Anorexia Nervosa is a psychological illness with devastating physical consequences. Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by low body weight and body image distortion with an obsessive fear of gaining weight which manifests itself through depriving the body of food. Individuals frequently possess a misperception of their body weight and shape to the extent that they may feel or see themselves as fat, when actually they are emaciated.

Anorexia Nervosa is the most fatal of all psychiatric illnesses. Restrictive dieting and excessive exercise can be contributing factors to the onset of Anorexia Nervosa.

A Person with AN will:

  • Weigh less than 85% of what is expected for age and height. They can lose weight rapidly and consistently over short periods of time
  • Have a fear of gaining weight. Despite being underweight, starved or malnourished they will still possess an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming ‘fat’
  • Body image dissatisfaction – the amount of attention they place on their body image can be enormous. They may see themselves as fat when in reality they are dangerously underweight

Anorexia Nervosa is a very serious mental illness that requires treatment. There are two types of Anorexia Nervosa:

Restricting type:

severe restriction on the amount and type of food they consume. Avoiding specific types of foods e.g. Carbohydrates or Fats, counting calories, skipping meals, obsessive food rules and rigid thinking. They may also be accompanied by excessive exercise.

Binge eating / purging type:

severe restriction on the amount and type of food they consume. In addition to this the person will also have binge eating/purging behaviour. Binge eating is eating a large amount of food accompanied by a feeling of ‘loss of control’. Purging includes self induced vomiting, deliberately misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas to compensate for eating food

Having awareness about Anorexia Nervosa and its signs and symptoms can make a huge difference to the duration and severity of the illness. Seeking help at the first warning sign is much more effective than waiting until the illness is in full swing.

If you are concerned about someone you know who you think may have an eating disorder it is vital to seek help and support as soon as possible. Recovery is possible and the path to recovery can be long and challenging that is why they need specialised health professionals who are specifically trained in the management of eating disorders. It often requires a multidisciplinary treatment team to provide the best evidenced based treatment to promote recovery and prevent relapses. This mental illness is complex, it requires psychological, behavioral, dietary and social support interventions. Your GP is a good ‘first base’ point of contact. They can refer you onto a health professional who is specialised in this field. Your GP will be able to help monitor your medical stability to ensure you are medically safe or if you require more intensive hospitalised treatment.

It is important to seek help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. For more information about eating disorders please visit the National Eating Disorders Collaboration website.