Understanding Atypical Anorexia

Atypical anorexia (AAN) is often an over-looked, misdiagnosed or under-treated condition.  Bringing attention to this eating disorder may validate any individuals who are suffering. While having disordered eating is difficult to acknowledge, it can also be helpful to know what it’s called.  Friends and family may benefit by being able to recognize the most common behaviors and symptoms noticed in AAN. The DSM5 recognizes AAN and defines it with all the same criteria as anorexia with one exception, the person does not present as underweight or emaciated. These individuals are still within or above a normal weight range.  Research shows atypical anorexia is just as severe and life-threatening and traditional anorexia.

So what behaviors may be recognized in people suffering with AAN?  Extreme food restriction, counting calories, counting fat or carb grams, refusing to eat entire categories of foods, engaging in food rituals during meals, skipping meals, denying feeling hungry, avoiding social situations involving food, having a rigid eating schedule, or repetitively making excuses for not eating. One may also deal with intense fear of weight gain, disturbance in body perception, and extreme emphasis is placed on body shape, size and appearance, .

Medical concerns and physical symptoms may include the following: malnutrition, low blood pressure, episodes of feeling light-headed and dizzy, bradycardia (low heart rate), irregular heart rhythm, bone loss, electrolyte imbalances, loss of menstrual cycle, psychiatric comorbidities (e.g., depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, self-harm or suicidal ideation).

To an unexperienced eye, this psychological disorder may be difficult to recognize. Atypical anorexia is a serious condition that can greatly impact someone’s, career, relationships, health and quality of life.  Don’t allow the stigma of what an eating disorder should look like to prevent you from finding the courage to get help.  We must look beyond body weight when diagnosing eating disorders; you cannot see an eating disorder by someone’s appearance.   If you recognize a loved one who may be suffering, approach them in a private setting.  With respect and compassion, share your concerns and encourage seeking professional support.  Freedom from this emotionally and mentality exhausting disorder does exist.   Hold onto HOPE, recovery is possible!

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