Anorexia nervosa, which is often referred to simply as ‘anorexia’, is one of the most common and recognisable types of eating disorder.
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5) (APA, 2013), the reference manual used by the American Psychiatric Association to classify mental health disorders, defines the symptoms of anorexia as:
- Refusal to gain or maintain weight, leading to body weight at less than 85% of expected weight for age and height
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though body weight is less than normal
- Undue influence of bodyweight or shape on evaluation of self or denial of the seriousness of current low bodyweight
- Erectile dysfunction and/or decreased sex-drive for adult males OR the absence of three consecutive menstrual periods for adult females
Common recognisable symptoms of anorexia include
- Preoccupation with body image, including weight and/or shape
- Low weight
- Refusal to eat/low food intake
- Denial of obvious weight-loss and eating-related issues
- Wearing baggy clothes to mask weight loss
- Obsessive thoughts around food and eating
- Low self-esteem
- Desire to be isolated from social interaction
- Depressive or suicidal thoughts
- Aggressive or irritable behaviour
How is it treated?
Since anorexia affects the individual both physically and psychologically, those living with the disorder are usually treated for the physical symptoms first, as this ensures they are healthy enough to take part in therapy to treat the psychological aspects of the disorder.
The physical symptoms of anorexia, such as emaciation and other related issues, can be treated at a local healthcare facility, such as a hospital. This aims to preserve the physical health of the individual in order to allow them to participate in psychological therapy aimed at managing the thought processes that lead to, and continue the cycle of, an eating disorder.
Psychological treatment for the underlying thought processes associated with anorexia can be treated using psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or family therapy.
For some people who may experience more severe symptoms of anorexia or may not respond to other treatments, there are specialist facilities available in mainland UK which provide intensive, 24-hour care and treatment with the aim of curing the symptoms of many forms of eating disorder.
As with all eating disorders, the first point of contact if you think you or someone close to you may be suffering from anorexia is your local GP.
For more information on where to go to get help please see our Getting Help section.