Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder where a person feels the need to severally reduce their weight.  They achieve this by restricting their calorific food intake, using laxatives, enemas or inducing vomiting as well as exercising to excess.  It usually occurs in their teens and is more common in young girls but can affect anyone at any age in life.  It is a serious mental health condition and is less about food than anxiety and the need for control and a way to deal with their emotions or past trauma.


It’s not known what causes anorexia or other eating disorders, but you may be more likely to develop it if you have experienced or are prone to the following, low self-esteem, anxiety, trauma, sexual abuse, an obsessive personality, or have a tendency for perfectionism.

People who are overly concerned about their weight and being slim or feel pressured because of their culture or career or have been criticised in the past about their weight, shape or eating habits are also more likely to develop anorexia.  A family history of anorexia or family members who have had depression, drug or alcohol addiction can also be an influencing factor.

Physical Symptoms

·      Extreme weight loss

·      Loss of muscle mass

·      Exhaustion

·      Feeling light headed or dizzy

·      Fatigue

·      Concentration problems and memory loss

·      Fitting and seizures

·      Muscle weakness

·      Kidney or bowel problems

·      Constipation and abdominal pain

·      Sleep problems or insomnia

·      Feeling cold all the time

·      Dry skin

·      Brittle nails

·      Bluish tinge to the fingers

·      Hair loss and thinning of the hair

·      Developing a soft downy hair growth on the body known as lanugo

·      Increased facial hair

·      Dental issues, damage to enamel from vomiting, tooth discolouration, cavities, bad breath

·      Reduction or loss of menstrual cycle and fertility problems

·      Abnormal blood counts

·      Low blood pressure

·      Impaired immune system

·      Irregular heart rhythm

·      Swelling of the hands and feet

Psychological Symptoms

·      Lethargy

·      Depression

·      Inflexible thinking

·      Developing a strong desire for control

·      Lying about how much they have eaten

·      Irritability

·      Checking mirrors for perceived flaws

·      Anxiety

·      Stress

Behavioural Changes

·      Severe reduction in calorie intake

·      Binging and purging by vomiting or laxative use

·      Excessive and frequent exercising

·      Dressing in layers to either keep warm or hide weight loss

·      Avoiding family mealtimes

·      Cooking for others but refusing to eat

·      Socialising less

·      Developing food rituals

·      Preoccupation with calories, and food content such as fat, protein and sugar content

·      Often commenting about how fat they are despite losing weight

·      Denying feeling hungry

·      Refusing to eat in public

Professional Help

As with most eating disorders, it’s difficult for the person to acknowledge that they have a problem and need to seek help.  Often it’s not until they are having severe, even life-threatening symptoms that they are willing to consult a doctor. 

However the sooner they start treatment the more likely it is they will make a full recovery, although they may relapse prior to this.  Your doctor will be able to diagnose and treat you for any associated medical symptoms or conditions and refer you to a nutritionist or specialist who deals with anorexia.

They may also suggest that you seek therapy to try and help you understand why you have developed anorexia.  CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is one of the main therapies used to help people develop new more positive ways of thinking and behaving, as well as helping them deal with stress or anxiety.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK).  For more free information click above link.