Atypical Anorexia Nervosa: Signs & Symptoms

Girl sitting by window with head rested on hand, reflecting

When individuals think about anorexia nervosa, they usually picture a young woman underweight or sometimes even emaciated. However, several subtypes of this eating disorder are not as widely known to the public.

One particularly rare subtype is called atypical anorexia nervosa. If you or someone you know might be struggling with this disease, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms so that you can get help.

This blog post will cover the basics of what causes this subtype of anorexia, its symptoms, and the treatment process.

What Is Atypical Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is a severe mental illness that causes people to control their weight obsessively. While the most common type of anorexia is characterized by extreme thinness, there is a less well-known form called atypical anorexia.

Atypical anorexia is similar to the traditional form in terms of how it affects someone’s body and mind. However, atypical anorexia tends to develop in individuals within or above the normal weight range for their age and sex.

In addition, this type of anorexia can develop gradually rather than all at once. The disorder may progress slowly as a person becomes more and more fixated on following particular eating patterns. 

Signs and Symptoms of Atypical Anorexia

It can be challenging to diagnose atypical anorexia nervosa, as it doesn’t always cause the low body weight associated with traditional anorexia. Often, atypical anorexia symptoms are diagnosed after it becomes apparent that someone’s unusual eating habits are causing them physical or psychological problems.

The symptoms of this disorder can include some or all of the following:

  • Frequent weighing in
  • Fixation on food and diet
  • Extreme anxiety about gaining weight
  • Denial that the unusual eating habits are harmful
  • Refusal to maintain healthy body weight while still maintaining an active lifestyle and regular social life

This is not an exhaustive list, however, it provides ideas of some of the symptoms associated with atypical anorexia. As shown, they are very similar to the symptoms of traditional anorexia.

That’s why it’s important to remember that anybody is susceptible to developing atypical anorexia nervosa symptoms. Even if you have never struggled with weight or eating in your life, you could potentially develop this disorder under the wrong circumstances.

What Parents Should Know

It’s easy for parents to dismiss unusual eating habits as a phase their young adult might be going through. But sometimes, people develop atypical anorexia because the potential side effects–including extreme weight loss, malnutrition, and mental health problems–aren’t immediately apparent to adults.

Not all young adults openly talk about their insecurities and struggle with weight loss, making it hard for parents to pick up on the symptoms of atypical anorexia. In those cases, consider finding a therapist with whom your child might feel more comfortable discussing their condition with.

Atypical Anorexia and Treatment

It’s important to get the proper atypical anorexia nervosa treatment when diagnosed. This means seeking a mental health professional who can provide therapy and guidance throughout your recovery process.

While very few hospitals specialize in eating disorders, many therapists are trained to treat this particular disease. Since this is a complex illness, treatment can involve one-on-one therapy sessions and group meetings with other individuals who are dealing with similar conditions.

The primary goal of atypical anorexia nervosa treatment is to attain good physical health while also preventing drops in weight. Treatment also helps patients gain the necessary knowledge on how to deal with their obsessions and compulsions related to food.


Once the disorder is under control, ongoing therapy sessions will most likely be needed to remain healthy long-term. These one-on-one meetings are an important way to prevent relapse and continue your progress after treatment ends.

If you or someone you know is struggling with this disease, the best thing to do is get help today. Don’t wait for things to get worse before reaching out. With the right mindset and qualified medical professional help, you’ll find the road to recovery to be much easier.

The Impact of Atypical Anorexia Nervosa if Left Untreated

The reality is that many of those who struggle with atypical anorexia don’t seek treatment until the disease has already taken a serious toll on their body and their life. By then, it can be difficult or impossible to overcome this disorder without outside intervention effectively.

While this disease is different from traditional anorexia in some ways, it’s equally destructive if left untreated. The person will most likely lose excessive weight because of their focus on food and dieting.

Atypical anorexia nervosa can turn into full-blown anorexia nervosa if the patient is not careful and may even become bulimic. Once they cross that threshold, symptoms become progressively worse, ranging from:

  • Depression
  • Severe anxiety and obsessive thoughts
  • Failure to menstruate in women
  • Loss of hair on the head and body
  • Extremely low blood pressure
  • Brittle bones and weak muscles
  • Heart problems and organ failure
  • Death

Get Atypical Anorexia Nervosa Help Today!

If you or a loved one is dealing with atypical anorexia nervosa or general anorexia nervosa, it’s essential to get help right away. Don’t wait until the disease takes over your life and causes severe damage to your body.

By seeking treatment as soon as possible, you will be able to begin the recovery process and learn how to live a healthier, more nutritional life.

At Eating Disorder Solutions, our staff of trained medical professionals is here to help you every step of the way, providing you with the necessary guidance, counseling, and environment for a successful recovery.

Please get in touch with us, and take your first step towards recovery today!