Written by: Lee Spinks
Medically Reviewed by: Dr Mateen Durrani – MBBS, DPM, MSc, BCPsych
Last Updated: January 10th, 2023
Anorexia nervosa is one of the most dangerous eating disorders which can affect anyone irrespective of their gender, age and background. If left untreated, anorexia can drastically harm a person’s body, mind and spirit, and in the most tragic circumstances, anorexia can have fatal consequences. Currently, over a quarter of a million Britons suffer from this disorder, and sadly, it has the highest mortality rate of all eating disorders. At Primrose Lodge, we are dedicated to stopping anorexia in its tracks by providing clients with a comprehensive anorexia treatment programme.
What is anorexia nervosa?
On the surface, anorexia nervosa may look like a physical condition, given that the most notable sign of anorexia is weight loss. However, anorexia is much more than that; it is, in fact, a psychological illness whereby the fear of gaining weight infiltrates a person’s mind to such an extent that they’re unable to have a healthy relationship with food. This results in people skipping meals or consuming very few calories to control their weight. Sometimes, this is accompanied by purging or exercising in excess. Not only does this create a multitude of stress and anxiety for the person suffering, but the ramifications of anorexia can seep into their personal lives, negatively affecting their relationships and professional life. Furthermore, most people with anorexia will lose substantial body mass and exhibit physical signs of malnutrition. If this goes untreated, it can dangerously injure their physical strength and wellbeing.
Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa
If you think you or someone you care about may be struggling with anorexia, there are several warning signs to look out for. The sooner you notice that you or a loved one might be anorexic, the sooner you can get help and avoid any lasting damage. Let’s look at some of the common physical symptoms of anorexia:
- Development of brittle bones (Osteoporosis)
- Thinning hair
- Extreme weight loss and thin appearance
- Intolerance of cold environments
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Dizziness or fainting
- Brittle nails
- Absence of menstruation
- Dry skin
- Low blood pressure
The physical symptoms of anorexia are often accompanied by numerous behavioural signs, some of which can be:
- Preoccupation with dieting
- Denial of hunger, even when starving
- Difficulty concentrating
- Refusal to eat
- Fixation on counting calories
- Obsession with body size and shape
- Weighing food
- Skipping meals
- Making excuses for not eating
- Eating only a few specific foods considered safe, usually those low in fat and calories
- Developing negative eating habits, such as spitting food out after chewing
- Excessive exercise
- Constant weighing of self
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
What causes anorexia?
Several factors can lead to anorexia depending on the individual with the illness. The cause of anorexia may be biological, environmental, or psychological, and in many cases, a combination of all three.
Let’s look at the common risk factors people may have experienced that may contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa:
- Difficulty handling stress or anxiety
- Susceptibility to depression and anxiety
- An impulse to control
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- A tendency to strive for “perfection” in all aspects of life
- Having a negative self-image or body image
- Eating problems from early childhood or infancy
- Having the wrong ideas concerning beauty and health. These ideas may come from the media or be influenced by culture or society
- Being overly worried about weight and shape
- Receiving physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Family or other relationship problems
- Being bullied
- Fear of failure or pressure to succeed
Environmental factors such as the beauty and fashion industry, alongside the media’s portrayal of unattainable beauty standards, can negatively impact an individual’s perception of a healthy body image. Our anorexia treatment clinic considers these factors, and they provide excellent therapy treatments to help you change how you perceive your body and build a better relationship with food.
How is anorexia nervosa treated?
Generally, anorexia nervosa treatment consists of psychotherapy, medication, family therapy and nutrition counselling. The goal of your personalised treatment plan is to achieve the following:
- Restore you to a healthy body weight
- Address distorted thinking
- Treat emotional problems such as low self-esteem
- Help you make behavioural changes that will help you achieve lasting recovery
- For best results, treatment may be long-term, especially as there is the possibility of a relapse.
Remember: anorexia is treatable, and you can recover.
Developing anorexia can seem like you are isolated from everyone else when you have it yourself and it may seem scary if you’re watching someone you love go through it. We know it is a debilitating illness that permeates all corners of a person’s life. But fortunately, it is treatable, and we’ve witnessed many people recover physically, mentally, and emotionally from the disorder, so please take comfort that you can too.
If you or a loved one suffer from anorexia nervosa or any other eating disorder, we can help. Call our confidential helpline today to get started on the safe and effective path to recovery.