Read the words "anorexia nervosa" and you'll likely visualize an emaciated person. That view might change after reading Kate Siber's piece for the New York Times Magazine. It's a deep dive into "atypical anorexia," a little-discussed eating disorder that mirrors that of anorexia—extreme food restriction, a fixation on food and body image, symptoms like hair loss and missed periods, etc. But there's one major difference. Those who suffer from it are not underweight. On the contrary, they can be overweight or obese. Siber explains the diagnosis is just shy of 10 years old, making it still a little-known one that is under-diagnosed and not as well researched. And yet it's possible more people suffer from atypical anorexia than anorexia, she writes. And yet the reality is that those suffering from atypical anorexia face a tougher fight to be diagnosed and get treatment.
One small 2020 survey found atypical anorexia sufferers went 11.6 years before seeking help, more than 4 times longer than typical anorexia sufferers. And insurance remains a major hurdle, with many sufferers denied treatment due to their larger size; other insurers cover only a couple weeks of treatment, "an almost impossibly short period of time to recover." (Siber also shares anecdotes of the head-smacking treatment these patients sometimes get from professionals.) There's a growing call to drop the "atypical" and lump all anorexia sufferers into one category in hopes of chipping away at those disparities, but there's resistance on that front. "It would require altering the organizing principle by which the public and the greater medical field conceive of the condition," she writes. (Read Siber's full story, which weaves in the story of atypical anorexia sufferer Sharon Maxwell.)