The International Journal of Eating Disorders described Ednos as the middle ground between having an eating disorder and recovering from it.  This means that many who suffer from it will fall through the cracks and as a result, may be at increased risk for some serious effects.

Eating Disorder Symptoms

Some of the possible ways that Ednos can present itself include binge eating, purging, night eating, and even chewing and spitting out food. With so many people falling under this umbrella, this broad diagnostic category is currently included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.). (This is the tool published by the American Psychiatric Association that defines and classifies a host of psychiatric diagnoses.)

The upcoming edition of the manual, however, which is due to be published in 2013, will attempt to redefine Ednos to make it more specific. Regardless of the revised definition, though, researchers point out that one significant characteristic of Ednos is that the symptoms interfere with a person's daily living.

The Need to Pay Attention

If you wonder what this means exactly, you may want to look at how such an unnamed eating disorder might be affecting your own child. If you think she's preoccupied with her weight and image but she still eats normally and hasn't altered her behaviors or socialization, she may just be going through a normal phase. But if she's avoiding situations where she may be forced to eat, is making excuses to skip meals or is especially focused on excessive exercise, she could be suffering from Ednos even if her weight hasn't really changed.

While you may be tempted to overlook such warning signs, it's important to know that Ednos can be serious, or even fatal, if it's allowed to progress unchecked. The October, 2009 issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry revealed that more people die from Ednos that from other eating disorders, including anorexia.

The Good News

The good news is that like other similar eating issues, Ednos can be successfully treated. The earlier your child gets professional help, the easier the recovery process may be for her and the less harm she will inflict on her body in the process. Therefore, always follow your instincts if you think you're child may be having issues with weight and food consumption and/or body image. You should also pay attention to her patterns and behaviors and voice your concerns in a non-confrontational way. Even if she denies your suspicions, it's crucial to be persistent if you believe something is truly amiss with her eating.

When in doubt, you should also seek professional help and support from your pediatrician. He may refer your child to an eating disorder specialist. You can also get more information about eating disorders and connect with resources in your area by calling the National Eating Disorders helpline at 1-800-931-2237.


American Journal of Psychiatry

Help Guide.org

International Journal of Eating Disorders

US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health