What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is characterised by an overwhelming fear and phobia of normal body size.

The individual severely restricts food intake in order to lose weight and may also use other behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or excessive exercise. The four features a doctor checks for when assessing whether a person has anorexia are:

  • Intentional weight loss leading to a body mass index of less than 17.5 kg/m
  • Phobia of normal weight
  • Distorted body image
  • Periods stop in girls and women, loss of libido in both men and women

Some people with anorexia nervosa may lose weight by dietary restriction alone (restrictive subtype) while others also show bulimic behaviours such as bingeing, vomiting and laxative misuse (binge-purge subtype). There are serious physical side-effects of anorexia.

Some people may have an eating disorder but not fulfill all of the four features listed above. They may be given a diagnosis of eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).

How common is anorexia?

Anorexia affects between 0.2 and 0.8 per cent among young women. The peak age of onset is between the ages of 15 and 19 although it can develop earlier, during childhood and early adolescence. High risk groups include dancers, models and athletes.

Treatment for anorexia

All individuals with anorexia should see a psychiatrist specialising in eating disorders who will make an initial assessment. This assessment will be cover their physical and psychological health, risk factors, physical and psychological complications and their treatment needs. Many people with anorexia are suitable for outpatient treatment. However some people will need to be admitted for inpatient treatment, which means moving to a specialist eating disorder centre for a period of normally several months. People who are likely to require inpatient admission for anorexia nervosa treatment will have some of the following difficulties and characteristics:

  • Very low weight or rapid weight loss
  • Serious physical complications
  • Severe psychiatric difficulties
  • Failure of outpatient treatment
  • Need for separation from family

Treatment should be delivered by a range of different professionals who are all specialists in eating disorders. A multi-disciplinary approach is very important in order to effectively address all the difficulties the individual is facing and helping them to find ways of overcoming their eating disorder. At Newbridge House we have a treatment model designed to address all the different elements of anorexia in an integrated way.