Atypical eating disorders refer to any unusual eating that does not fit into a specific diagnostic category. An example of this can include only eating very specific food groups or only at certain times. More examples of atypical eating disorders are provided below. Sometimes unusual eating behaviours may fit an alternative diagnostic criteria (e.g. obsessive compulsive disorder or food phobia). However, if no specific diagnostic criteria are met, clinicians often refer to ‘disordered eating, ‘atypical eating disorder’ or ‘eating disorder not otherwise specified’.
Examples of disordered eating that may not fit into a specific diagnostic category may include:
Atypical eating disorders, as with all eating disorders, do not have a single known cause. Often there may be certain events in a persons past that have contributed to a fear of certain foods or food types. A person may be using their eating disorder to address or help them to cope with underlying emotional distress. Occasionally a phobic fear may develop around certain food types or eating scenarios due to unrealistic beliefs about feared consequences. The aim of undertaking an initial assessment of your eating difficulties will be to explore the factors that are likely to be contributing to your eating habits.
CBT is the current leading treatment for anorexia, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and body image diffculties (NICE Guidelines, 2004), as such it is usually also recommended for atypical eating disorders. CBT focuses on your thinking (cognitions), your behaviours (what you do in response to certain thoughts), and your emotions (how you feel in response to certain thoughts). People can often recognise patterns in their thinking (e.g. I am not good enough, people dont like me, I need to be thinner to be successful). These thoughts result in familiar emotions and behaviours that often involve manipulation of food or eating. CBT helps individuals to recognise their unhelpful or negative thinking, see the patterns in their behaviours and develop healthy strategies and skills to challenge or cope with their unhelpful thoughts. CBT is a structured skills based therapy that is most suitable for people who want to be guided by their therapist to find new ways of coping.
Often people with Atypical eating habits can be supported to follow a healthier eating plan developed in collaboration with a nutritional counsellor that will help them to break previous habits. This can be done in conjunction with psychological input or with a series of dietetic consultations alone.
Where atypical eating habits are a result of a food phobia, or are present due to feared consequences of eating in a different way, individuals can be helped with the support of a psychologist to gradually change their eating techniques in order to evaluate the accuracy of feared consequences. This can usually be done in just a few sessions, freeing individuals quickly from the rigidity of their previous eating habits.