Anorexia nervosa is a well-known eating disorder affecting mostly teenagers and young adults who restrict caloric intake, sometimes to extreme lengths. When society thinks of someone with symptoms of anorexia nervosa, most people think of a person who is thin, ill and malnourished. However, there is evidence of another type of anorexia nervosa that primarily concerns adolescents who have lost a significant amount of weighing but are not considered clinically underweight. Although atypical anorexia nervosa is indeed an eating disorder, teens in anorexia nervosa recovery often do not show outward signs of serious medical complications associated with other eating disorders. Consequently, anorexia nervosa treatment centers may perform blood and urine tests to determine if underlying health problems need to be addressed before beginning psychological therapy.
Atypical anorexia nervosa (AAN) is also an Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). The DSM-V lists AAN, bulimia nervosa of limited duration/low frequency, binge eating disorder of limited duration and/or low frequency, purging disorder and night eating syndrome as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders as well.
Symptoms of Atypical Anorexia Nervosa
The Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines atypical anorexia nervosa (AAN) as an eating disorder that meets all criteria for AN except that significant weight loss seen in people with atypical anorexia nervosa does not put that person out of their normal weight range. In addition, teens with AAN presented the same constellation of cognitive distortions and abnormal behaviors characteristic of anorexia nervosa patients with significant weight loss. Physical complications experienced by AAN patients are similar to complications diagnosed in anorexia nervosa patients but not exactly. In some cases, teens and young adults with atypical anorexia nervosa may even be above their normal weight range. This is one of the unexpected characteristics of this eating disorder that have led psychiatrists to name it as “atypical” anorexia nervosa.
People with anorexia nervosa may emphatically deny they are severely underweight or even have an eating disorder. In most cases, atypical anorexia nervosa patients may also deny they have an eating disorder. When confronted with their eating disorder, AAN patients may try to minimize the impact of their eating disorder on their health, criticize family and friends for “picking” on them about a nonexistent problem or blame others/situations for their eating disorder (i.e. relationship, job stress). When constantly questioned about their eating habits, AAN patients may go to great lengths to conceal their eating disorder so they can claim they no longer restrict their food intake.
Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosis Provided by Anorexia Nervosa Treatment Centers
Teenagers with atypical anorexia nervosa and parents of teens with AAN often do not realize they have a serious eating disorder because of the weight stigma clouding this disease. Because they are not extremely thin, they may not think they are sick enough to suffer from an eating disorder. Lack of knowledge about atypical anorexia nervosa can prevent parents and teens from entering anorexia recovery treatment programs. Weight loss is not the defining criterion for AAN and symptoms of anorexia nervosa are not the same as symptoms of AAN. However, there is much overlap between the two eating disorders and care should be taken when receiving a diagnosis for either eating disorder.
Anorexia nervosa treatment centers specialize in diagnosing all eating disorders, including AAN, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and a nighttime eating disorder. If a teen is engaging in obsessive-compulsive behaviors involving food restriction, counting calories, counting fat grams or performing ritualistic food activities during meals but are not underweight, they should be evaluated by professionals trained to recognize symptoms of an eating disorder.