Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition. It is an eating disorder in which people keep their body weight as low as possible.
People with anorexia usually do this by restricting the amount of food they eat, making themselves vomit and exercising excessively.
The condition often develops out of an anxiety about body shape and weight that originates from a fear of being fat or a desire to be thin. Many people with anorexia have a distorted image of themselves, thinking that they're fat when they're not.
Anorexia most commonly affects girls and women, although it has become more common in boys and men in recent years. On average, the condition first develops at around the age of 16 to 17.
Signs and symptoms of anorexia
People with anorexia often go to great lengths to hide their behaviour from family and friends by lying about what they have eaten, or by pretending to have eaten earlier.
Signs that someone may have anorexia or another eating disorder include:
- missing meals, eating very little or avoiding eating any fatty foods
- obsessively counting calories in food
- leaving the table immediately after eating so they can vomit
- taking appetite suppressants, laxatives or diuretics (medication that helps remove fluid from the body)
- repeatedly weighing themselves or checking their body in the mirror
- physical problems, such as feeling lightheaded or dizzy, hair loss or dry skin
People with anorexia often don't seek help, perhaps because they're afraid or don't recognise they have a problem. Many have hidden their condition for a long time – sometimes years.
The most important first step is for someone with anorexia to realise that they need help and want to get better.
If you suspect someone you know has anorexia, you should try to talk to them about your worries and encourage them to seek help. Talk to the pastoral staff at school or any adult at home.
You may want to seek advice from an eating disorder support group such as Beat on how best to broach the subject.
If you think you may have anorexia, try to seek help as soon as possible. You could start by talking to someone you trust, such as someone in your family or a friend, and perhaps ask them to go with you to see your GP.