Anorexia nervosa is a significant mental health condition. It’s an eating difficulty where a person keeps their body weight as low as possible. People with anorexia usually do this by restricting the amount of food they eat. They may also make themselves vomit and/or exercise excessively. Anorexia nervosa most commonly affects girls and women, although it has become more common in boys and men in recent years and on average, first develops at around the age of 16 to 17. Anorexia can be associated with anxiety, depression and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
Well known people have opened up about their anorexia in the media. Lily Collins (Phil Collins’ actress/model daughter) has written at length about her former struggle with anorexia; Kate Beckinsale (actress) developed anorexia in her teens following early life traumas; Victoria Beckham (singer) has spoken about her struggles with the pressure to be thin and Lady Gaga (singer) has overcome eating disorders and depression.
- Missing meals – fasting
- Hide food or secretly throw it away
- Pre-occupation with body weight
- Not being truthful about weight loss and food intake is another symptom of anorexia
- Obsessive behaviour such as excessive counting of calories in food
- Avoiding eating with other people or competing to eat less than other people
- Cutting food into tiny pieces – to make eating restriction less obvious
- Rules about food like listing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods or only eating things that are a certain colour
- Taking appetite suppressants, such as slimming or diet pills
- Stomach pains – constipation and bloating
- In girls and women, periods may stop or may become irregular (amenorrhea)
- Hair thinning or falling out
- Weakness and loss of muscle strength – moving slowly
- Low blood pressure
- Wearing baggy clothes to cover up weight loss and keep warm
- Fear of fatness or pursuit of thinness
- Distorted perception of body shape or weight
- A high/sense of achievement from denying yourself food or over-exercising
- Likening eating to losing control
- Difficulty in thinking about anything other than food
- Underestimating the seriousness of the problem even after diagnosis
- Lack of sexual interest or potency
- Social withdrawal and isolation – shutting yourself off from the world
- Feeling dizzy
- Getting irritable and moody – angry if someone challenges you
- Difficulty concentrating
- Setting high standards and being a perfectionist
- Like you want to disappear
Accepting that you need help and support is the first step to recovery, but this may be a very difficult step to take as you may have hidden your situation for a considerable length of time. People with anorexia can helpfully explore and understand the underlying issues and feelings that are contributing to their eating difficulties and change their attitudes to food and weight. This can be done through a course of counselling.
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