Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder and a serious mental illness.
It can affect both men and women of all ages; though it is more common in young women and typically starts in the middle of their teenage years.
People with anorexia often have a distorted view of their bodies, thinking that they are overweight when in fact, they are not. As a result of these beliefs, people with anorexia will try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food, or excessively exercising, or both. This can make them very ill as their bodies begin to starve.
Signs / Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
There are different signs and symptoms of anorexia, with the individual often showing a range of physical symptoms as well as behavioural signs.
- Dramatic weight loss
- Stomach cramps, non-specific gestational complaints
- Difficulty concentrating
- Abnormal lab findings – such as anaemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low blood cell count and/or slow heart rate
- Dizziness / fainting
- Always feeling cold
- Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Menstrual irregularities (in those with female body organs)
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Muscle weakness
- Yellowing of the skin
- Poor wound healing
- Impaired immune system
- May wear more layers to hide the weight loss or because they are abnormally cold
- Being preoccupied with their weight, food, calories, grams of fat in their food and dieting
- May refuse to eat certain foods
- May make frequent comments about their weight and feeling ‘fat’
It is estimated that around 1.25 million people in the UK alone have an eating disorder – With anorexia being the third most common (after binge-eating and bulimia)
Health Consequences of Anorexia
Anorexia can lead to various other health conditions and consequences.
- Problems with bones and muscles – such as Osteoporosis.
- Problems with muscle and bone development in children and young adults.
- Problems with fertility.
- Problems with your heart and blood vessels, such as poor circulation, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, heart valve disease, heart failure, swelling in face, hand and/or feet (Oedema)
- Brain and nerve problems, such as seizures and difficulty with memory and concentration.
- Kidney and bowel problems.
Anorexia can be life threatening. It is the leading cause of death in relation to mental health conditions. With the deaths being a result of physical complications or suicide.
Treatments for Anorexia
Anorexia is treatable, although recovery may take a long time, and everyone’s recovery will look different.
Once you reach out to you GP for professional help and support, they will assess the severity of your condition and tailor a recovery plan to best suit your needs.
If you are over 18-year-old, you should be offered a type of talking therapy. This could be:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – This often includes weekly sessions for approximately 40 weeks. During these sessions, your therapist will work with you to help you learn how best to cope with your feelings, understand nutrition and the effects of starvation and how to make healthy food choices.
They may ask you to practice these coping mechanisms independently and keep track of your progress, your thoughts and feelings, as well as the things that you find difficult or any triggers you may come across.
- Maudsley Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults (MANTRA) is a form of therapy that gets you to discuss the cause of your eating disorder; often looking into your childhood and past events that may have been triggers. This form of therapy usually lasts for 20 sessions – with the first 10 being weekly and remaining 10 being fit around you and your needs. You will also have the option to include family and/or carers if you feel this would be beneficial to your recovery.
- Specialist supportive clinical management (SSCM) This form of therapy includes finding and understanding the cause of your eating disorder as well as learning about nutrition and the link between your eating habits and your symptoms. Your therapist may also set you a goal weight for you to aim towards over the period of your 20 sessions.
- Diet advice – helping you to learn about healthy, balanced diets and what your body may need more or less of during the difference stages in your recovery journey and how to adapt going forward.
- For under 18s, they may offer you family therapy sessions, similar to those listed above but also making sure to educate your parents/caregivers about your condition and the things that they can do to help you in your recovery.
- In some cases, you may be offered antidepressants to take alongside the recommended therapy treatment.
Other Facts and Statistics:
The mortality rate for anorexia is 5-10%, making it one of the most lethal psychiatric disorders.
The highest number of hospital admissions for anorexia is in the 15-19 age group.
In years 2019-2020, there were 2,292 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of anorexia nervosa in England. This is a 17% increase on the previous year.
32% of transgender people report using their eating disorder to modify their bodies without the use of hormones.