National Eating Disorders Association

ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves learning to tolerate distress and stick to one’s values in spite of mental illness symptoms.

Amenorrhea: the loss of menstrual periods for at least three months. 

Anemia: a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin that can lead to weakness and fatigue

Anorexia nervosa: an eating disorder involving self-starvation and the inability to maintain a healthy and appropriate body weight

Anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety and worry that persists for months and interferes with a person’s ability to accomplish daily tasks

ARFID: Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, an eating disorder in which the consumption of certain foods is limited by texture, taste, and/or previous negative experiences

Atypical anorexia: an eating disorder in which a person meets some, but not all, of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa.

Atypical antipsychotic: a newer group of antipsychotic medications that are often used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and psychosis, as well as certain symptoms of eating disorders.

Atypical bulimia: an eating disorder in which a person meets some, but not all, of the diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa.

Binge eating: eating an abnormally large amount of food in a short period of time while feeling unable to stop.

Binge eating disorder: when binge eating occurs at least once a week for a period of three months, in the absence of any purging behaviors.

Bipolar disorder: a mood disorder where an individual alternates between extreme feelings of euphoria and major depression.

Body checking: obsessive, intrusive thoughts and behaviors about body shape and size that can involve repeatedly checking appearance in the mirror, checking the size and appearance of certain body parts, and/or asking others whether they look fat.

Body image: one’s thoughts and perceptions about their physical appearance. 

Borderline personality disorder: a personality disorder that involves extreme emotions, self-harm, feelings of emptiness and worthlessness, fears of abandonment, risky behaviors, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and difficulties with relationships.

Bradycardia: an abnormally slow heart rate, below 50-60 beats per minute during the day. Severe bradycardia can increase the risk of heart failure. 

Bulimia nervosa: an eating disorder that involves binge eating followed by purging behaviors (self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics) and/or other behaviors to prevent weight gain (fasting, over-exercise).

CBT: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, which works to change the way a person thinks (their cognitions) and their behaviors in order to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety

Celiac disease: an autoimmune disease in which the consumption of gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley) causes the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine.

Cholesterol: a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in every cell in the body and is required for normal biological functions.

Compensatory behavior: eating disorder behaviors that are used to try and “undo” the effects of eating or binge eating, such as exercise or purging.

DBT: dialectical behavioral therapy, a form of therapy originally devised for borderline personality disorder that is often used to treat eating disorders. It focuses on building skills in four areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation

Diabulimia: an individual with type 1 diabetes who omits or misuses insulin in order to purge calories.

Drunkorexia: a slang term for someone who struggles with an eating disorder and alcohol abuse, or undereats during the day and binge drinks at night.

Edema: the swelling of extremities in the body due to the buildup of fluid.

Egosyntonic: a mental illness that is compatible with the way an individual views themselves. It frequently occurs in anorexia nervosa, in which the affected person often appears to enjoy the weight loss that accompanies the disorder.

Electrolyte: important electrically charged chemicals in the body that play a key role in heartbeat, muscle function, and neuron firing. The electrolytes most frequently impacted by eating disorders are potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, and phosphorous.

Estrogen: the primary female sex hormone that helps control the menstrual cycle and promote bone health, as well as the development of female sex characteristics.

Evidence-based treatment: treatments that are based on scientific evidence and research trials, and have been shown to be effective. Also known as empirically-supported treatment or evidence-based practices.

FBT: Family-Based Treatment is used for adolescents with anorexia and bulimia, in which caregivers initially take control of food and eating until behaviors are normalized. Control is then returned to the teen and psychological contributors to the eating disorder are addressed, along with co-occurring issues.

Fear foods: foods that the eating disordered person believes will lead to rapid and significant weight gain, even in small amounts.

Female athlete triad: a group of symptoms that includes irregular or absent menstrual periods, disordered eating, and low bone density (osteoporosis).

Food allergy: a reaction by the immune system after eating a certain food.

Food restriction: eating fewer calories than the body needs to maintain weight and/or adequate growth

Food rituals: obsessive, rigid behaviors around food and eating, such as chewing a certain number of times, cutting food into tiny pieces, or eating foods in a specific order.

Gastroparesis: delayed emptying of the stomach that can lead to feelings of premature fullness, bloating, pain, and nausea. Can range from mild to severe.

Generalized anxiety disorder: chronic feelings of stress and worry that interfere with a person’s life and last for at least six months.

Healthy body weight: a weight range in which a person is physically and psychologically healthy

Hypoglycemia: low blood sugar

Hypokalemia: low potassium levels in the blood, which can lead to cardiac arrest

Hyponatremia: low sodium levels

Incidence: the number of new cases of a disorder or disease in a particular time period in a specific group of people

Inpatient: hospitalization, either medical or psychiatric, that generally focuses on stabilization of most severe symptoms.

Intensive outpatient program: outpatient treatment that meets several times per week for group therapy and meal support.

Ketosis: the process in which the body lacks energy and so turns stored fat into energy. The process often creates bad breath.

Lanugo: fine, downy hair that grows on the body in an attempt to provide better insulation after prolonged, inadequate food intake.

Lapse: a single episode of eating disordered behavior after a period of remission

Major depression: a mood disorder where an individual feels guilty, worthless, and low that lasts for longer than two weeks

Maudsley method: see FBT.

Meal plan: developed by a registered dietitian as part of treatment, a meal plan consists of specific amounts of food that are to be eaten at various meals and snacks in order to ensure the proper balance of nutrients and promote overall health and well-being.

Menarche: the onset of menstruation

Nasogastric tube: a tube inserted through the nose that leads to the stomach that allows someone to be nourished without needing to eat.

Obsessive compulsive personality disorder: a personality disorder defined by a rigid need to adhere to rules, orderliness, and perfectionism.

OCD: obsessive compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive, obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive behaviors designed to relieve the anxiety.

Orthorexia: an unofficial term used for an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive concern with “eating healthy” or “clean eating.”

Orthostatic hypotension: a sudden drop in blood pressure upon moving from laying or sitting to standing. Symptoms include racing pulse, dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, and fainting.

OSFED/EDNOS: Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (previously known as EDNOS). Eating disorders that don’t meet the criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, but are still serious enough to impact a person’s life.

Osteopenia: bone density that is lower than normal, but not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis: weak, brittle bones that have a density significantly normal than expected for age and weight.

Pancreatitis: a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas that occurs when digestive enzymes attack the organ.

Panic disorder: an anxiety disorder characterized by episodes of extreme anxiety and panic that are accompanied by racing pulse, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, fears of losing control or going crazy, and dissociation (feeling of being detatched from oneself).

Partial hospital program: an outpatient treatment program where an individual attends groups and therapy during the day but returns home at night. Also known as day treatment.

PEG tube: percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube, which is surgically implanted into the stomach through the abdomen and used to deliver liquid nutrition to the digestive system.

Perfectionism: a drive for perfection that can exist before the onset of an eating disorder or may occur alongside it and disappear during recovery.

Personality: a group of long-standing psychological traits in an individual

Personality disorder: a long-term disorder that affects one’s inner experiences and behavior that doesn’t change across time or situations. It generally leads to difficulties with many areas of functioning and difficulties with relationships.

Prevalence: the number of people with a certain disorder or disease in a population in a given period of time.

Prevention: efforts to promote health and reduce the chances of developing disease.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy: a form of therapy geared at understanding the internal conflicts and motivations of a behavior. Once the underlying issues are uncovered, it is assumed that the behaviors will cease.

PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder characterized by nightmares, flashbacks, feeling on edge, and depression that can occur after a traumatic event.

Purging: the use of self-induced vomiting, laxatives, and diuretics after eating in order to prevent weight gain and relieve anxiety.

Purging disorder: an eating disorder in which an individual regularly purges without binge eating.

Refeeding syndrome: a potentially fatal complication of refeeding that can result in edema, low phosphorous levels, and cardiac arrest.

Relapse: a return to eating disordered behaviors after a period of remission or recovery

Residential treatment: a form of treatment in which a person lives at the facility for several weeks or months. It is intended for people who need long-term support for recovery but don’t need intensive medical and psychiatric monitoring in a hospital setting.

Restricting: eating fewer calories than needed to maintain a healthy body weight and normal growth (in children, adolescents, and young adults).

Risk factor: any factor that makes it more likely that an individual will develop a condition or disease.

Safe foods: foods, generally low calorie, that are less anxiety-provoking to a person with an eating disorder. One of the goals of treatment is to broaden the range of safe foods and ultimately eliminate the distinction between safe and fear foods.

Seizure: a sudden increase of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain that leads to change in feelings, actions, and/or states of consciousness.

Self-injury: physically injuring the body by cutting, burning, hitting, or other methods without a direct desire to end one’s life. It’s typically seen as a way of regulating emotions. Also referred to as self-harm or self-mutiliation.

Sex hormone: a class of hormones that affect sexual development and reproduction

Social anxiety disorder: an anxiety disorder in which a person has excessive fears and self-consciousness in social situations.

SSRI: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants.

Subthreshold disorder: a disorder that interferes with someone’s normal life but does not meet formal diagnostic criteria

Supportive psychotherapy: a therapy that integrates a variety of approaches from psychodynamics, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and other methods.

Syncope: a temporary loss of consciousness and posture when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. It can occur with low blood sugar or low blood pressure.

Tachycardia: a rapid resting pulse rate, usually above 100 beats per minute.

Testosterone: the primary male sex hormone that promotes the development of male secondary sex characteristics

Therapeutic alliance: the relationship between the therapist and client that enables them to work together towards improving the client’s life.

Type 1 diabetes: an autoimmune condition where the body destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, requiring a person to take insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels

Type 2 diabetes: an illness in which a person loses sensitivity to the insulin naturally produced by the body. It can be managed through medication, insulin, and dietary changes.

Vitamin: an organic compound found in food that the body can’t produce on its own.

White blood cell: immune cells in the bloodstream that help the body fight infection.