Atypical eating disorders

It can be difficult to accept that you have an eating disorder and seeking help can be a confusing and daunting experience. At Priory, we understand this can be a very hard time for you and those closest to you. Many eating problems do not fit into the more common diagnostic boxes such as anorexia or bulimia. However, they are no less genuine and are still a real cause for concern. With necessary care and attention, sufferers can be helped.

What is an atypical eating disorder?

Most eating disorders encountered in the community are atypical. An eating disorder is described as atypical if it has features that closely resemble anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa but does not meet the precise diagnostic criteria of either one, for example:

  • The person's weight may be just above the diagnostic threshold for anorexia nervosa
  • Binge eating and purging (vomiting or induced bowel movement) may occur infrequently
  • Extreme over-concern with weight and shape is present alone
  • In women, if body mass index is less than 17.5 but menstruation still takes place

Many people with atypical eating disorders will have experienced anorexia or bulimia nervosa in the past, or may subsequently go on to develop the full disorder. Atypical eating disorders are commonly diagnosed in childhood. This is partly because it is difficult to strictly apply existing diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa to children. Atypical eating disorders are also known as 'eating disorders not otherwise specified' (EDNOS)

What is atypical anorexia nervosa?

This disorder fulfils some of the features of anorexia nervosa but the overall clinical picture does not justify the full diagnosis. For instance, key symptoms, such as amenorrhoea (absence of menstrual period) or dread of being fat, may be absent in the presence of marked weight loss and weight-reducing behaviour. This diagnosis should not be made in the presence of known physical disorders associated with weight loss.

What is atypical bulimia nervosa?

Again, this disorder fulfils some of the features of bulimia nervosa, but the overall clinical picture does not justify a formal diagnosis of bulimia. For instance, there may be recurrent bouts of overeating and overuse of laxatives without significant weight change, or the typical over concern about body shape and weight may be absent.

Treating atypical eating disorders

Treatment for atypical anorexia and bulimia nervosa follows the same basic principles. This involves the same interventions that are successful in treating anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, namely dietetic advice and nutritional advice, combined with a range of psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other psychological strategies.

Treatment for other atypical problems such as overeating or vomiting due to stress, depression or other psychological issue, involves counselling and psychotherapeutic approaches designed to address the specific underlying mental health problem. Medications such as antidepressants and other prescribed drugs can also be helpful in the treatment of atypical eating disorders, in addition to psychological therapies.

Priory can offer you professional advice and treatment that are suitable to your individual needs and personal experiences. Eating disorders are treatable and over the years, we have helped thousands of people to create the necessary changes, enabling them to challenge their eating disorder and move forward to lead fulfilling lives.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding Atypical eating disorders, please call 0800 840 3219. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here