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April 16, 2024

“I’m not small enough…” — My Experience with Atypical Anorexia Nervosa

“I’m not small enough…” — My Experience with Atypical Anorexia Nervosa

**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.

My name is Poppy Barnes-Browne. I’m 21 years old and a third-year veterinary medicine student who has struggled with disordered eating and exercise for my entire teenage life. My symptoms worsened in 2023, and I was diagnosed with atypical anorexia nervosa.

What is Atypical Anorexia Nervosa? 

Atypical anorexia is categorized as an Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OFSED) in the DSM-V. With this diagnosis, all the criteria for anorexia nervosa are met, except the person is not considered clinically “underweight.” 

To me and anyone else who struggles with disordered eating, this diagnosis can easily be construed as a minimization of the seriousness of the illness. Given my perfectionist nature, I wanted to be the “perfect, typical anorexic,” as I thought this would grant me access to more love and attention from people. Therefore, despite taking the courageous plunge to reach out for help, I was still crying out for more. 

I adopted more stringent rules and restrictions in my life and continued on a downward spiral toward becoming “typically” anorexic. I was so fixated on being smaller. Meanwhile, I was attending a veterinary placement surrounded by ill animals every minute of every day, constantly thinking “I am just as ill as these patients, but why doesn’t that scare me?”

I am a huge healthcare advocate, but the numbers have not worked in my favor in my recovery journey. In my initial recovery stages, I was heavily affected by the numbers on the scale and the category I was put in as a result. A huge reality that I had to realize the hard way is that eating disorders do not have a set appearance. They can affect anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity, or size. Just because my weight was not considered to be a symptom of “typical anorexia” did not mean that my illness was any less serious or that I was any less worthy of help or treatment than any other person.

Following Your Own Rulebook

My extreme frustration and numerous mental breakdowns following each appointment led me to a point where my close friends and family told me I could not live like this anymore. I could not base my recovery on someone else’s ideas of anorexia. This is my recovery, no one else’s. I have the power to take the reins and write my own recovery story, rather than relying on anyone else to tell me I am “sick enough” to start recovery. 

Anorexia nervosa, whether it is labeled as typical or atypical, is a serious mental health condition that is associated with high rates of mortality. I passionately believe that letting numbers dictate how much intervention you deserve or receive should be re-evaluated.

This was not a sudden light-bulb moment for me. It took a long time for me to realize that my eating disorder diagnosis was just as serious and worthy of care as any other, but the power of leaning on people and talking about your inner demons helps more than you could ever comprehend.

You Are Worthy of Recovery

I do not have all the answers, nor can I cover every point I want to cover in a single blog post, but if this reaches just one person and gives them some perspective, then I have done what I wanted to do. I am not yet fully recovered and do not know when that point will come, but the fact that I now believe I will get there is in itself a powerful thing. I am less scared of food than I used to be, less restrictive with exercise than I used to be, and I am writing my own recovery story — for that, I am proud of myself.

For anyone who is struggling, no matter who you are or what you look like, you are worthy of recovery. You do not need validation or permission to start your recovery journey — it is yours for the taking. I promise you that recovery is a beautiful, emotional, painful yet rewarding journey that you will not regret.

Are you interested in sharing your recovery story? If so, email us at to learn how you can become a guest blogger for The Emily Program.

Get help. Find hope.