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Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is often simply referred to as Anorexia. Despite the fact that this is a very serious condition, there are many misleading ideas out there about what Anorexia Nervosa is, how it affects people, and how it can be treated. Anorexia is a serious eating disorder; it is a mental health condition. Sufferers from the condition do not have control over their symptoms because it is a mental health condition that leads to severe physical impacts on the body; it can be challenging to treat.

As long as a person feels the compulsion to control their weight to the point where they are endangering their health, they are in danger of relapsing. In order to manage the condition and to recover fully, it is essential that the underlying mental health issues are addressed. Anorexia is a devastating condition for those who suffer from it and also for their friends and families. It requires expert treatment and support, sometimes for many years. However, treatment for eating disorders is continually improving as experts learn more about these conditions and how to best support sufferers in their recovery and long-term management of the condition. For more information, check out this Anorexia study.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

A woman silhouette with highlighted internal organs showing signs and symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

A person suffering from Anorexia goes to extreme lengths to reduce their body weight. This is more than a simple desire to lose weight; anorexia sufferers often have a distorted body image. They believe they are much larger than they really are. They may reduce their food intake or exercise intensively in order to lose more weight. Even when a sufferer is in a state of actual physical starvation, they may still believe that they are too large, that they are fat, or feel unable to eat for fear of putting on weight. Some sufferers of eating disorders work hard to conceal signs of their condition from those around them. Sometimes even people close to them might not know that they are suffering from the condition until their body weight becomes extremely low, and it becomes very obvious that something is wrong. Signs to look for include:

  • Having a low weight or BMI.
  • Skipping meals or eating very little.
  • Believing you are much larger/fatter/heavier than you actually are.
  • Obsessive/intrusive thoughts about food and body image.
  • Taking appetite suppressants/diet pills/laxatives/diuretics to lose weight.
  • Physical signs of malnutrition – hair loss, skin problems, fatigue, dizziness, menstrual cycle changes, etc.

Who is Affected by Anorexia?

Young man with anorexia on dark background

Anyone can suffer from Anorexia Nervosa. It is more common in females – especially young females in their teenage years and early adulthood, but men and women of all ages can fall victim to this condition. It is still not known exactly why a person suffers from anorexia nervosa. However, there are risk factors (things that may be linked to anorexia nervosa or make it more likely to occur), and these include past trauma such as sexual abuse. Feeling under pressure from family, peers, society, or an industry to look a certain way or be slim can also be a major factor. This may be why people such as athletes, models, and celebrities have a higher incidence of the condition. Low self-esteem, poor self-image, and anxiety can be contributing factors. There is also a family link; some people are more likely to experience anorexia nervosa if there is a family history of eating disorders or addiction problems.

The Dangers of Anorexia

Diagram of the side effects of anorexia nervosa on white background. Physical and mental side effects

Anorexia Nervosa can lead to several serious health consequences, and these can be extremely severe. If left untreated, Anorexia can even lead to death. The dangers of Anorexia include (but are not limited to):


  • Cardiovascular Issues – blood pressure, heart rate, and circulation are all affected by malnutrition and low body weight. Heart disease and heart failure can occur.
  • Poor Bone Health – osteoporosis is when the bones lose their density, caused by malnutrition. This can lead to fragile, brittle bones that break easily and cause pain. The bones of a young person with Anorexia may not develop properly.
  • Cognitive Impairment – issues can arise with the brain’s ability to think clearly, and there can be a loss of concentration and focus.
  • Loss of Fertility – menstrual cycles may stop in female sufferers, hormonal imbalances can occur, and fertility can be adversely affected.
  • Poor Muscle Health – weakness in the muscles and poor muscle development can occur.
  • Anemia – low levels of iron can cause iron-deficiency anemia; other vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also occur, and along with them come a wide range of unpleasant symptoms.
  • Problems With The Nervous System – from changes to the body’s sensations to severe seizures, the nervous system can suffer severely from malnutrition.
  • Kidney, Bowel, And Bladder Disorders – these organs require nutrition to function and repair cells; they may begin to work inefficiently without adequate nutrition.
  • Low Immunity – the immune system requires certain nutrients to ward off infection and fight disease. This means that anorexia sufferers are more likely to contract other illnesses and diseases and to suffer more severely from them.

Treatment for Anorexia

The word HELP written by an anorexic girl.

It is vital that those suffering from Anorexia Nervosa are given the appropriate help. A specialist eating disorder treatment plan should be specific to the needs of the individual person. This will involve specialist care from experts who understand the dual aspects of Anorexia Nervosa; the mental/emotional side and the physical side. Treatment is often centered around talking therapy, helping sufferers understand the condition, and managing their thoughts and feelings around food. Other family members of the sufferer may also play an active role so they too can understand and offer constructive help and support as their loved one recovers.

Helping End the Stigma

Anorexia Nervosa is often misunderstood. A lot of stigma still surrounds issues of mental health such as eating disorders, mainly due to the poor understanding of the condition’s severity. If you feel concerned about someone you know or have worried about your health, your relationship with food, dieting, or intrusive thoughts, then the first step is to speak to a medical professional or contact an eating disorder charity where you can be signposted to the right help for you.

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