Anorexia Nervosa2023-07-10T12:17:58+00:00
Disorders and Symptoms

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Understanding the symptoms, causes and treatments

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder caused by and intense fear of gaining weight. An individual will restrict their food intake in order to keep their weight as low as possible. They may also use compensatory behavior’s such as purging or over exercising. Anorexia Nervosa is a complex mental health problem and can involve body dysmorphia and low self esteem.

Around 10% of people affected by an eating disorder suffer from anorexia nervosa.

The average age of onset for anorexia nervosa is 16-17 years old.

How it presents…

Anorexia nervosa presents in many ways. It is mainly identified by restrictive eating with rigid rules around food. A person may experience intense fear at the thought of gaining weight. It is common for someone with anorexia nervosa to be a significantly low bodyweight, and to also be in denial of how low their bodyweight is. However a person does not have to be underweight to have anorexia nervosa.

In accordance with DSM 5, a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa:

  • Restriction of food intake relative to less than minimally normal or expected, leading to a significantly low body
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
  • Disturbed by one’s body weight or shape, self-worth influenced by body weight or shape, or persistent lack of recognition of seriousness of low bodyweight.

Other signs to look out for…

  • A preoccupation with food, bodyweight, shape and appearance
  • Rapid weight loss
  • A low BMI for their age
  • Restrictions in food intake and/or changes in eating habits
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Disturbances in endocrine functioning (e.g. menstrual cycle in females or testosterone in males)
  • Mood changes
  • Rigid thought patterns (also known as ‘black and white’ thinking)
  • Excessive exercise
  • Avoidance of eating meals or finding excuses not to eat
  • Loss of libido (sex drive)
  • A drop in bodily temperature

How it develops…

People of all ages, backgrounds, body types, and genders can develop anorexia nervosa. The development of anorexia nervosa can be influenced by many external factors.

Individuals with a family history of eating disorders may be more susceptible to developing one themselves. Anorexia nervosa can also be triggered by psychological factors such as low self esteem and poor mental health. Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive tendencies are all closely linked to anorexia nervosa, along with characteristics such as perfectionism and the need to achieve goals. Societal norms and social media can contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa. Individuals who are exposed to the cultural emphasis on dieting and weight loss may form a distorted view on their own body and feel pressure to conform. A significant life event may trigger anorexia nervosa, such as starting puberty or going through a major break up or loss. Traumatic experiences such as sexual or physical abuse and neglect can also be a trigger.

How anorexia nervosa is treated…

Anorexia nervosa can require a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment. The main goals of treatment are to restore the person’s weight to a healthy level, address any physical or medical complications, and address the underlying psychological and emotional issues that contribute to the disorder.

At First Steps ED we offer a variety of support groups and  recovery workshops, as well as counselling and psychotherapy sessions.

Treatment is tailored to the individual’s specific needs and may involve a combination of the above approaches.

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Information last updated 2023.

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