Anorexia nervosa (often simply called ‘anorexia’) is a condition in which people try to keep their weight extremely low to the point that this damages their health. Usually they eat too little food, or exercise too much.
People with anorexia suffer from a distorted view of their own body. Most people with this condition think that they are overweight, even if they are actually dangerously underweight.
Signs of anorexia include a strong fear of gaining weight, eating very little food, missing meals and avoiding any foods that the person believes to be fattening. Anorexia sufferers may also take substances that reduce their appetite.
As a result of not taking in enough food, people with anorexia are likely to suffer extreme thinness (also called ‘emaciation’). They may feel tired and sluggish. Under 18s with the condition may find they do not grow as tall as would be expected at their age. Women and girls may find their periods stopping (or, for younger girls, failing to start). Over time, a person can suffer muscle wasting, thinning of the bones, dry and yellowish skin and even organ failure.
Treatment for anorexia involves talking therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy and a number of other techniques. These therapies help a person understand why they have eating problems, improve their self-esteem, and develop a healthy relationship with food and their body.
The therapies are combined with supervised weight gain to help the person restore a healthy weight.
The treatment may vary depending on whether the person is an adult or is under 18.
GPs and specialist community groups are good places to start when seeking help for anorexia.