What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Today we’re diving into the meaning of Anorexia Nervosa including symptoms, signs, side effects, statistics and treatment to help you or a loved one get the help needed…

Types of Anorexia


Anorexia is a serious, complex and potentially life-threatening illness

If you’re suffering from Anorexia you would typically have obsessive thoughts about your weight and appearance and compulsive behaviours around food.

There are two ‘sub-types’ of Anorexia: restricting and binge/purging.

  • Restricting Anorexia: If you suffer from this type of Anorexia you would usually restrict your food intake and frequently over-exercise to maintain a low weight.
  • Binge/purge type Anorexia: With this type of Anorexia, you would restrict your food but also binge on foods and induce vomiting.

Symptoms vary between patients and some may have a mix of symptoms.

Anorexia thrives on the shame which holds its victims trapped within their illness. If you’re suffering with Anorexia, at times you may feel too ashamed to ask for help. As a result, you may convince yourself that you don’t have a problem at all.


Why do people suffer from Anorexia?

Anorexia and other eating disorders are generally associated with people who have low self-esteem and feelings of self-loathing. It is common among high achieving individuals who have an obsessive desire to seek perfection.

Anorexia Treatment

For many of our clients, there is a fear that they will be forced to eat when they seek treatment. Our approach is much more holistic. First of all, we understand that Anorexia is an illness that begins in the mind, not the body. Our treatment includes one-to-one counselling, movement therapy, arts and creative groups and more, all designed to get to the root of the illness, rather than just treating the symptoms.

Naturally, we look at nutrition as part of your program but our regular Food Groups are gentle, social occasions where we help you, step by step, to heal your relationship with food – consequently nourishing your soul as well as your body.

How can we help you beat Anorexia?

At The Recover Clinic we offer much-needed help and understanding for sufferers and their families. If you believe you may be suffering from an eating disorder, or know someone who is, you can talk to a therapist today who will gently guide you through all the options such as counselling, group therapies, or inpatient clinics, and help you find the program that works best for you.


Symptoms of Anorexia

The symptoms can vary from person to person. At first it might not be obvious that there is a problem. Maybe it might seem like there is a problem but the sufferer refuses to admit it and dismisses concerns from friends and family. Some sufferers feel they need to keep losing weight as their BMI is not low enough and have a distorted image of their body, thinking they are larger than they actually are. However, there are some clear warning signs that you should be on the lookout for if you suspect that you, or a loved one, might be suffering from Anorexia:

Behavioural symptoms of Anorexia:

  • Irritability and difficulty interacting with other people
  • Decrease in concentration levels
  • Difficulty sleeping and fatigue during the day
  • Compulsive and obsessive behaviours around cleanlinesstidiness and exercise
  • Obsessive thoughts and behaviour about one’s body/appearance
  • Obsessive thoughts and behaviour around food/fat/calories
  • Constantly striving for perfection

Physical symptoms of Anorexia:

  • Weight loss
  • Dry/flaky skin
  • Downy hair growing on the face/back/arms
  • Hair thinning or loss on the head
  • Brittle nails
  • Swollen face, hands and feet

Signs of Anorexia:

  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness – difficulty sleeping
  • Irregular periods or they have stopped completely
  • Stomach pains/Constipation/Bloating
  • Weakness
  • Feeling cold
  • Dizziness

Do I have Anorexia?

Have a look at the symptoms and signs above and the following questions. If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then maybe you have a problem.

Do you….

  • find your mood is affected dramatically by how much you weigh?
  • feel that what you eat and your body weight are certainly the only things you have control over?
  • restrict the amount of food that you are eating?
  • obsess about calories – only eat low calorie food and count the calories in food excessively?
  • make excuses for not eating? (Say you have eaten earlier or will eat later or that you have eaten more than you have)
  • hide food?
  • avoid eating with other people?
  • exercise excessively in order to lose weight? (even when you are not feeling physically well enough to do so)
  • continually weigh yourself and measure your body?
  • ever make yourself sick after eating?
  • hear your friends and family voice concerns about your weight or eating habits?
  • cover yourself up in layers of clothes to hide the fact you are losing weight?
  • have thinning hair, worn dental enamel, hypoglycaemia or osteoporosis?
  • get extremely anxious about gaining any weight?
  • not be truthful about how much weight you have lost?
  • use laxativesdiuretics or enemas to lose weight?
  • use appetite suppressants?
  • if female, no longer get your period?

If any of these warning signs of Anorexia apply to you, or to someone you know, seek help immediately.  

What are the side effects of Anorexia?

The side effects of Anorexia can linger for years, even after recovery. If left untreated, Anorexia can lead to organ failure, increased risk of infection, and death.

Anorexia affects every single system in the human body. Malnourishment and dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalances, such as low potassium or low sodium, which in turn increase the risk of heart attacks. Low iron leads to a lack of oxygen in the blood, and blood pressure can drop, causing dizziness.

Effects of Anorexia on your digestive system

Anorexia affects your digestive system, bringing constipation and bloating, and your stomach may shrink, which can hinder recovery. Skin, hair and nails all suffer too. Hair and nails become brittle, and your skin dry and yellowish-coloured (a sign of jaundice). Also, your joints may start to swell, and you may develop the characteristic covering of downy hair (lanugo) on your body as it fights to keep warm.

Effects of Anorexia on your fertility

Anorexia can also have a serious effect on your hormones and your fertility. Consequently, women may stop menstruating, and this can permanently affect your ability to have children.

Emotional and psychological effects of Anorexia

As well as the physical effects, there are emotional and psychological effects which can be just as damaging. Poor concentration, short attention span, irritability, depression, mood swings and insomnia are all common.

It can also affect your relationship with family and friends because you may become withdrawn and socially isolated.

Here is a summary of the side effects of Anorexia:

Medical complications of Anorexia

  • Heart: Slow heart rate or Arrhythmia (better known as irregular heart rate or abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Blood vessels: Low blood pressure and poor circulation
  • Intestines: Constipation and bloating
  • Abdominal pain: weakened stomach muscles, bacterial infections and ulcers
  • Hormone imbalance (which can affect fertility)
  • Delayed onset of puberty in children and young teenagers
  • Slow thyroid function
  • Muscles and Joints: Weak muscles, swollen joints, increased risk of fractures, Osteoporosis
  • Kidney: Kidney stones or Kidney failure
  • Liver problems
  • Bowel problems
  • Blood: Anaemia and other blood problems
  • High risk of infection and suppressed immunity
  • Death

Statistics about Anorexia:
  • Anorexia Nervosa is certainly one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses in young women (Hsu; 1996)
  • Anorexia Nervosa has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. Furthermore, one study reported that the prevalence of Anorexia in western countries is higher than in other parts of the world.
  • Approximately 10 percent of cases arise in men
  • history of sexual abuse is seen in 3 out of 10 people with Anorexia Nervosa
  • Anorexia Nervosa typically appears in early to mid-adolescence
  • Between 5% to 20% of those suffering with Anorexia Nervosa will die (Zerbe; 1995). However, for those who receive treatment, the mortality rate is far lower, at 2-3% (Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc., 2006)

Above all, don’t suffer in silence.

Call our team today for help and advice on 0845 603 6530 or fill in our short contact form.




Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash



Posted in , by The Recover Clinic