Anorexia Nervosa imageAnorexia Nervosa image
Anorexia nervosa is a psychological illness that has significant emotional, physical, and social consequences. It is characterised by 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.

Anorexia is an incredibly serious mental illness and has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Extreme food restriction can lead to starvation, malnutrition, severe mental distress and suicidality. However, complete recovery from anorexia is possible.

There is no magic word, prescription or motivational speech that will force recovery upon you. Only you can make that choice. That choice will dissipate the loneliness and isolation that your eating disorder compels you to feel. I took small steps, which turned into bigger leaps towards health and happiness"

Recognizing the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
Those with anorexia nervosa lose weight and maintain their extremely low weight in different ways. While some put severe restrictions on their calorie intake, others exercise excessively. Some employ a binge and purge method similar to that used by those with bulimia. Others use laxatives, vomiting, or diuretics to rid themselves of calories. Warning signs of anorexia nervosa

Some of the more common signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa are:
  • 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 or underweight
  • Low self-esteem (e.g. guilt, self-criticism, worthlessness)
  • Rigid thinking (‘black and white’, ‘good and bad’ foods)
  • Feeling out of control
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Heightened anxiety around meal times
  • Heightened sensitivity to comments or criticism about body shape, weight, appearance, eating or 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, making excuses not to eat
  • Social withdrawal or avoidance of social situations involving food
  • Repetitive or obsessive body-checking behaviours
  • Deceptive or secretive behaviour around food
There are two main sub-types of anorexia:

Restricting type
— this is the most commonly known type of anorexia nervosa, whereby a person habitually 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, (may not even be what may seem to be the amount of a meal!) Foods eaten may follow obsessive and rigid rules (e.g. only eating food of one colour or one kind of a particular food group).

Binge-eating or purging type — this type of anorexia nervosa forms when a person restricts their intake as above, but also has periods were masking may be evident and this may take effect and can go on for days. Or engaged in binge-eating or purging behaviour (e.g. self-induced vomiting, over-exercise, misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas).

  • Physical signs and effects of anorexia nervosa
  • Anorexia nervosa can affect the mind and body in a multitude of ways:
  • Brain – preoccupation with food/calories, fear of gaining weight, headaches, fainting, dizziness, mood swings, anxiety, depression
  • Hair and skin – dry skin, brittle nails, thin hair, bruises easily, yellow complexion, growth of thin white hair all over body (called lanugo), intolerance to cold
  • Heart and blood – poor circulation, irregular or slow heartbeat, very low blood pressure, cardiac arrest, heart failure, low iron levels (anaemia)
  • Intestines – constipated, diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal pain
  • Hormones – irregular or absent periods, loss of libido, infertility
  • Kidneys – dehydration, kidney failure
  • Bones and muscles – loss of bone calcium (osteopenia), osteoporosis, muscle loss, weakness, fatigue

Recovery and treatment

It is possible to recover from anorexia, even if you have been living with the illness for many years. The first step towards recovery is to ask for help. With the right team supporting you and a high level of commitment, you can recover from anorexia.