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Understanding Mental Disorder

Anorexia Nervosa

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder that is characterized by the extreme restriction of food. This restriction is a way of controlling weight gain. Other methods may be used to keep a low weight, such as excessively exercising. Individuals with anorexia nervosa often experience body dysmorphia, where they believe themselves to be overweight, when they are very thin. Everyone is susceptible to developing anorexia nervosa, however it is most commonly observed in young women. Anorexia has the highest morbidity rate of all mental disorders.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Do you experience an intense fear of gaining weight? Do you believe yourself to be fat when others tell you that you are too thin? Do you restrict the amount of food that you eat in order to stay thin? If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may be suffering from Anorexia Nervosa and should seek a professional opinion. Anorexia is a serious disorder that is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, significant body dysmorphia and excessive food restriction as a means of losing weight or maintaining low weight. In anorexia, the degree of weight loss is immoderate. Anorexia can occur on different levels of severity based on their body mass index (BMI), however a psychiatrist may alter the severity level based on alternative symptoms, such as the level of disability and distress. Mild: BMI of more than 17 Moderate: BMI of between 16-16.99 Severe: BMI of 15-15.99 Extreme: BMI of less than 15 Some individuals may be diagnosed with as the sub type of binge eating and/or purging, due to use of purging measures to expel food that has been ingestion. These measures might include forced vomiting or use of laxatives, for example. (vomiting, use of laxatives, for example). Individuals who present with weight loss through dieting, complete restriction of food or excessive exercising are diagnosed as the restricting sub type. Female individuals commonly experience amenorrhea, the cessation of menstruation, due to extreme low weight. Individuals with Anorexia Nervosa may have abnormalities in their vital signs, for example their pulse rate, blood pressure, respiration rate or temperature. One of the main characteristics of Anorexia Nervosa is the fear that surrounds gaining weight. However, usually this fear is not alleviated by the loss of weight. The individual’s perception of their body may be distorted, and they may not understand why others think they are too thin. Some individuals may understand that they are too thin, but have certain areas of their body that they have a distorted perception of, for example their stomach, and therefore have the aim to reduce the weight in this particular area. Some individuals with Anorexia Nervosa may show symptoms of depression, irritability, insomnia or withdrawal from socialising. Obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviours are usually present in AN, and these thoughts and behaviours might be related to food but are often unrelated too.


Although we cannot be certain of the cause of Anorexia Nervosa, it is likely that a combination of factors contributes to the development of this condition. Genes are thought to play a part, as well as irregular hormone functions. Additionally, individuals with Anorexia Nervosa have a genetic tendency to perfectionism, sensitivity, control and perseverance traits. Environmental factors could be the effect of the media advertising the benefits of thinness, peer pressure among friends, or childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse.


There are several effective ways to treat anorexia nervosa, these will most likely be a talking therapy, potentially with the addition of an anti-depressant. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves working with a therapy and creating a treatment plan that will be effective for recovery. CBT will help you to cope with negative feelings, educate you on dietary needs and the effect of starvation on the body and mind and help you to make healthier food choices. CBT is practiced within the session and also outside of the session and individuals are often assigned ‘homework’. Individuals may also be offered Maudsley Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults (MANTRA), a treatment than helps people understand what causes their Anorexia Nervosa, while also discussing personal values and what is important to you and encouraging behavior change eventually. Individuals may also be offered focal psychodynamic therapy, where an individual and a therapist look at the relation between a person’s eating habits and their thoughts, beliefs and self-esteem. Individuals may be offered medication in combination with talking therapy.

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