Overview - Anorexia

Anorexia is an eating disorder and serious mental health condition.

People who have anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food or exercising too much, or both. This can make them very ill because they start to starve.

They often have a distorted image of their bodies, thinking they're fat even when they're underweight.

Men and women of any age can get anorexia, but it's most common in young women and typically starts in the mid-teens.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia

Signs and symptoms of anorexia include:

Some people with anorexia may also make themselves sick, do an extreme amount of exercise, or use medicine to help them poo (laxatives) or to make them pee (diuretics) to try to stop themselves gaining weight from any food they do eat.

Getting help for anorexia

Getting help for someone else

Getting help and support as soon as possible gives you the best chance of recovering from anorexia.

If you think you may have anorexia, even if you're not sure, see a GP as soon as you can.

They will ask you questions about your eating habits and how you're feeling, and will check your overall health and weight.

They may also refer you for some blood tests to make sure your weight loss is not caused by something else.

If they think you may have anorexia, or another eating disorder, they should refer you to an eating disorder specialist or team of specialists.

It can be very hard to admit you have a problem and to ask for help. It may make things easier if you bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment.

You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity Beat by calling its adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.

If you're concerned that a family member or friend may have anorexia, let them know you're worried about them and encourage them to see a GP. You could offer to go along with them.

Read more about talking to your child about eating disorders and supporting someone with an eating disorder.

Treatment for anorexia

You can recover from anorexia, but it may take time and recovery will be different for everyone.

Your treatment plan will be tailored to you and should consider any other support you might need, such as for depression or anxiety.

If you're over 18, you should be offered a type of talking therapy to help you manage your feelings about food and eating so that you are able to eat enough to be healthy. Talking therapies that are commonly used to treat anorexia in adults include:

If you're under 18, you should be offered family therapy. You may also be offered another type of talking therapy, such as CBT or adolescent-focused psychotherapy.

Health risks of anorexia

Long-term anorexia can lead to severe health problems associated with not getting the right nutrients (malnutrition). But these will usually start to improve once your eating habits return to normal.

Possible complications include:

Anorexia can also put your life at risk. It's one of the leading causes of deaths related to mental health problems. Deaths from anorexia may be due to physical complications or suicide.

Causes of anorexia

We do not know exactly what causes anorexia and other eating disorders. You may be more likely to get an eating disorder if: