Eating Disorders: Glossary

Young women's version of this guide

Anorexia nervosa: People with anorexia nervosa drastically limit their food intake and have an intense fear of gaining weight, even though they might be significantly low weighted.

ARFID: Avoidance restrictive food intake disorder, which is marked by unhealthy low weight status, nutritional deficiency, and/or interference with social functioning without having a fear of gaining weight or body image concerns.

Binge eating disorder (BED): People with BED eat an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time and feel a loss of control during this episode. They do not purge afterwards, but often feel a lot of shame or guilt about their binge eating.

BMI: Body mass index (BMI) is a number that is calculated for someone’s weight and height. This number is to help determine whether or not someone is below, in, or above their healthy weight range.

Bone density: A measure of how strong your bones are.

Bulimia nervosa: Cycles of binge eating followed by a purging behavior. People with bulimia will eat an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time and then compensate after in an attempt to avoid gaining weight.  They may compensate by exercising excessively and/or purging by self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics.

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy): A type of therapy that teaches you how to be alert to the thoughts you have as you do certain behaviors. CBT targets thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy or unhelpful. The focus of CBT is to decrease negative thoughts or unhealthy behaviors.

Challenge foods: Foods that people with eating disorders try to avoid because they may be considered unhealthy or because eating them may lead to binging or purging/vomiting. They may also be called “trigger” or “risk” foods.

DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy): A type of therapy that encourages patients to embrace the thoughts and feelings they have but to think in ways that prevent harmful behaviors. It’s primarily a group-based therapy with individual therapy back-up. Patients keep logs of their thoughts and feelings, and during treatment, they learn and discuss coping strategies.

DXA scan: A test that measures bone density.

ED behaviors: A term used to describe habits that people develop when they have an eating disorder. Behaviors may include vomiting after meals, cutting food into very small pieces, counting calories, exercising obsessively, overeating, skipping meals or eating very small meals, etc.

EKG: A test that looks at the activity and rhythm of the heart.

Electrolytes: nutrients (such as salts in your blood and body) that keep the heart and body working properly. These include sodium, potassium, and chloride.

Exchanges: A term used to describe servings of foods from different food groups. Some meal plans are based on the exchange system, meaning they are divided into main groups (protein, fat, starch/grain, beverage, dairy, fruit, and vegetable).

Family-based treatment (FBT): A type of therapy that empowers parents to learn ways to get their child to eat. The therapist meets with the whole family to support the parents in feeding their child and the child in their efforts to recover. The goal of family-based treatment is weight restoration. This type of therapy is sometimes referred to as the “Maudsley” approach.

Family therapy: A type of therapy that involves you and your family members meeting with a therapist together. It can be a helpful place to discuss family issues and tensions while a therapist or counselor is there to find a solution.

Group therapy: A type of therapy where peers share experiences and stories with each other, and is usually led by a therapist or counselor.

Meal plan: An eating plan that is designed by your registered dietitian. A meal plan gives recommendations about the amount and types of food you should eat to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

OSFED: Other specified feeding or eating disorder, which is a combination of symptoms of eating disorders such as an intense fear of weight gain and a preoccupation with food (thinking about food or having food related thoughts most of the day) that does not meet the clinical diagnosis for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.

Purging: Describes any behavior that someone with an eating disorder uses to “get rid of” calories. Purging behaviors include vomiting, taking laxatives, diet pills, or excessive exercise.

Safe foods: Foods that people with eating disorders can eat comfortably. Safe foods are often unprocessed, low-fat, or low-calorie foods, but can be different for every person.

Trigger: Anything that makes someone want to engage in certain behaviors or have eating disordered thoughts.

Vital signs: Measurements which include body temperature, blood pressure, and pulse.

Weight goal range: A range of weight that your treatment team decides is a healthy weight for your recovery. It takes into account what a person weighed before the eating disorder. A person’s weight range will increase as they grow and get older.