Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa led to the hospitalisation of almost five and a half thousand people in the UK between 2021 and 2022 and affects many of the 1.25 million people who suffer from eating disorders. UKAT understands that suffering from anorexia can be an incredibly isolating and frightening experience, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our Banbury Lodge recovery centre is one of the best eating disorder facilities anywhere in the UK. Through our comprehensive treatment plans, you will have the opportunity to reclaim your health and your future.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa also referred to simply as anorexia, is a complex eating disorder characterised by an obsessive fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image and severe restrictions on eating and calorie intake.

Unlike a simple desire to be thin, anorexia is a deeply rooted psychological condition where you see yourself as overweight even when you are significantly underweight. This often leads to a vicious cycle: the more you succumb to the fear of being overweight, the more restrictive your eating behaviours become, reinforcing the distorted self-image. Some sufferers may also exercise excessively to burn off calories or fat.

While anorexia is traditionally thought to affect primarily women, it is now widely accepted that men are also significantly affected by the condition. However, the societal stigma and lack of awareness mean that many cases of anorexia, especially in men, remain unreported or misdiagnosed.

What harm does anorexia cause?

Anorexia’s impact extends far beyond dietary habits or body weight; it is a disorder that affects your whole person – body, mind and social well-being. Recognising these harms underscores the importance of seeking professional anorexia treatment and support.

Physical harm

  • Malnutrition: This is the most immediate and obvious effect, leading to severe weight loss and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Organ damage: Prolonged anorexia can lead to damage to vital organs, including the heart, liver and kidneys.
  • Bone density loss: Anorexia increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures due to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies.
  • Endocrine disruptions: Hormonal imbalances can occur, affecting menstrual cycles in women and possibly leading to infertility.
  • Cardiovascular problems: Low blood pressure, slow heart rate and heart failure can arise from prolonged malnutrition.
  • Psychological harm

  • Mental health disorders: Anorexia is often accompanied by, or leads to, conditions such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Cognitive impairments: Malnutrition can affect brain function, leading to difficulties with concentration, memory and decision-making.
  • Emotional distress: Feelings of isolation, low self-esteem and intense fear of weight gain are common, impacting overall well-being.
  • Social harm

  • Isolation: Anorexia nervosa often leads to social withdrawal, increasing feelings of loneliness and misunderstanding.
  • Relationship strains: Anorexia can strain relationships with family and friends, often due to misunderstandings or withdrawal from social activities.
  • Occupational and academic impact: Anorexia can hinder performance at work or school, seriously affecting your current and prospects.
  • Anorexia symptoms and signs

    Anorexia nervosa manifests through a range of symptoms, spanning physical, behavioural and mental aspects. Recognising these signs of anorexia in yourself and others is crucial for early intervention and effective anorexia treatment:

    Physical anorexia symptoms and signs

    • Extreme weight loss: A significant and rapid drop in weight is one of the most visible signs of anorexia.
    • Fatigue and weakness: You may experience a general feeling of weakness and low energy due to malnutrition.
    • Insomnia: Sleep disturbances are common, often due to hunger or psychological stress.
    • Dizziness or fainting: These can occur due to low blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
    • Physical changes: Such as thinning hair, dry skin, brittle nails and, in women, the absence of menstruation (amenorrhea).

    Behavioural signs of anorexia

    • Restrictive eating patterns: This includes extreme dieting, fasting and avoidance of certain food groups.
    • Excessive exercise: Often in an attempt to “burn off” non-existent calories.
    • Secrecy and social withdrawal: This could mean avoiding meals with others, withdrawing from social activities that involve food and wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss.
    • Preoccupation with food: This can manifest as an obsession with calorie counting, dieting and food preparation.

    Psychological anorexia symptoms

    • Intense fear of gaining weight: This fear often becomes overwhelming, seriously disrupting your everyday life.
    • Distorted body image: Perceiving yourself as overweight despite being underweight.
    • Low self-esteem: Often linked to body image and weight.
      Irritability and mood swings: These can be exacerbated by malnutrition, the resulting fatigue and the psychological burden of the disorder.

    Causes and risk factors for anorexia

    Understanding the multifaceted causes of anorexia nervosa is essential for effective anorexia treatment. These causes are usually a complex blend of biological, environmental and psychological factors:

    Biological and genetic causes

  • Genetic predisposition: This means there may be a higher risk of anorexia if you have family members suffering from eating disorders.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Some changes or imbalances in brain
    chemicals and hormones may also contribute to anorexia.
  • Environmental and social causes

  • Cultural pressures: Societal ideals and media images glorifying thinness and mocking or denigrating obesity can contribute to the development of anorexia.
  • Traumatic events: Experiences like bullying, abuse or a significant loss can trigger anorexic behaviours as a form of coping or control.
  • Peer pressure: Especially among young people, pressure to conform to certain body standards can trigger anorexic behaviours.
  • Certain body or weight requirements: Some people may become overly obsessed with food and body image if they participate in ballet, certain types of dance, bodybuilding, modelling, or fight sports with weight classes.
  • Psychological causes

  • Perfectionism: A personality trait linked with high academic or professional achievement can also drive anorexia.
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders: Anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder are often found in conjunction with anorexia.
  • Control issues: Anorexia can be a way to exert control in aspects of life where you otherwise feel powerless.
  • Anorexia diagnosis explained

    Properly diagnosing anorexia nervosa is a complex process that requires a comprehensive and sensitive approach. A multidisciplinary team usually performs the assessment, encompassing physical, psychological and behavioural evaluations. This may include your GP, psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians and nutritionists.

    Anorexia DSM-V criteria
    One of the first anorexia diagnosis tools available is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). This provides specific criteria for diagnosing anorexia, which include:

    • Restriction of energy intake, which leads to significantly low body weight.
    • Intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviour that interferes with weight gain.
    • Distorted body image and the inability to recognise the severity of the low body weight.
    Physical assessment
    Anorexia diagnosis will also involve evaluating your overall physical health, including weight, vital signs and the presence of any symptoms related to malnutrition or excessive weight loss.
    Psychological assessment
    A mental health professional may assess your attitudes towards food, body image, eating habits and any underlying psychological issues such as anxiety, depression or trauma.
    Lab testing
    Blood tests, bone density scans and other laboratory tests help rule out other medical conditions and assess the physical impacts of anorexia, such as malnutrition and electrolyte imbalances.

    What does anorexia treatment involve?

    Anorexia treatment is a multifaceted process due to the complexity of its causes and symptoms. UKAT’s Banbury Lodge offers a holistic approach to treatment, addressing the condition’s physical, psychological and social aspects. We recognise that each journey is unique, so our anorexia treatment plans are tailored to meet individual needs and circumstances.

    We have a team of experienced therapists, nutritionists and medical professionals to provide comprehensive care in a safe and supportive environment. Our anorexia treatment programme aims to foster personal growth and long-term wellness and empower you to take control of your life.

    Our anorexia rehab treatment includes the following:

    Group therapy
    Group therapy provides a platform for sharing experiences and coping strategies while encouraging behavioural changes through group support.
    One-to-one therapy
    One-to-one therapy provides personalised care which addresses your issues related to anorexia. Different forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), will help to alter your distorted thoughts and behaviours around food and body image.
    Nutritional counselling
    Nutritional counselling aims to restore normal eating habits and correct nutritional deficiencies.
    It will help to rebuild your relationship with food so that anxiety and negativity around eating no longer dominate your life.
    Family therapy
    Family therapy engages family members in recovery, improving communication and understanding. This can be particularly important for younger clients needing family and loved ones to participate actively in their recovery journey.
    In terms of aftercare, UKAT provides ongoing support through weekly group therapy to prevent relapse after you leave Banbury Lodge.

    Begin the anorexia recovery journey today

    Embarking on anorexia treatment is a courageous and vital step towards a healthier, more fulfilling life. UKAT is here to help you on that journey with our expert Banbury Lodge team, dedicated to providing the best possible treatment and support. Contact us today to get started.

    Call us now for help


    How can I help someone with anorexia?
    Supporting someone with anorexia requires a compassionate and understanding approach. Encourage them to seek professional help, offering assistance in finding treatment options. Patience is crucial; avoid commenting on their appearance or eating habits. Instead, express concern for their health. Listen actively without judgement, ensuring they feel supported.
    What is atypical anorexia?
    Atypical anorexia is a subtype of anorexia nervosa where an individual exhibits many of the same behaviours and symptoms of anorexia, such as restrictive eating, intense fear of gaining weight and body image distortion, but does not have a significantly low body weight. It is part of the “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders” (OSFED) in the DSM-5. Despite not being underweight, individuals with atypical anorexia can still experience severe physical complications and psychological distress related to their eating disorder.