Atypical Anorexia: What You Should Know

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Last updated on November 21st, 2023 at 11:14 pm

Atypical anorexia or (Atypical AN) is characterized by food intake significantly below what is required to meet your needs and intense body dissatisfaction.

Atypical AN is diagnosed in the DSM V as OSFED (other specified feeding and eating disorders).

You might have atypical anorexia if:

Atypical AN is a very serious mental and physical health condition that will require a team of experts in treatment.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the similarities between anorexia nervosa and atypical anorexia nervosa.  

Let’s through some of the mental and physical health risks of atypical anorexia, how to treat atypical AN and how to minimize some of the barriers to healthcare access for people with this diagnosis.

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Atypical Anorexia Diagnosis 

Atypical anorexia (atypical AN or AAN) happens when a person is experiencing: 

Atypical anorexia actually falls under the definition of OSFED in the official DSM V diagnosis. Eating disorders that fall into the OSFED diagnosis typically do not meet one or more of the symptoms of other eating disorders outlined in the DSM V.

Examples of other eating patterns under OSFED include purging, but not meeting the frequency requirements for Bulimia or orthorexia which is the obsession with healthy foods.

atypical eating disorders infographic

Atypical Anorexia Symptoms  

Physical Symptoms of Atypical AN

The physical symptoms of atypical anorexia include:

  • Slowed heart rate
  • Low pulse rate
  • Electrolyte imbalances (changes in sodium, potassium, phosphorus)
  • Elevated cholesterol 
  • Loss of period for women
  • Female athlete triad (for women)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Fainting
  • Hair loss
  • Low bone mineral density

Behavioral Symptoms of Atypical AN

atypical anorexia symptoms infographic

Is Atypical Anorexia Valid


Atypical anorexia nervosa IS anorexia.

Did you know:

  • Only 6% of people with an eating disorder are underweight
  • Those in “normal” or “overweight” BMI categories are less likely to receive treatment for eating disorders regardless of severity
  • Those in large bodies often experience greater weight loss and more extreme clinical complications with their eating disorders than those in smaller bodies.

The idea that eating disorders only exist in those with low body weight is an eating disorder myth.

Anorexia VS. Atypical Anorexia

First I want to be clear, no matter what type of eating disorder you are experiencing or what your clinical symptoms look like you are deserving of care.

However, because of the delayed diagnosis and treatment of people with atypical AN some of the following complications can occur:

  • People with atypical anorexia had usual body weights which fell in the “overweight” or “obese” categories according to BMI standards (71% for atypical anorexia, 12% for anorexia nervosa). 
  • According to research, there is no difference found in occurrences of bradycardia (slowed heart rate) between AAN and AN patients. Both diagnoses experience bradycardia to the same extent. 
  • Those with Atypical AN typically have a greater overall weight loss than those diagnosed with  AN (17.6kg atypical AN, 11kg AN)
  • Psychiatric comorbidities and suicidal ideation are not statistically different among those with AN and atypical AN
  • Greater total weight loss and greater recent weight loss have a greater risk of low pulse rate (a dangerous or life-threatening side effect of restrictive eating)
  • Only 20% of those with AAN seek treatment for their condition

Atypical Anorexia Recovery

Treatment Overview For Atypical Anorexia

Those with atypical AN receive treatment in inpatient residential centers, hospitals,  outpatient,  and virtual outpatient settings. 

When you seek out treatment for atypical anorexia, you should expect: 

Even if someone’s weight is within a normal BMI range, it is critical to weight restore for someone with Atypical Anorexia.  Malnutrition is still present and poses health risks to those who have lost weight with AAN, even if their weight is a “healthy BMI” or over the “healthy BMI” criteria.

People with atypical AN will require meal support to help re-establish a healthy relationship with food.

quote for atypical anorexia infographic

Symptoms of AN Treatment:

Those with atypical AN experience experience complications in treatment which could include:

People with atypical AN are also likely to experience extreme hunger in eating disorder recovery as a result of prolonged starvation

plate by plate meal support

Atypical AN Treatment Barriers

There are many barriers to treatment for someone with atypical anorexia that can pose health risks or even be life-threatening. 

Those with atypical anorexia are likely to experience

  • Delayed treatment
  • Encouragement of their eating disorder from peers and professionals
  • Prolonged weight loss
  • You may not meet weight admission criteria for some inpatient eating disorder facilities or hospitals
  • People with atypical AN may not qualify for insurance reimbursement for recovery services
  • Those with EDs that do not live in emaciated bodies may not be seen as being sick enough to get treatment
  • Disordered eating behavior resulting in weight loss for someone with atypical AN is likely to be praised by those in Western society. This increases the eating disorder behavior. 
  • Many with atypical AN do  not believe they are “sick enough” to receive treatment for their eating disorder 
  • With the diagnosis still being relative, research in this area is limited 

Since early detection of eating disorders is the key to a full recovery, those with atypical AN often suffer longer and more severely than those with a traditional AN diagnosis. 

Treatment that is weight-based continues to provide barriers to care for those with eating disorders. 

If you have the warning signs of any eating disorder, including atypical anorexia, you deserve help. Seeking out appropriate weight-inclusive professionals will assist you on your recovery journey. Virtual eating disorder treatment is also available for most people seeking treatment.

Check out these eating disorder recovery motivation tips to help you stay strong in this long and difficult journey of recovery.

© 2022 Peace and Nutrition

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