Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder. But how do you become anorexic, and what are the symptoms and side effects?


What is anorexia?

Anorexia is a compulsive mental illness where the sufferer becomes obsessed with losing weight or staying thin. They do this in a number of ways: skipping meals, cutting out certain foods, excessively exercising, or sometimes binge-eating and then throwing up. Often they have a distorted view of their body and think they're heavier than they are.

Why do you get anorexia?

Although anorexia is called an 'eating disorder' it's actually a mental health condition, often troubling people with low self-esteem who find it hard to deal with anxiety and stress. More often than not, people with anorexia have other issues in their lives making them unhappy and use food as a way of feeling more in control.

"It usually starts with just restricting your diet," says psychotherapist Andrea Scherzer. "Like cutting out carbs, for example. You start losing weight; get a buzz from that, and so start cutting out more food. The thinking just becomes more and more obsessional until the eating disorder is completely ruining your life."

What are the symptoms of anorexia?

Anorexia has physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms.

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Lying about eating
  • Cooking food for everyone else
  • Obsessively exercising
  • Obsessively doing certain things in a certain way ('ritualistic behaviour')
  • Trying to make everyone happy

Physical symptoms:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Frequently feeling cold
  • Hair falling out, or fine hair growing all over your body
  • Constipation and stomach pains
  • Your periods stop if you're a girl
  • Feeling irritable and moody with a difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness and problems sleeping

Psychological symptoms:

  • Lots of sufferers describe anorexia as having a voice in their head, constantly telling them they're fat and worthless
  • Constantly thinking about food and calories
  • Believing that you'll be 'happy' once you reach a certain weight

Help with anorexia

In order to beat anorexia, you need to recognise you need help and want to get better.

It may sound daunting - especially if you've been secretive for so long - but telling someone you trust is a good first step. If you're not ready to talk to a close friend or family member, we recommend you speak to your GP ASAP, as they can refer you to best person to help.

There are also plenty of online support groups that offer advice via email and over the phone -Beat (beating eating disorders) has a helpline with a call back service.

What are the long-term risks of anorexia?

Many people recover from anorexia and go on to have a better relationship with food - and themselves.

But if left untreated over a long period of time, anorexia can severely damage your health. Osteoporosis, where your bones get very brittle and can break easily, is a common side effect. It's also irreversible.

If you're female, an eating disorder like anorexia can sometimes permanently affect your fertility.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all eating disorders - another reason to get help if you can. Death is usually from heart failure, caused by the body going into starvation mode.



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