Anorexia Information and Treatment

What is anorexia? Anorexia is an eating disorder and mental health condition that makes a person feel they are fat, even if they are underweight. This distorted body image causes them to eat a lot less food or exercise too much, or both and can make them very ill.

How do I know if I have anorexia?

Anorexia is diagnosed in people whose eating difficulties involve an extremely restricted energy intake, whose weight is below 85% of what is expected for their height and age, and whose self-evaluation is heavily influenced by how they feel about their shape and weight.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Low BMI
  • Restricted eating or missing meals altogether
  • Avoiding foods seen as fattening
  • Obsessive and anxious attitudes about food
  • A person believes they are fat when they are either at a healthy weight or underweight
  • Taking appetite suppressants
  • Overuse of laxatives or diuretics
  • The cessation of periods in girls (amenorrhea) can be a side effect
  • Hair loss and dry skin

What are the causes and effects of Anorexia?

Anorexia is a complex condition that is usually caused by a combination of different biological and environmental factors. Biologically, there is research that suggests genetics play a part, as well as irregular hormone functions and nutritional deficiencies.

Environmental factors are not always involved but can trigger or worsen an eating disorder. More than 50% of eating disorders are not anorexia but avoidant restrictive food intake disorders (ARFID) which do not necessarily coincide with a drive for thinness. It is a myth to believe anorexia is necessarily linked to social pressure to be thin but there are cases where this plays a part.

The support organisation About Eating Disorders states: “Eating disorders usually start when someone who is already struggling with life begins to believe that maybe their life would be better if they were thinner. Often this belief has its roots in low self-esteem and poor body confidence.”

On a personal level, anorexia can be caused by family or childhood trauma. Often it coincides with perfectionism, obsessive compulsive traits and a wish for high achievement. These should be considered as more likely causes of anorexia than social ideals for body shape and image.

The effects of anorexia can be severe – anorexia has the highest fatality rate of any psychiatric disorder. According to Eating Disorder Hope: “The brain actually shrinks due to lack of nutrition with a commensurate lowering of IQ. The skeletal system is damaged, especially if the anorexia occurs in adolescents before the bones are fully developed. Nearly 90% of women with anorexia experience osteopenia (loss of bone calcium) and 40% have osteoporosis (more advanced loss of bone density). This bone loss is usually permanent. Because the entire hormonal system is compromised by starvation, infertility often results and can be permanent.

Perhaps the most endangered organ in the body is the heart. In fact, the most common cause of death in anorexics is heart disease. Much of this is related to muscle deterioration. As the body strives to maintain life, it starts consuming its own muscle; in effect, it starts eating itself.”


Anorexia treatment

Ellern Mede’s experienced physicians, specialist doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists provide regular physical monitoring during both inpatient and outpatient weight restoration. We follow NICE recommended family therapy as the treatment of choice for young people with Anorexia Nervosa, as well as a range of therapies and supportive nursing and clinical interventions.

For children with Anorexia Nervosa, Ellern Mede offers a range of individual eating disorder therapies such as Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) and Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT) as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT is a form of talking therapy in which the patient and therapist work collaboratively to understand the patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours which can be involved in keeping difficulties going. Together, the therapist and patient develop experiments to test out beliefs, challenge negative thoughts and develop new ways of coping. This might involve, for example, gradually facing a feared situation.

MET seeks to help individuals understand the function that the eating disorder serves for them and then seeks to develop personal motivation to achieve change. This can increase the success of other therapeutic interventions.

CRT aims to improve cognitive flexibility and shift a person’s thinking style. It targets rigid thinking which is often present in people with anorexia nervosa. It works through professionals guiding the patient through simple exercises and reflection.

Ellern Mede provides psychological treatment with a focus both on eating behaviour and attitudes to weight and shape, and on wider psychosocial issues with the expectation of weight gain. (refer to NICE guidance

For more information see our eating disorder treatment and programmes.

We wanted to write to tell you all that our daughter has maintained weight since her discharge and has also recently been discharged by the local CAMHS team. She is positive and settled. Thank you for all your help and support during her stay at Ellern Mede.

NHS referrals

Ellern Mede has provided specialist Tier 4 eating disorder services to the NHS since 2000. We respond to referrals within 24 hours.

Private referrals

Call now for immediate access to Ellern Mede specialist private eating disorder services. Accepted referrals begin treatment within two weeks or faster in emergencies.