Mental Health Conditions

What is anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder characterised by an extreme and debilitating fear of gaining weight, a fear not alleviated as weight is lost.  It may include dramatic weight loss to the extent of starvation. The issue of control is important, with individuals denying themselves food and not "giving in".  

General symptoms of anorexia
•    Serious and persistent weight loss 
•    Amenorrhea (cessation of periods, usually as a consequence of the weight loss) 
•    Starvation leads to possibility of severe infection and metabolic disturbances
•    Constipation
•    Abdominal pain
•    Cold intolerance
•    Lethargy
•    Hypotension (low blood pressure)
•    "Lanugo" (fine hair on the trunk and back of the body)
•    Osteoporosis

Behavioural symptoms of anorexia
•    Very restrictive diet, usually limited to a few food types only
•    Avoiding meals
•    Preparing food for rest of family without eating oneself
•    Abuse of laxatives
•    Increased exercise, often vigorous exercise

Psychological symptoms of anorexia
•    Fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
•    Self worth is connected to weight, ie weight loss is viewed positively, even euphorically, as an achievement; weight gain is     experienced as an agonising failure of self control 
•    Distorted body image (perceive body to be larger than it is)
•    Preoccupation with thoughts of food
•    Preoccupation with calorie-counting every item of food
•    Concerns, anxieties, fears about eating in public

People with anorexia may also experience
•    Perfectionism
•    Inflexible thinking
•    Limited social spontaneity

When seriously underweight, people may experience depressive symptoms, eg low mood, social withdrawal, irritability, insomnia, decreased sex drive.

Treatment for anorexia
Long-term psychotherapy or counselling is generally needed to help the individual understand the factors underlying and contributing to their condition, and to address the anxieties and fears they associate with food, eating and weight gain.  Hospitalisation may be necessary in extreme cases.

If you or anyone you know may be affected, you can receive free mental health support via our Textcare and Support Forum services. Our helpline is also available on 0300 304 7000 6 pm – 11 pm.