Anorexia is characterised by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and often a distorted perception of weight. People with anorexia place a high value on controlling their weight and their body shape. The efforts are usually extreme and interfere with their everyday lives.
People with anorexia want to keep losing weight or prevent any weight gain and do this by severely restricting food intake. They may restrict the number of calories consumed by vomiting after eating or the misuse of laxatives. They may also try to lose weight by excessively exercising. No matter how much weight is lost, the person continues to fear weight gain.
The physical signs and symptoms are related to starvation and could include:
- Extreme weight loss or not making developmental weight gains
- Thin appearance
- Abnormal blood results
- Dizziness or fainting
- Bluish discoloration of the fingers
- Hair that thins, beaks or falls out
- Soft, downy hair covering the body
- Periods stop
- Constipation and abdominal pain
- Dry or yellowish skin
- Not being able to tolerate the cold
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Low blood pressure
- Swelling or arms or legs
- Poor dental health
There are also behavioural signs and symptoms and could include attempts to lose weight by:
- Severely restricting food intake, either by dieting or fasting
- Excessively exercising
- Binge eating and self-induced vomiting to get rid of food. This may include the use of laxatives, enemas, dietary aids or herbal products
There are emotional and behavioural signs and symptoms with anorexia, which may include:
- Preoccupation with food, this can include cooking for others but not eating
- Frequently skipping meals and refusing to eat
- Denying being hungry or making excuses for not eating
- Eating only few “safe” foods which are usually low in fat and calories
- Adopting rigid rules around eating e.g chewing food and then spitting it out
- Not wanting to eat with others
- Lying about how much food has been eaten
- Repeated weighing and measuring of the body to ensure no weight has been gained
- Frequent checking in the mirror
- Complaining about being fat or that particular body parts are fat
- Wearing lots of layers of clothing to cover up
- Low mood
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of libido
Causes of Anorexia
The exact cause of anorexia is unknown. It is likely to be a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. There are also certain factors that increase the risk of anorexia. Those with a close relative (a parent, sibling or child) who have had anorexia, increases the risk. Dieting can also be a risk factor for developing anorexia as starvation affects the brain and influences mood changes. Starvation and weight loss can cause changes in vulnerable people. They may continue with restrictive eating behaviours and find it difficult to return to normal eating habits. Change can also increase the risk; this could be a new job, loss of a loved one or a relationship breakdown.
Treatments for Anorexia
Anorexia is usually treated using a multi-disciplinary team approach. This includes a psychiatrist, therapist and dietitian, all are experienced in working with eating disorders. Dependent on the severity of the illness, you may be admitted to the Clinic as an in-patient.
Medication for Anorexia
You may be offered anti-depressants to treat other symptoms that you may be experiencing, for example, depression.
Therapy Approach for Anorexia
Psychological therapy is the recommended approach to treat anorexia. The aim is to help you understand the reasons for your eating problems and to help you feel more comfortable about food. This will help you to begin to eat more and reach a healthy weight. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you to learn to cope with your feelings. Additionally, understanding nutrition and the effects starvation has on the body may support your recovery. Your therapist will work with you to create a plan which will also include making healthy food choices.
You will be seen by our dietitian who will discuss your diet and may suggest you need vitamin and/or mineral supplements.
Recovery from an eating disorder can be a lengthy process and requires input from a specialist team as well as support form your friends and loved ones. It is important you ask for help if you are struggling and express how you are feeling.
You will need to receive ongoing support after your treatment, this will include checking your weight and your mental health. There is a risk of relapse and many people will continue to have some thoughts and behaviours related to an eating disorder.
Find a clinician for help with anorexia
In order to see one of our clinicians, patients first need to obtain a GP referral.Our Clinicians