Anorexia nervosa treatment

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Page clinically reviewed by Charlie Carroll, CBT Therapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Manchester in September 2023.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as anorexia, is a complex and potentially life-threatening eating disorder. It can cause people to develop an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. Its impact can be profound, affecting a person’s physical health and emotional wellbeing. It can also have a destructive impact on their relationships and ability to function in their day-to-day life.

In the UK, the prevalence of anorexia has risen in recent years. Anorexia doesn’t discriminate; it can affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. However, it’s mainly seen in adolescents and young adults, with a higher prevalence in girls and young women. It’s estimated that up to 1 in 100 girls aged 15 to 19 in the UK will experience anorexia at some point.

These eating disorder statistics highlight the importance of addressing anorexia. Early intervention and access to effective treatment options are crucial. Here, we’ll explore anorexia treatment in the UK, with a particular focus on private anorexia treatment options, offering hope to people in need of support and guidance.

Fast access to residential treatment

We are currently able to offer fast access to private inpatient treatment at Priory. Please call us today and speak to our expert advisers.

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Types of anorexia

There are a number of different types of anorexia, each with its own features. The classic presentation of anorexia includes severe food restriction and a distorted body image. However, there are a number of subtypes and related conditions.

Restricting type

This is the most common type of anorexia, where people severely limit their food intake and often exercise excessively in order to lose weight. They may believe they’re overweight, even when they’re significantly underweight.

Binge eating/purging type

Some people with anorexia engage in episodes of binge eating, followed by compensatory ‘purging’ behaviours to try and get rid of the calories they’ve consumed. Purging might include things like making themselves vomit or abusing laxatives. This subtype of anorexia shares some of the features of bulimia nervosa.

Atypical anorexia

Atypical anorexia is when someone doesn’t meet the low weight criteria for anorexia, but still shows psychological and behavioural symptoms. For example, people with this type of eating disorder may still have a fear of gaining weight, body image issues and restrictive eating patterns.


Orthorexia is a condition marked by someone having an obsession with healthy eating, to the point where it becomes harmful. People may fixate on eating foods they think of as being ‘pure’ or ‘clean’ and may exclude entire food groups. Orthorexia isn’t an official diagnosis, but it shares lots of overlap with anorexia nervosa.

Recognising the different types of anorexia is important so that treatment can be tailored to each person’s specific needs. This means that healthcare professionals can provide more personalised and effective support.

Introducing eating disorder treatment at Life Works

Life Works in Surrey, is known for its expert inpatient eating disorder service, helping people struggling with anorexia to get their life back on track. Day treatment services and outpatient services are also available at Priory.


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Symptoms of anorexia

Anorexia can cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms can vary in intensity, but collectively, they highlight the need for quick intervention and support.

  • Significant weight loss – people with anorexia experience rapid and substantial weight loss. This can often result in a body weight that’s well below the healthy range for their age and height
  • Extreme thinness – they may appear emaciated (especially thin or weak), with visible bones and a skeletal appearance
  • Fatigue – anorexia can lead to severe fatigue and weakness, because the person isn’t getting the nutrition they need
  • Dizziness and fainting – people might feel dizzy and faint due to low blood pressure and electrolyte imbalances, caused by their restricted food intake
  • Hair and nail problems – hair might become brittle and fall out, and nails can become brittle or develop a bluish tinge
  • Gastrointestinal issues – constipation, bloating and other digestive problems may occur
  • Amenorrhoea – girls and women with anorexia may experience amenorrhoea, which is when menstruation (periods) stop. This is caused by hormonal imbalances due to severe weight loss
  • Reduced immunity – people with anorexia are often more prone to prolonged bacterial, viral and fungal infections
  • Poor hygiene – due to spending so much time obsessing over food, people with anorexia can often forget to wash, brush their teeth or look after their personal hygiene
  • Intense fear of gaining weight – one of the main emotional symptoms is an overwhelming fear of gaining weight, even if the person is significantly underweight
  • Body image distortion – having a distorted body image can make people with anorexia believe they’re fat, even when they are presented with evidence to the contrary
  • Anxiety and depression – many people with anorexia experience mental health issues like anxiety and depression, which are often made worse by the physical toll that the anorexia is having on their body
  • Social withdrawal – anorexia can lead to isolation and withdrawal from social activities, as people might feel self-conscious about how they look, or about eating in front of other people
  • Obsessive thoughts about food – people with anorexia tend to be constantly preoccupied with food, calories and meal planning
  • Secretive behaviour – anorexia can be a very secretive illness, and sufferers will often go to great lengths to try and conceal their unhealthy eating habits. This might include hiding food, lying about what they've eaten and wearing baggy clothes to conceal their weight loss

Treatment options for anorexia

Effective treatment for eating disorders, including anorexia, often involves a number of approaches, tailored to each person’s needs. In the UK, treatment guidelines outlined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provide a framework for care.

One of the evidence-based treatments that's recommended for anorexia is cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders (CBT-E). This specialised form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging unhealthy beliefs and behaviours that are associated with anorexia.

Another approach is the Maudsley Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults (MANTRA). This includes some elements of CBT, while exploring underlying emotional issues that might be contributing towards the eating disorder.

For adults with severe and enduring anorexia, specialist supportive clinical management (SSCM) can be an appropriate treatment method. This technique provides consistent support and encouragement, helping them to regain control.

For young people, family-based treatment (FBT) has shown to be very effective when tackling anorexia. FBT involves the young person’s family in the treatment process, with the aim of restoring a healthy weight and eating pattern.

Nutritional counselling and medical monitoring also play an important role in treatment. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) might be prescribed to manage any co-occurring mental health problems. In addition, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is also being explored for its potential effectiveness when it comes to treating anorexia.

It’s important to understand that treatment should be adapted to the unique needs of each person. A combination of methods, including individual and group therapy, could be beneficial. Ultimately, the choice of treatment should be made in conjunction with healthcare professionals, taking into account the person’s age, how severe their anorexia is and other individual circumstances.

Weight restoration isn't the only goal of anorexia treatment. Specialists will also work with you to change your unhealthy thoughts and behaviours around food, promoting long-term recovery.

I've loved the journey. The change in me has been immense. All the therapists are absolutely amazing.

It's really motivated me to get on with my life, and excited me about the rest of my life.

Callum Ex-eating disorder patient at Life Works

Get help for anorexia

Anorexia is a challenging condition but recovery is possible with the right support and treatment. Getting help early is the most crucial step towards regaining control over your life and health.

Private providers like Priory offer specialist care and a compassionate approach to anorexia treatment, tailored to your needs. We also offer eating disorder support for children and adolescents, through our young people’s services. Treatment may include talking therapy, dietetic workshops and support groups.

Call us to today to find out about our approach to eating disorder treatment, and how we can help you to get back on track. Remember, you don’t have to face this journey alone; countless people are here to support you.

Anorexia treatment FAQs

Will I have to go into hospital to receive treatment?

When you lose a lot of weight, the effects of starvation can affect your ability to think clearly and may put your health at risk. In these circumstances, it may be recommended that you're admitted to one of our specialist eating disorder clinics to receive intensive eating disorder help and treatment.

How does anorexia affect family life?

Anorexia can affect the whole family, not just the person who's struggling with this eating disorder. Your loved ones may find it hard to understand that an eating disorder is actually about feelings and coping, rather than food itself. This can lead to misunderstandings, arguments and stress, particularly at mealtimes.

That’s why, at Priory, we make sure that family and friends are involved throughout your anorexia treatment and recovery process. We know that it’s helpful for relatives to understand that your eating habits are your way of coping with emotional difficulties and that you may have mixed feelings about changing your eating patterns. Our family support sessions allow you the opportunity to explore your difficult emotions with your loved ones in an open and honest way. This means that those who are closest to you can be involved in tackling your anorexia.

How to help someone in anorexia treatment

Supporting someone with anorexia is crucial for their wellbeing, and early intervention is key to a successful recovery. If you suspect a loved one may be struggling with anorexia, approaching the situation with care and empathy is vital.

Begin by expressing your concerns in a non-judgemental way, and let them know you’re there to support and listen to them. Encourage them to seek professional help and emphasise the importance of getting an early diagnosis. In addition, it’s a good idea to try to educate yourself about anorexia and its symptoms, as this knowledge can help you understand what they’re going through a bit better.

It’s important that you avoid making comments about their appearance or eating habits. Doing so might make them feel judged and ‘attacked’, which can increase their distress. Instead, offer emotional support and accompany them to medical and therapy appointments if they want you to.

Also, it’s important that you encourage open communication and let them know that you’re there for them. Remember, recovery from anorexia can be a lengthy process. Your patience, understanding and ongoing support can make a world of difference.

What causes anorexia?

Research shows that it’s likely there are a number of things that could increase your chances of developing anorexia. These include:


Having a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, who suffers with an eating disorder makes it more likely you’ll struggle with an eating disorder yourself. This may be due to hereditary factors but could also be because you’ve been exposed to negative eating disorder behaviours, which may have made these behaviours seem normal to you. Also, your family’s attitude towards food and diet can also have an impact on how vulnerable you are to developing anorexia.

Gender and age

Research shows that women and girls are more likely to have anorexia than men and boys, and it’s most common in young women between the ages of 14 and 25.

However, it’s important to understand that it’s possible for anyone to struggle with anorexia, no matter their age, gender or background. Anorexia is also becoming more common in males; it’s estimated that around 1.6 million people are currently living with some form of eating disorder in the UK, and around 25% of these are male.

For more information, you can visit our eating disorder statistics page.


Certain personality traits may also play a role in whether someone goes on to develop anorexia. Some of these traits include:

  • Being a natural ‘perfectionist’
  • Having an eagerness to please other people
  • Having an irrational fear of failure
  • Low self-esteem

Psychological health

If you already struggle with a mental health condition, this may also make you more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder such as anorexia. Underlying problems such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and addiction, make it more likely that you’ll go on to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.


There are also a number of environmental factors which may make it more likely you’ll develop an eating disorder. These include:

  • Going through a stressful life event such as bereavement or losing your job
  • Loneliness
  • Being the victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • Receiving criticism for your weight or eating habits
  • Experiencing pressures at work or school


Body image is a big issue in today’s society and there are lots of social pressures that can lead to someone developing an unhealthy relationship with food. Examples include feeling under pressure from the media to be thin, and having a job or hobby where being thin is seen as the ideal, such as dancing, modelling or athletics.

What if I'm in crisis?

Priory’s customer service team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure that people in crisis can be signposted to the best possible support, as quickly as possible.

Private medical insurance

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers. All of the services we offer at Priory can be funded through private medical insurance. This includes:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Addiction treatment
  • Eating disorder treatment

All clients will have access to our highly skilled and accredited clinicians, many of whom are published experts in their fields of treatment. Whatever your requirements, we're committed to working with you to get your life back on track.

Registered and approved provider

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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