Anorexia Nervosa

Updated: July 23, 2022

Anorexia nervosa, also known as anorexia, is an eating disorder that can result in health problems, and even death.  It’s an intense focus on fears of becoming fat.  Such that it causes individuals to starve themselves, sometimes exercising excessively and losing weight because they mistakenly believe they are fat.

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What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

The word “Anorexia” means loss of appetite, however those who suffer with the condition rarely experience this.  In fact, they often experience hunger due to extreme food restriction.  “Nervosa” means nervous, referring to the nervous system and brain, which is impacted by the condition.


Anorexia usually begins during puberty, and affects more females, however rates in males are increasing.  Those who work in the public eye are more at risk of developing eating disorders like anorexia, due to the focus on their body image.  Often people who are successful in many areas of life, and might be thought of as ‘high achievers’ are susceptible to anorexia because of their perfectionist tendencies, and obsessive, anxious, and depressive temperaments.


Anorexia is diagnosed when a person’s weight decreases to 15% below their healthy body-mass index (BMI).  Individuals experience body dysmorphia and see themselves as fat when they are in fact very thin.  By restricting food, they believe they can rectify the self-perceived problem.

What Are The Symptoms?

Experiencing Disconnect

People with anorexia are often unable to realistically gauge their body weight.  They will believe and see themselves as being fat when in fact, they are of healthy weight, or often, underweight.

Food Restriction

Individuals will often take to a restrictive diet, they may miss meals or avoid what they deem to be ‘bad’ foods (those they believe to be fattening), even though they are very thin and have a low body weight.

Intense Fear Of Gaining Weight

People experiencing anorexia are so scared of gaining weight, they will do all sorts of things to minimise the risk.  For example, they often take laxatives,  exercise excessively, or avoid socialising because of a fear of consuming food and drink.

Menstrual Changes & Fertility Risk

Because of the impact that malnutrition has on the body, women often experience irregular or infrequent periods, and in some cases the menstrual cycle might stop altogether.  This could cause fertility problems, for men as well.  This is because a lack of essential nutrients degrades egg and sperm cell quality.  It may also be more difficult for the body to synthesise essential hormones for reproduction, decreasing fertility.


Because of the intense focus on body weight or shape, and self-perceived ‘flaws’, self-esteem suffers and becomes worse over time.  This creates a vicious cycle of self-loathing, and punishing behaviour, feeding the obsession.  Individuals will also become fixated on anything that relates to nutrition, food, cooking, and calories.

Poor Health

Due to malnutrition, people can develop all kinds of problems.  For example, they might find it hard to tolerate cold weather, develop brittle nails, hair, and skin conditions, including discolouration.  They may become anaemic, or experience joint or teeth problems, suffer with constipation, and overall poor immunity which increases illness.

Rapid Weight Loss

This happens over many weeks or months and causes lower than average height and weight in those who are under 18.  In adults it results in a low BMI.

Social Withdrawal

Because of the intense focus placed on food restriction and exercise, individuals will create very strict routines.  But this means they cannot socialise because socialising would take them away from their harsh regimen (which means they will normally either be at home, out exercising, and only where they need to be (for example, work).  This also alleviates the pressure of having to eat and drink, if they were to socialise.

Strange Behaviour

Some people will form behaviours that might seem strange to others.  For example they will develop routines and habits like eating in secret, or being very particular about only consuming certain foods and drinks.

Unpleasant Mood

People can experience unpleasant emotions, such as low mood, depression, anxiety, irritability, worthlessness or hopelessness, to name just a few.

Unrealistic Standards

People with anorexia will often set very high and unattainable standards, attempting perfection.  This results in a very critical relationship with the self because they have effectively set themselves up to fail.  And they will view their inability to attain perfection very harshly.

Wearing Loose Clothing

People will often try to hide weight loss by wearing loose clothing, this also allows them to hide the body they are very self-critical and ashamed of.

What Causes Anorexia?

  • Although there is no known cause for eating disorders, there are risks.  For example, you are more at risk if depression, substance addiction, or eating disorders already exist in your family.
  • You have experienced criticism about how you eat, your body weight or shape, or you’re too focused on being slim.
  • You feel pressure because of cultural norms, society, or your job (for example, if you’re an aspiring ballet dancer, actor, model, or athlete, etc).
  • You suffer with another mental health problem, such as anxiety, low self-esteem, or an obsessive personality, or perfectionism.
  • You were sexually abused.

How Phinity Therapy Can Help

The best chance for recovery from anorexia is getting help as soon as possible, we are here to support you.

Even if you’re unsure about whether you have anorexia, we can help assess the situation and offer guidance, this might involve a visit to your GP.

We will conduct a comprehensive assessment which will include information about your eating habits, feelings, health, and weight.

At Phinity, our therapists will support you, no matter where you are in your ‘journey’, we will offer a tailored approach to the current concerns.

We can help you to understand how and why the anorexia developed, and work on how it impacts you, for example, your self-esteem.

Your therapist can also help you self-care.  It is important to focus on your own emotional needs, this includes how you relate to yourself.

What Causes Anorexia?How Phinity Therapy Can Help


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