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What Are Eating Disorders?

Written by Natalie Cohen
Published on May 6, 2020

If an eating disorder hasn’t personally impacted you, the condition’s associated thoughts and behaviors can seem irrational. If food is medicine, why can’t someone with anorexia ‘just eat?’ If our bodies know what they need to maintain life-sustaining functions appropriately, why can’t someone with bulimia avoid the vicious binge-purge cycle?

The simplest answer is that eating disorders are complex.

So, What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that have roots in genetics, psychology, and environmental triggers. They impact not just our mental health, but our physical health as well.

What are the Different Types of Eating Disorders?

There are four eating disorder diagnoses included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DMS-5) – a standardized tool from the APA that is used to diagnose mental health conditions.

Anorexia Nervosa is a condition that describes a person who is unable or unwilling to maintain a weight that is appropriate for optimal physical and emotional health. People living with anorexia have distortions around food and their bodies, often viewing themselves to be much larger than they are.

Bulimia Nervosa is an illness characterized by a cycle of bingeing and purging. A binge episode is when someone eats a large amount of food in a short amount of time while experiencing a sense of a lack of control. Purging is a behavior meant to ‘undo’ the binge and can include self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, diet pills, or exercise.

Binge Eating Disorder is a condition that describes a person who engages in episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time, often to the point of discomfort. Those experiencing binge eating disorder experience a sense of a loss of control and feels shame and distress following the binge. Unlike bulimia, those with binge eating disorder do not use compensatory measures. 

Otherwise-Specified Food or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is a condition diagnosed when a person doesn’t fit within the strict criteria of any of the other three eating disorder diagnoses. Yet, their quality of life and degree of functioning is greatly impacted. OSFED is just as serious as the other three eating disorders and should be treated as such.

Eating Disorder Recovery 

With hard work and proper treatment, recovery from an eating disorder is absolutely possible. What we know is that the sooner someone seeks specialized treatment for an eating disorder, the better the prognosis will be for lasting recovery success.

If you or someone you know are struggling with any of the conditions mentioned above, we are here to help. O’Connor Professional Group offers in-home and virtual meal coaching services, real-time skills integration, and the accountability you need to progress toward healing.


If you or a loved one needs help with an eating disorder O’Connor Professional Group is here to help. Call (617) 221-8764 or visit our Eating Disorder Case Study to see how you can help.


Meet the Author

Natalie Cohen is Director of Intake at O’Connor Professional Group (OPG). In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the referral process for clients and our professional partners. Natalie works in an efficient and clinically informed way with prospective clients to understand their unique needs and guide them towards appropriate services. A graduate of the University of Maine in Orono, Natalie earned her bachelor’s degree in Journalism with a minor in Child and Family Relations. For seven years, she held positions in Marketing, Community Outreach, Intake, and Communications at Walden Behavioral Care, an eating disorder treatment center based out of Massachusetts. Natalie enjoys practicing yoga, exploring the restaurant scene in Boston, and doting on her Pomeranian mix, Bella.

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