The changing face of anorexia

The changing face of anorexia

by Natalie L 24 Feb 2020

When you hear the word “anorexia”, images of people who are little more than skin of bone tend to come to mind. However, that’s not always an accurate picture of anorexia and other similar eating disorders today. Identifying people with eating disorders from their appearance is far from being a conclusive or accurate approach; their insidious nature means eating disorders don't always look a certain way and are much more common than we think.


A new type of anorexia

Most people would already have already heard about anorexia nervosa, but few know about the more prevalent condition that is atypical anorexia — a fresh diagnosis in the medical realm. While both share similar characteristics like the overwhelming and irrational desire to lose weight, the symptoms tend to present themselves rather differently. For example, people suffering from atypical anorexia can maintain their current size/ appearance and might not appear to have lost much weight. Nevertheless, these patients still suffer from the psychological consequences, as well as the physical harm to their internal organs.


Effects of atypical anorexia

The physiological effects of atypical anorexia are similar to that of anorexia nervosa. These include damage to the heart, lungs, eyes, skin, haematologic system and gastrointestinal tract. Essentially, atypical anorexia can affect almost every part of the human body and even lead to death.


To make matters worse, patients suffering from the effects of atypical anorexia are often in constant self-denial due to the psychological impact of the condition, thus making them reluctant to seek help. Other common psychological effects of atypical anorexia include low self-esteem, depression and social withdrawal, all of which have a major impact on the daily lives of the victims.


Identifying atypical anorexia

To diagnose atypical anorexia, one must discard any stereotype they have about anorexia. This condition does not only occur when a person looks emaciated; scale weight is a poor indicator of atypical anorexia. Instead, the victim's lifestyle as a whole, especially his/ her diet will paint a far more accurate picture.


Recovery from atypical anorexia

Like many other psychological conditions, the road to recovery for those diagnosed with atypical anorexia is definitely not easy. First and foremost, patients need to admit to themselves that they are suffering from a medical condition and that they need help. This is often considered the most challenging step of the recovery process, but it provides the foundation for the subsequent steps. Once a patient agrees to receive treatment, they will receive psychotherapy and counselling, sometimes with medication as adjunct therapy.  


Today, eating disorders such as anorexia are much more common and much harder to detect than we think. It might be staring at us right in the face without our knowledge. If you suspect that a friend or loved one with be afflicted with atypical anorexia, try to have an open and honest conversation with them about your worries. In the event of your worst fears coming true, don't badger them into getting help. Instead, let them know how their decision will end up impacting them and those around them. Once they realise what's at stake, they'll feel more inclined to do the sensible thing.