Anorexia Nervosa

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is a psychological condition and an eating disorder in which the individual loses more weight than is healthy for their height and age. The individual will maintain a body weight of 85 percent or less of their expected weight.

A person with anorexia will intentionally restrict their food intake, generally due to a fear of being or becoming fat, even when their body mass index (BMI) is already low. They may also practice excessive exercise, use laxatives, and vomit to reduce weight, but to a lesser extent than those diagnosed with bulimia.

Complications can be severe. Eating disorders are reported to have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Anorexia is most common in young women between the ages of 14 and 25. However, it is important to understand that it is possible for anorexia to manifest in anyone, of any age, gender or background.

Without appropriate help, anorexia can result in a range of severe physical and psychological problems, and can even be fatal. An estimated 10% to 20% of anorexia sufferers die from the devastating effects of this disorder.

What causes Anorexia?

Certain personality traits have been found to play a role in the development of anorexia nervosa. Individuals who are naturally inclined towards perfectionism, as well as those who possess an eagerness to please, an irrational fear of failure, and have low self-esteem, may be more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Having a pre-existing psychological or mental health condition can also increase a person’s vulnerability to developing anorexia. Underlying problems such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and addiction, make it more likely that an individual will go on to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

Environmental factors which may contribute to the development of an eating disorder include experiencing a stressful life event such as bereavement or losing a job, loneliness, being a victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, receiving criticism for your weight or eating habits, and experiencing pressures at work or school.

Culturally, body image is a prominent issue in today’s modern society and there are numerous social pressures which may contribute to a person developing an unhealthy relationship with food. These may include perceived pressure from the media to be thin (including pro-anorexia/pro-‘ana’ websites), and having occupations or hobbies where being thin is seen as the ideal, such as dancing, modelling or athletics.

You can make a full and lasting recovery from your anorexia. Even if you have struggled with this eating disorder for many years, comprehensive treatment can enable you to develop a healthy relationship with food once more, and enable you to return to a positive and healthy way of life. However, it is important to recognise that this process can be lengthy, and you will need to fully commit to your treatment plan in order to achieve a sustainable recovery.

Will I have to go into hospital to receive treatment for my anorexia nervosa?

When you lose a great deal of weight, the effects of starvation can affect your ability to think clearly and may put your life and health at serious risk. In these more extreme circumstances, it may be recommended that you are admitted to hospital.

Body mass index (BMI) is a helpful way to assess a healthy weight and is a useful guide to anorexia risk and recovery.  A healthy BMI for an adult is between 20 and 25; if your BMI is less than 17.5 and you do not suffer from a physical illness that causes weight loss, it may be that you are suffering from anorexia. The lower your BMI, the more likely it is that you will need to go into hospital for anorexia treatment.