Understanding community provider practices in diagnosing and treating atypical anorexia nervosa: A mixed methods study.

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DOI: 10.1002/eat.24125; PMCID: PMC11018496


OBJECTIVE: There is a lack of consensus in defining "significant weight loss" when diagnosing atypical anorexia nervosa (atypical AN) and no guidelines exist for setting target weight (TW). The current study aimed to identify community providers' practices related to the diagnosis of atypical AN and the determination of TW. A secondary aim was to evaluate whether professional discipline impacted "significant weight loss" definitions.

METHOD: A variety of providers (N = 141; 96.4% female) completed an online survey pertaining to diagnostic and treatment practices with atypical AN. Descriptive statistics were computed to characterize provider-based practices and Fisher's exact tests were used to test for differences in diagnostic practices by professional discipline. Thematic analysis was used to examine open-ended questions.

RESULTS: Most (63.97%) providers diagnosed atypical AN in the absence of any weight loss if other AN criteria were met, but doctoral-level psychologists and medical professionals were less likely to do so compared to nutritional or other mental health professionals. Most providers found weight gain was only sometimes necessary for atypical AN recovery. Qualitative responses revealed providers found atypical AN to be a stigmatizing label that was not taken seriously. Providers preferred to use an individualized approach focused on behaviors, rather than weight when diagnosing and treating atypical AN.

DISCUSSION: Lack of diagnostic clarity and concrete treatment guidelines for atypical AN may result in substantial deviations from the DSM-5-TR criteria in real-world practice. Clinically useful diagnostic definitions for restrictive eating disorders and evidence-based treatment guidelines for TW and/or other relevant recovery metrics are needed.

PUBLIC SIGNIFICANCE: The current study found variability in how community providers diagnose and determine target recovery weight for atypical anorexia nervosa (atypical AN). Many providers viewed the diagnosis of atypical AN as stigmatizing and preferred to focus on behaviors, rather than weight. This study underscores the importance of creating a clinically useful diagnostic definition and guidelines for recovery for atypical AN backed by empirical evidence that providers may implement in practice.

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The International journal of eating disorders





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MeSH Keywords

Humans; Female; Male; Anorexia Nervosa; Weight Loss; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders


OSFED; atypical anorexia nervosa; diagnosis; goal weight; provider practices; recovery; restrictive eating disorder

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