Glossary of Terms

There are so many words, phrases, and terms that folks in the recovery world – professionals, those in recovery, and family and friends; it can be hard to keep track of them all. Of course, there’s also the issue of technical definitions. Looking up a term can be a pain in the ass when you have to go on a mission to look up another word that’s used in the definition. So here is your guide to some of the most common terms surrounding addiction (including eating disorders) and mental health. Most of these are clinical terms but I have included several words that are common “slang” terms used often among patients and healthcare professionals alike. If you have any other words that pop up and you would like it to be included, comment below!

Important note: Some words that are used frequently in regards to eating disorders have been deliberately left off of this list. Part of my mission in helping people in recovery means that I will not give ideas on how to indulge in an eating disorder. My struggle with battling anorexia became even harder when others in an outpatient program were discussing ways to act on bulimia. With that in mind, certain behaviors will not be defined.

Addiction – the compulsive need to indulge in a substance or behavior because of its apparent rewards; the need to indulge continues even when the harms are obvious (think of a lung cancer patient who still smokes…)
Alcoholism – addiction to alcohol
Anorexia – an eating disorder based on restricting food and/or calories (sometimes personified by the name “Ana”)
Anxiety – a feeling of extreme overwhelm and fear, often with the potential of a panic attack onset
Black-and-white thinking – thinking that there are only two options, possibilities, or beliefs; these are often options that are on opposite ends of the spectrum and the thinking includes no middle ground or other options
Body dysmorphia – a mental illness of obsession on a perceived physical flaw, usually resulting in fear, anxiety, and shame
Bulimia – an eating disorder based on overeating followed by forced removal of the calories (sometimes personified by the name “Mia”)
Compulsive overeating – inability to control eating, sometimes resulting in feeling miserable from overeating
Coping skill – an activity that is used to battle unhealthy thoughts or behaviors
Dependency (vs. addiction) – needing a substance or behavior to function normally (example: that same lung cancer patient I mentioned earlier is on pain medication which is needed for him to function – but he doesn’t go desperately seeking out morphine on the streets)
Depression – feeling upset or down to the point of it interfering in daily life; sometimes leads to self harm and/or suicidal thoughts
Disordered eating – the act of using behaviors that contradictory to normalized eating
Eating disorder – a mental disorder of altered eating and behaviors which is focused on (usually unattainable) weight goals, negative body image, and control
Eating rituals – specific behaviors acted on during mealtime (many people keep a napkin in their lap during every meal)
Emotional eating – eating or not eating entirely based on emotion (“I’m angry so I’m not going to eat anything right now”)
Good/bad foods – the misconception that there are certain foods which should be avoided completely because they are “bad,” while other foods are always good for you
Intuitive eating – paying attention to physical hunger and eating when the body says it should
Meal plan – a specified plan for what a person is going to eat, usually for the week
Mindfulness – paying attention to what is going on in the moment; staying in the moment instead of focusing on the past or future
Numbers – refers to any numbers that are related to eating or the body (weight, pant size, calories, body mass index, etc.)
Nutritionist – a healthcare professional who focuses on healthy eating
Orthorexia – an eating disorder in which a person obsesses about healthy eating and behaviors, such as spending excessive time thinking about diet and exercise (this does not necessarily include unhealthy eating habits; it simply is the obsessive focus on healthy eating, although it can be just as detrimental)
Perfectionism – the need to be perfect in some or all pursuits
Pro-ana – encouraging anorexia and seeing the disorder as positive or beneficial
Pro-mia – encouraging bulimia and seeing the disorder as positive or beneficial
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – a mental disorder which regularly affects a person’s life, actions, and/or beliefs due to extreme trauma
Recovery – the act of taking deliberate actions to no longer be controlled by an addiction or dependency
Recovery team – a group of healthcare professionals that assist in the process of overcoming addiction or dependency
Relapse – acting on an addiction or dependency after already beginning the recovery process
Sex addiction – the compulsive desire for sexual behavior, including obsessive thoughts and engagement in risks to relieve the desire (this does not simply mean that you want it and think about it all the time; this is about being willing to go to any length to for sexual interactions – whether that means putting yourself or others in harm’s way, risking your job by watching porn while on the clock, or risking dangerous behaviors in order to have sex)
Sobriety – a state of being in which a person is not using alcohol or drugs
Substance abuse – using (and typically becoming addicted to) a drug or using medication in a way other than intended; alcohol and cigarettes are often included in the definition of substance abuse
Support system – the group of people in a person’s life who encourage healthy choices
Thinspiration – the term used for “thin inspiration,” where a person idolizes certain people or behaviors as encouragement to lose weight
Toolbox – a metaphorical place where a person keeps her coping skills (“I’m going to search my toolbox to figure out how to overcome this unhealthy behavior.”)
Trigger – anything that creates extreme mental stress which, without the use of coping skills, can result in severe unhealthy – and often unsafe – behaviors (note: despite current social beliefs, a trigger is not something that simply makes you upset, angry, or uncomfortable)
Withdrawal – the result of stopping the addiction of a substance, which includes anxiety and various physical symptoms (sweating, nausea, vomiting, chills, etc.)