Anorexia Nervosa

This overview is for educational purposes only and not to be used for self diagnosis. (Source – Psychology Today)

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by a person refusing to eat enough food, or being unable to maintain healthy body weight. Individuals with this disorder often have issues with their body weight- they see themselves as being fat and have an intense fear of gaining weight. They may restrict their food intake in an obsessive manner, by foods high in calories, or by weighing and portioning their meals. They may repeatedly check their body weight, overexercise, and use laxatives, enemas, or diuretics to help themselves lose weight. Girls with this order commonly experience issues with their menstrual cycle.


DISCLAIMER: This information is for educational purposes only and not to be used for self diagnosis. If you or a loved one can relate to a number of features listed below, then please do use our therapist directory to find a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist that is right for you to receive a professional diagnosis.

  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above the minimally normal weight for one’s age and height
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though one is underweight
  • Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, the inappropriate influence of body weight or shape on self-image, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight
  • A person has Restricting Type Anorexia Nervosa when the primary method of weight loss involves dieting, fasting, excessive exercising, and not engaging in any bingeing or purging behaviours for at least a three-month period.
  • A person has Binge-eating/Purging type Anorexia Nervosa when the individual has engaged in episodes of bingeing or purging behavior, such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.


Please Note: This information is for educational purposes only and not to be used for self-diagnosis. If you or a loved one can relate to a number of features listed below, then please do use our therapist directory to find a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist that is right for you to receive a professional diagnosis.

What factors can be contributing causes?

  • Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders are commonly found in cultures and settings where “being thin” is seen as desirable. Some activities and professions such as modelling or athletics may promote a goal of being leaner (than required for health) in order to do well.
  • The onset of an eating disorder can also be associated with a stressful life event. For young adults, this may involve leaving home for college. For older women, similar life transitions—such as returning to work after raising a family, finding a new job, or separation and divorce—can predict symptoms of an eating disorder.
  • Personality factors such as perfectionism and obsessional traits in childhood are also associated with eating disorders.
  • Due to the increased prevalence of anorexia among first-degree relatives of those with the disorder, as well as in identical twins (relative to fraternal twins), biology and heredity seem to play an important role in developing risk for the disorder.
  • Scientists suspect that multiple genes may interact with environmental and other factors to increase the risk of developing these illnesses.

  • A general practitioner (GP) or psychologist can usually diagnose anorexia nervosa by asking questions about a person’s medical history and symptoms.
  • The GP/psychologist will also inquire about a patient’s physical health to ensure that the restrictive or binge eating/purging behaviour is not caused as a result of underlying medical conditions or by factors such as drug or alcohol use.
  • The GP/psychologist will check the symptoms that the patient presents with against the standard criteria for anorexia nervosa before making a diagnosis.

What is the recommended treatment?

  • If left untreated, anorexia may lead to osteoporosis, cardiac problems, infertilitydepression, relationship difficulties, suicide, and even death from medical complications.
  • Counselling and therapy coupled with medical attention to health and nutritional needs are an important aspect of treatment. Because of their complexity, eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan involving medical care and monitoring, psychosocial interventions, nutritional counselling and, when appropriate, medication management. The sooner the disorder is identified and diagnosed, the better the chances for treatment and successful outcomes.
  • Treatment of anorexia involves three main goals:
    • Restoring weight lost to severe dieting and purging
    • Treating psychological disturbances associated with body image issues
    • Achieving either long-term remission and rehabilitation or full recovery


  • Psychotherapy can be meaningful and necessary to uncover factors promoting fears about eating and gaining weight as well to help an individual work through issues related to body image, self-esteem, control, and perfectionism.
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered an effective form of therapy for eating disorders. It is time-limited and focused in nature, helping an individual to see the links between their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours. CBT also involves increasing building a tolerance for the discomfort and distress surrounding food. This helps to normalize eating patterns and engage in behaviours that support gaining healthy weight. CBT can shed light on our dysfunctional thought patterns and negative attitudes and beliefs about food and eating that promote body shame and poor esteem.
    • Family therapy is also considered to be an effective way to treat anorexia nervosa as well as other eating disorders. The “Maudsley Method” is a form of family therapy where parents are integrated as active agents playing a positive role in their child’s recovery journey. Developed at the Maudsley Hospital in London in 1985, the approach emphasizes that parents be calm, supportive, and consistent in the feeding of the child or adolescent with eating disordered behaviour.
  • The role of medications in treating eating disorders is limited. However, antidepressants or other psychiatric medications can help treat co-existing disorders that may also occur, such as depression or anxiety.
  • When a person’s eating disorder is severe enough to be life-threatening or causes severe psychological or behavioural problems, inpatient or residential treatment may be recommended.

  • The average age of onset is 16-17 years, although more and more younger children are becoming affected
  • Females with anorexia nervosa outnumber males with anorexia nervosa on a 10:1 ratio.
  • Anorexia nervosa has a mortality rate that is around 12 times higher than the mortality rate from all other causes.
  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa for females ranges from 0.3%-1.5% and for males range from 0.1%-0.5%

If you are experiencing any of these signs, here are some activities you can do at home until you are able to consult a professional;

  • Engage in creative outlets such as writing, painting, or music.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Talk to a family member or friend about how you are feeling.
  • Practice Mindfulness.
  • Practice Yoga.
  • Maintain a good sleep schedule.
  • Recognise what you can and can’t handle.