What is Anorexia?
World Eating Disorders Awareness Week
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia Nervosa is a psychological illness with devastating physical consequences. Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by low body weight and body image distortion, with an obsessive fear of gaining weight which manifests itself through depriving the body of food. It often coincides with increased levels of exercise.
There are two main sub-types of anorexia:
Restricting type: this is the most commonly known type of Anorexia Nervosa whereby a person severely restricts their food intake. Restriction may take many forms (e.g. maintaining very low calorie count; restricting types of food eaten; eating only one meal a day) and may follow obsessive and rigid rules (e.g. only eating food of one colour).
Binge-eating or purging type: less recognised; a person restricts their intake as above, but also during some bouts of restriction the person has regularly engaged in binge-eating OR purging behaviour (e.g. self induced vomiting, over-exercise, misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas).
Who gets Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia Nervosa usually develops during adolescence and generally has an earlier age of onset than Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder (the latter are often developed during late adolescence or early adulthood). However like all eating disorders, anorexia can develop at any age or stage of life for both males and females. It is a myth that only adolescent girls experience anorexia.
What causes Anorexia?
There is no single cause of anorexia, although knowledge of genetic influences on liability to eating disorders has grown rapidly over the past three decades. A landmark study led by UNC School of Medicine researchers has identified the first genetic locus for anorexia nervosa and has revealed that there may also be metabolic underpinnings to this potentially deadly illness.
Warning Signs of Anorexia
Preoccupation with body shape, weight and/or appearance
Intense fear of gaining weight
Preoccupation with food or food related activities
Negative or distorted body image; perceiving self to be fat when at a healthy weight/underweight
Low self-esteem (guilt, self-criticism, worthlessness)
Rigid thinking (‘black and white’, ‘good and bad’ foods)
Feeling out of control
Anxiety or depression
Heightened anxiety around meal times
Heightened sensitivity to comments or criticism about body shape/weight/appearance/eating/exercise habits
Suicidal or self-harm thoughts or behaviours
Constant or repetitive dieting/restrictive or rigid eating patterns
Excessive or compulsive exercise
Changes in clothing style
Impaired school or work performance
Obsessive rituals around food
Changes in food preferences
Frequent avoidance of eating meals / excuses not to eat
Social withdrawal / avoidance of social situations involving food
Repetitive or obsessive body-checking behaviours
Deceptive or secretive behaviour around food
Physical Signs and Effects of Anorexia
Recovery and Treatment
Anorexia is the most fatal of all psychiatric illnesses. Extreme food restriction can lead to starvation, malnutrition and a dangerously low body weight – all of which are synonymous with a host of health problems. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
Recovery,however, is possible, no matter how long individuals have struggled with the anorexia, although early treatment does increase chances of full recovery. If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, contact your GP, CAMHS or email us on