Most people have heard of anorexia and know more or less what it is. Most people, however, do not know that there are variations of anorexia, and while they can all be damaging to physical and mental health there is one form that is particularly harmful, called atypical anorexia nervosa or simply atypical anorexia.
When the term anorexia is heard, most people will automatically picture a very skinny or dangerously thin person. In some cases, this can be accurate, but many times dangerous eating disorders are not seen simultaneously with super low body weight. Many people who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder may already be at a healthy weight, and in some cases potentially overweight.
When the individual is at a normal weight and body composition or even overweight, it does not reduce the seriousness or potential danger of having an eating disorder. This is why atypical anorexia has been included in the recent DSM-V update. Atypical anorexia features many of the same traits of conventional anorexia, aside from low body weight.
What is Atypical Anorexia?
At its core, atypical anorexia generally refers to the accumulation of intense fear regarding potentially gaining weight, often to the point of extreme caloric restriction without showing sudden extreme weight loss, or chronically low body weight. This is one of the reasons that individuals living with atypical anorexia can display a higher-than-normal or normal body weight.
It is a common misconception that eating disorders are in any way less severe for people who have more mass or a higher body weight in general. Research, however, has shown time and time again that the facts about atypical anorexia indicate that anyone can have an eating disorder regardless of body type.
Individuals suffering from atypical anorexia still struggle with the problematic mental processes and thought patterns that create difficult relationships with their bodies, their food, and subsequently their weight. No matter how or if atypical anorexia affects an individual’s size, shape, or weight, it remains an incredibly serious condition that must be addressed.
What Qualifies as Atypical Anorexia?
The diagnosing criteria that determine an atypical anorexia diagnosis are generally much different than typical anorexia nervosa conditions. Even though there are important fundamental differences, there are still many common traits and similar characteristics. Some of the commonalities or shared traits include fear of weight gain, restricted caloric intake, and an extreme and unhealthy priority or importance on body shape, weight, or physical appearance.
When contrasting the two conditions, however, there are several stark differences. The first being that those who are dealing with atypical anorexia are not yet experiencing severely underweight conditions, and also have not yet displayed sufficient weight loss to be diagnosed. This is one of the key differences and one of the diagnostic criteria for atypical anorexia.
Since individuals living with atypical anorexia are normal or above normal weight, the eating disorder will be difficult to identify based on appearance. That being said, there are many physical and psychological behaviors that are indicative of the atypical anorexia disorder. Some of these atypical anorexia signals can include:
- Obsessing about their body shape, size, or weight
- Body dysmorphia, or seeing themselves as a bigger body size than what is reality
- Being very rigid about eating schedules, routines, or amounts
- Avoiding situations, events, or occasions where food is present or may be served
Just as is seen in typical anorexia, those individuals dealing with atypical anorexia will not only severely restrict their own caloric intake, but they will often use food denial and further restriction as coping methods. These coping methods may be used in response to any number of different triggers, such as daily stress, consistent feelings of body dysmorphia or dissatisfaction, or feelings of depression.
Dangers & Risks Associated With Atypical Anorexia
Having atypical anorexia, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, can begin to take over an individual’s daily life, severely affecting both body and mind. People living with this particular eating disorder can see their thoughts dominated by food and of their body, day in and day out. This includes constant calorie calculation or counting, coming up with excuses to avoid situations or events that will have food, and obsessing constantly thinking about their body weight, composition, or size.
This can be incredibly disrupting for their social life and many other aspects of their social and mental health. Problems with work, circles of friends, and family relationships can also manifest in those with atypical anorexia, due to various factors that include gaps in proper nutrition, and mental health issues such as anxiety, panic disorders, or depression.
Even though individuals with atypical anorexia do not display the severe weight loss or dangerous underweight conditions that many diagnosed with typical anorexia generally display, there are other serious effects and risks that cannot be ignored. These dangers can include:
- Dangerously low heart rate
- Faint pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or tendency to faint
- Increase in symptoms of anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Thoughts of self-harm or even suicide
Some research indicates that the body image problems experienced by people with atypical anorexia may actually be relatively higher than those with typical anorexia. This additional distress may be linked with the lack of a reward or payoff that is frequently associated with significant weight loss. This increased mental stress can cause increased rigidity with the calorie restriction regimen due to frustration, causing the individual to become more and more desperate.
How to Get Help For Atypical Anorexia
When you or someone you know is potentially suffering from atypical anorexia, the first and most important step in getting help is to reach out to someone you trust to begin building your support network. After that, the best move is to work with local treatment professionals so that the triggers and issues that are at the root of the atypical anorexia can be addressed. This will enable greater recovery chances and better mental health going forward.
Remember, you do not have to be alone in your battle with an eating disorder. There is help, support, and guidance for you to be able to walk on the path to freedom right now. Reach out today if you or a loved one needs liberation from the bondage that an eating disorder can create. You deserve the peace and fulfillment that comes from living a life you have always dreamed about.