4 Important Facts About Atypical Anorexia

Atypical anorexia is very different from typical anorexia although they share most features. One of the difference is that atypical anorexia does not cause the body to have extreme loss of weight. Most people when they hear that someone has eating disorder, the firsts thing that comes to the mind is the picture of an extremely thin or lean person but most serious eating disorders do not come with this symptom.

This does not mean that they are healthy or that the disorder is not serious. Atypical anorexia is one of the serious eating disorders that do not cause the body to have extreme weight loss.


Atypical anorexia or atypical anorexia nervosa is the intense fear of adding weight and reducing food and energy intake without losing weight or having very low body weight. It can cause the patient to have a normal body weight like those without the disorder. Atypical anorexia is an example of eating disorder that are serious but cannot cause weight loss.

Although people with this disorder can experience other symptoms of eating disorder like problematic thoughts and intense fear towards food, weight gain and their bodies. This is a very serious mental condition that can have effects on one’s life, relationship and even career. According to the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, atypical anorexia nervosa is included under the category of other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED).


Here are some facts about it:

  1. Out of 3 adolescents, 1 may be suffering from atypical anorexia
  2. At least 40% of people with this eating disorder or struggling with it need to be admitted to a hospital.
  3. Research has shown that atypical anorexia has worse psychological effects than typical anorexia.
  4. Out of 4 adolescents, 1 is suffering from atypical anorexia with aloe heart rate (Bradycardia).


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is a publication by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013. It is classification and assessment tool for diagnosing eating disorders. Before the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) published the criteria for atypical anorexia, most people with eating disorders were diagnosed as eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS).

This led to research on the criteria for diagnosing eating disorders. The EDNOS was removed and new diagnosis were introduced and this included atypical anorexia. The number of patients who have atypical anorexia and are undergoing specialized eating disorder programs increased by 25% to 40% of patients especially adolescents.

Atypical Anorexia
Atypical Anorexia


The criteria for atypical anorexia nervosa is almost same as typical anorexia, the only difference is lack of weight loss.

The criteria for it are:

  • Reduction in food and energy intake.
  • There is no loss of weight or reduction in body weight
  • Intense and extreme fear of adding weight or becoming fat or persistent behavior that prevents or interfere with weight gain
  • Disturbance in how the body is shaped or one’s body weight.


The symptoms of atypical anorexia can be physical, behavioral or emotional.

The physical symptoms cannot be emaciation but the symptoms are:

  • Weight loss but still having the normal weight limits
  • Drying and yellowing of the skin
  • Pains in the abdomen
  • Reduction or weakness of the immune system
  • Constipation
  • Low or lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Gastrointestinal problems

There are so emotional or behavioral symptoms of it. The difference between the behavioral symptoms of atypical anorexia and typical anorexia is that those who are suffering from the medical condition do not feel like they are sick, they judge themselves using their weight. So, we can say that atypical anorexia is more dangerous because victims may not get the help quickly.

Some emotional or behavioral symptoms are:

  • Low self worth
  • Distorted image of the body
  • Avoiding situations where food is present or making excuses not to eat
  • Fear of being sent eating by others and refusal to eat
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
  • Highly focused attention on food, nutritional value or content and impact on the body
  • Increased inability to manage emotions leading to mood swings and irritation
  • Difficulty in thinking and focusing on things
  • Highly focused on body weight, size and shape.


There are some factors that can cause this eating disorder, they are:

1. Biological Factors

Although more research needs to be done on this factor, but it is believed that some genetic predisposition and variants can cause eating disorders like atypical anorexia and mental illnesses.

2. Psychological Factors

The mindset of being perfect, having rigid beliefs and behaviors can increase ones changes of developing atypical anorexia. Sometimes, having a history of trauma can lead to having eating disorders.


The condition can have impact on the physical, mental and daily activities of those with this eating disorder. They constantly have thoughts about their food and their body weight. They are always counting calories of food, being obsessed about food and avoiding situations that makes them to eat.

This can have effects on daily activities including relationship with family and friends, social gatherings and productivity at work. Health problems can arise due to malnutrition and mental illnesses can be experienced as well. 


It may look less serious, because; there is no loss of weight but there are both medical and psychological long term effects.

Some long term effects of atypical anorexia are:

  • Damage to the muscles and bones, there may be loss of these structures in severe cases
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Reduction in daily life function
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Light headedness
  • Increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Death


The treatment for it is similar to that of typical anorexia. All treatments are aimed at fixing the problem and health conditions that may have occurred due to the disorder as well as mindset about the body, weight and one’s self.

Treatment for atypical anorexia are:

1. Nutritional Rehabilitation

This is a key component of atypical anorexia and other eating disorder, it is a delicate but complex process. The patient is trained to establish a new and positive relationship with food. Normal meals will be eaten by the patient although the food will not be eaten in huge quantities. The quantity of calories to be taken each day is approximately 200 to avoid complications. 

2. Family-Based Therapy

Family-based therapy is mostly used for adolescents who have eating disorders like atypical anorexia. This is important because the family is a key resource and unit on which adolescents depend on for support. This therapy believes that eating disorder can be used by children to express family problems. The therapy trains the patient and provide supportive training for the parents and other family members. The parents are trained to help the child remove negative mindset about food and weight.

3. Individual Therapy

This involves a professional helping a patient with this eating disorder to work on themselves. It is a form of psychotherapy and can be used for mental illnesses and emotional difficulties or issues. The aim is not really to make the problem disappear but it is done to equip or arm the patient with the necessary tools needed to cope with the problem.

4. Exposure-Based Therapy

Exposure-based therapy is done to help people with atypical anorexia face their fear of eating and adding weight. It is a psychological treatment that works with the brain. One way of overcoming fear is to face it. When people are afraid of some things, they avoid anything that will being them to their fear, the best treatment is to confront the fear and break the pattern. After confronting and dealing with the fear, they will be more at ease to do those things they were afraid of.

5. Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT)

Cognitive remediation therapy is a type of treatment that is used for people whose cognitive skills are affected by mental conditions like eating disorder, depression and schizophrenia. The patient is made to take part in tasks. These exercises and activities help the brain to process information faster.

The effects can be seen after several weeks or even months depending on the effects of atypical anorexia in the patient. The type of treatment used is dependent on factors like age, person and how severe the eating disorder is. 


Less information is known about atypical anorexia because it was recently added to the psychiatric diagnostic manual, so other eating disorder like typical anorexia have more information. Researches have not had enough time to fully note or track the long term effects of it. One of the research being conducted is if there are other health complications that are associated with the condition which are different from those of typical anorexia. 

A study showed that having total weight loss or recent weight loss can be better used to predict health complications than having severe low weight. This mean that if someone looks like he or she has normal weight but looses weight significantly, serious health conditions like extreme low heart rate can be suffered.


Atypical anorexia is a very serious eating disorder that can lead to mental illness and substance abuse. It is very important to get treatment when you notice anyone close to you have this eating disorder when if they feel they have normal weight.

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