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Anorexia nervosa

It can be particularly difficult to accept that you have an eating disorder, and seeking assistance can be a confusing and very daunting experience. At the Priory we understand that this can be a very challenging time for you and those people who are closest to you.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which you starve yourself, often becoming dangerously thin. It is associated with immoderate restriction and irrational fear of gaining weight, alongside a distorted body self-perception. Anorexia affects both men and women, at any age, but it's most common in young women between the ages of 14 and 25.

There are many reported causes of anorexia but they can be broadly divided into two categories - biological causes and environmental causes. Biological causes of anorexia include:

  • Genetics and your family's attitude towards food
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Emotional distress

Environmental causes of anorexia include an eagerness to please, fearing failure, a difficult experience such as the death of a loved one, being abused, a family upheaval or starting college/university.

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa-

Not everyone will have the same symptoms, but the most common are:

  • Severe or significant weight loss
  • Limiting the amount you eat and drink
  • Exercising more than normal in an attempt to burn off the calories you have eaten
  • Focusing on food to try to cope with and bring a sense of control to your life
  • Strong feelings of 'fatness'
  • Loss of menstrual periods and sexual feelings

Over time, you may develop physical and psychological side effects including:

  • Infertility in women
  • Brittle bones
  • Heart and kidney problems
  • Extreme tiredness and exhaustion due to starvation
  • Chemical changes in your brain, making rational decisions difficult
  • Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of self-harm and suicide

The long-term effects of anorexia can be severe, even proving fatal, with 10% to 20% of sufferers dying from anorexia and its effects. Fortunately, with regular nourishment and anorexia treatment, many effects are reduced.

Care and management of anorexia nervosa-

Recovery from anorexia requires specialist help to treat both the psychological causes and its physical effects. Contacting your GP is the easiest way to get help and further anorexia treatment. He or she may offer you counselling or dietary counselling, or refer you to a specialist for further assessment. This may lead to outpatient treatment or, if more serious, day or inpatient treatment.

Family and friends can also help through their support and care. It is particularly helpful for relatives to understand that your eating problems are your way of coping with emotional difficulties and that you may have mixed feelings about changing your eating pattern. If you're dangerously thin, you will need to gain weight with the help of a dietary plan designed to restore your physical health and a normal eating pattern.

How the Priory can help-

With a large network of eating disorder facilities across the UK, our experienced professionals are committed to treating and helping individuals with a unique and varied approach. We provide an extensive range of therapy groups helping to provide you with the therapeutic treatment suited to your needs.

The therapies used to treat anorexia include dietary counselling, psychotherapy, family therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT has become more popular over the past few years and can reduce symptoms by identifying, challenging and changing unhelpful thinking patterns that create unpleasant feelings and dieting behaviours.

The type and length of anorexia recovery treatment is dependent on the individual's circumstances and the severity of the condition. Some people are treated as outpatients, which means they come to the Priory for hourly sessions with their consultant, psychologist or therapist. Others require a more structured anorexia treatment approach which can include staying as an inpatient at one of the Priory hospitals for the duration of their treatment where they take part in the psychological group programme as well as regular sessions with their consultant.

We can offer you professional advice and treatment suitable to your needs and personal experience. Eating disorders are treatable and over the years we have helped thousands of people like you to create the necessary changes, enabling them to challenge their eating disorder and move forward to lead fulfilling lives.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding Anorexia nervosa, please call 0845 277 4679. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

Who treats this

Dr Adelqui Villa

Dr Adelqui Villa

Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

Woodbourne Priory Hospital - Birmingham

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Dr Adrienne Key

Dr Adrienne Key

Consultant Psychiatrist, Lead Clinician for Eating Disorders, Medical Director for Eating Disorders Priory Group - Adult

The Priory Hospital Roehampton - London

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Dr Alan Wear

Dr Alan Wear

General Adult Psychiatrist

The Priory Hospital Southampton

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Dr Alexander Yellowlees

Dr Alexander Yellowlees

Medical Director and Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Glasgow

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Dr Anjum Haq

Dr Anjum Haq

Consultant Psychiatrist Eating Disorders

The Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal

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Dr Barbara Rooney

Dr Barbara Rooney

Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Roehampton - London

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Dr Eileen Feeney

Dr Eileen Feeney

Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Woking

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Dr Janet Walsh

Dr Janet Walsh

Staff Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

The Priory Hospital Altrincham

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Dr Jeanette Downie

Dr Jeanette Downie

Deputy Medical Director and Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Glasgow

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Dr Kay Callender

Dr Kay Callender

Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Altrincham

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Dr Mahadev Jasti

Dr Mahadev Jasti

Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

The Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal

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Dr Nathan Anthony

Dr Nathan Anthony

Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Hayes Grove

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Dr Paul Dedman

Dr Paul Dedman

Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Bristol

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Dr Peter Webster

Dr Peter Webster

Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Chelmsford

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Dr Priscilla Macquire-Samson

Dr Priscilla Macquire-Samson

Consultant Psychiatrist - Adult

The Priory Hospital Bristol

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View the full list of consultants

How does anorexia affect family life?

Anorexia affects the whole family.  Loved ones often find it hard to understand that an eating disorder is actually about feelings and coping, rather than food.  This can lead to misunderstandings and arguments, particularly at meal times.

Can I recover from anorexia?

Even after many years with the illness, you can recover and go on to live a full life.  But you must want to recover and understand that it can take years, possibly with some relapses to begin with.

Will I have to go into hospital?

When you lose a great deal of weight, the effects of starvation can affect your ability to think clearly and you will become more and more at risk. In extreme circumstances, if your life or health is at serious risk, you may have to go to hospital.

Body mass index (BMI) is a helpful way to assess a healthy weight and is a useful guide to both risk and recovery in adults.  It is less useful in children. A healthy BMI for an adult is between 20 and 25. However, if it's less than 17.5 then it is likely you are anorexic if you do not suffer from any other physical illness causing weight loss.

We work out your BMI by taking your weight (in kilograms), and then dividing it by your height (in metres) squared. The lower your BMI, the more likely it is that you will need to go into hospital.