Understanding Atypical Anorexia Nervosa
Atypical anorexia nervosa, like any eating disorder, should be approached with kindness and compassion for the struggling individual. There is much shame and stigma attached to eating disorders, especially lesser-known classifications like atypical anorexia nervosa. Thus, building a better understanding of AAN is a valuable part of the healing process for people with AAN, and those who love them.
Living with Atypical Anorexia Nervosa
Atypical anorexia nervosa, like many other eating disorders, has the potential to affect the physical and psychological health of the patient.
The patient is likely to develop certain complications, such as:
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Low self-esteem
- Mental disorders
- Suicidal ideation
Due to the chronic nature of the condition, it affects the patient's quality of life. Some patients may also develop a loss of social identity, which can lead to isolation. Studies show that 97% of individuals who suffer from an eating disorder also suffer from one or more co-occurring conditions, including: (2)
- Major depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Alcohol/substance use disorder
The best way to cope with an illness like atypical anorexia nervosa is to work closely with experienced health professionals. Having someone to talk to about your concerns, and to ask questions, can be extremely reassuring and comforting.
Other coping mechanisms may include:
- Group or individual therapy (counseling)
- Family therapy
- Nutrition counseling
History of Atypical Anorexia Nervosa
Prior to it’s addition to the DSM-5, atypical anorexia nervosa stood for a “less severe form of anorexia nervosa.” (4) In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association recognized the disorder with its diagnostic category, based on the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria. (5) More recent studies have indicated that patients with atypical anorexia nervosa can be just as medically ill as their peers with anorexia nervosa and can have even greater eating disorder psychopathology, which means the early assessment of atypical anorexia nervosa being “a less severe form of anorexia nervosa” is actually a dangerous misclassification. (8), (9)
As we continue to learn about AAN, more understanding and compassion for those struggling with this eating disorder are being established in treatment protocols.
Atypical Anorexia Nervosa in Pop Culture
Atypical anorexia nervosa is not often discussed in the media, but people are beginning to learn more about it.
Pop culture references of eating disorders typically vilify the disorders, as well as those struggling with them. However, instead of scaring the public, many who identify with these characters showcased in books and TV films, such as “Little Miss Perfect,” and “Starving in Suburbia,” feel ashamed of their own condition. Most portrayals serve as nothing more than harmful triggers to those actively struggling.
Increasing awareness of AAN through thoughtful, accurate representation in film and media will provide a more comprehensive understanding while opening treatment pathways for many who live with this condition.