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What is Anorexia?

March 1, 2024

What is Anorexia and How Can Therapy and Other Methods Help You Cope with It?

Anorexia nervosa, commonly known as anorexia, is a type of eating disorder that is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, and severely restricted eating habits. It affects both men and women, and typically develops in adolescence or early adulthood. Anorexia can be life-threatening if not treated properly, and it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

In this article, we will discuss what anorexia is, its symptoms, and the different types of therapies and methods that can be used to cope with it.

Table of Contents

  • What is Anorexia?
  • Types of Anorexia
  • Symptoms of Anorexia
  • Causes of Anorexia
  • How Anorexia is Diagnosed
  • Effects of Anorexia on the Body
  • Coping with Anorexia
    • Therapy for Anorexia
    • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
    • Family-Based Therapy (FBT)
    • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)
    • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
    • Medications for Anorexia
    • Nutritional Counselling
    • Hospitalization and Residential Treatment Programs
    • Self-Help Strategies for Anorexia
  • Conclusion
  • FAQs

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder that causes people to restrict their food intake to an unhealthy degree. People with anorexia have a distorted body image, which means they see themselves as being overweight, even if they are underweight. As a result, they severely limit their food intake and may also engage in excessive exercise or other behaviours to lose weight.

Anorexia is often associated with an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. This fear can be so strong that it becomes the person’s primary focus, and they may become preoccupied with food, calories, and weight. People with anorexia may also have a distorted view of their body shape and size, which can make it difficult for them to recognize the seriousness of their condition.

Types of Anorexia

There are two types of anorexia: restricting type and binge-eating/purging type.

  • Restricting type: People with this type of anorexia severely limit the amount of food they eat and may also engage in excessive exercise to lose weight.
  • Binge-eating/purging type: People with this type of anorexia may engage in binge-eating episodes followed by purging behaviours such as self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives or diuretics.

Symptoms of Anorexia

The symptoms of anorexia can vary from person to person, but some common signs include:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Preoccupation with food, calories, and weight
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or entire food groups
  • Ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
  • Excessive exercise
  • Irritability, mood swings, or depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Distorted body image

Causes of Anorexia

The exact cause of anorexia is unknown, but there are several factors that may contribute to its development, including:

  • Genetics: People with a family history of eating disorders are more likely to develop anorexia.
  • Environment: Societal pressures to be thin, as well as traumatic life events such as abuse or bullying, can increase the risk of developing anorexia.
  • Psychological factors: Low self-esteem, perfectionism, and anxiety can also contribute to the development of anorexia.

How Anorexia is Diagnosed

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have anorexia, it’s important to seek professional help. A doctor or mental health professional can diagnose anorexia based on a physical examination, medical history, and psychological evaluation.

The diagnostic criteria for anorexia include:

  • Refusal to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image
  • Absence of three consecutive menstrual cycles in females (for post-pubertal females)

Effects of Anorexia on the Body

Anorexia can have serious effects on the body, including:

  • Malnutrition: Severe calorie restriction can lead to malnutrition, which can cause a wide range of health problems, including fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and decreased immune function.
  • Digestive problems: Anorexia can cause constipation, bloating, and other digestive problems.
  • Cardiovascular problems: Anorexia can cause heart problems, including low heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and low blood pressure.
  • Bone density loss: Anorexia can cause bone density loss, which can increase the risk of fractures.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Anorexia can cause hormonal imbalances, which can lead to fertility problems in women and impotence in men.

Coping with Anorexia

There are various types of therapies and methods that can be used to cope with anorexia. Here are some of the most effective treatments:

Therapy for Anorexia

Therapy can be a highly effective treatment for anorexia. The goal of therapy is to help the person develop a healthier relationship with food and their body. Here are some of the most commonly used types of therapy for anorexia:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It is often used to treat anorexia, and has been shown to be effective in helping people with anorexia develop a healthier relationship with food and their body.

Family-Based Therapy (FBT)

FBT is a type of therapy that involves the entire family in the treatment process. The goal of FBT is to help the person with anorexia develop a healthier relationship with food and their body, while also improving family dynamics.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of therapy that focuses on helping people regulate their emotions and cope with stress. It has been shown to be effective in treating anorexia, particularly in people who also have borderline personality disorder.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)

IPT is a type of therapy that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships. It can be effective in treating anorexia, particularly in people who have social or relationship issues.

Medications for Anorexia

There are no medications specifically designed to treat anorexia, but some medications may be used to help manage certain symptoms, such as depression or anxiety.

Nutritional Counselling

Nutritional counselling can be an important part of treating anorexia. A registered dietitian can help the person with anorexia develop a healthy eating plan, and can provide education about proper nutrition.

Hospitalization and Residential Treatment Programs

In severe cases of anorexia, hospitalization or residential treatment programs may be necessary. These programs provide round-the-clock care and support, and can be highly effective in helping people recover from anorexia.

  • Engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as yoga or meditation
  • Building a support network of friends, family, and other individuals who understand and support recovery efforts
  • Developing positive coping mechanisms to deal with stress and emotional triggers

Self-Help Strategies

  1. Educate yourself: Learning about anorexia, its causes, and its effects can help you better understand the disorder and the recovery process. Reading books, articles, and reputable websites can provide you with valuable information and insights.
  2. Challenge negative thoughts: Anorexia often involves negative self-talk and distorted body image. Challenging these negative thoughts and replacing them with positive affirmations can help improve self-esteem and body image.
  3. Practice mindful eating: Eating mindfully involves paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, as well as the taste, texture, and enjoyment of food. Practicing mindful eating can help you develop a healthier relationship with food and reduce anxiety around meal times.
  4. Develop a self-care routine: Prioritizing self-care activities, such as exercise, relaxation, and hobbies, can help reduce stress and promote overall well-being.
  5. Build a support network: Having a support system of friends, family, and other individuals who understand and support your recovery efforts can be invaluable. Consider joining a support group or seeking out online communities for individuals with eating disorders.
  6. Set realistic goals: Setting achievable goals can help build confidence and motivation in recovery. Celebrate small victories and recognize the progress made towards recovery.


Anorexia is a serious eating disorder that can have significant negative effects on both physical and mental health. However, with the right treatment and support, it is possible to recover from anorexia and develop a healthy relationship with food and the body. Seeking professional help is the first step towards recovery, and there are a variety of effective therapies and treatments available. With hard work and dedication, individuals with anorexia can regain control of their lives and live healthy, fulfilling lives.


1. Can anorexia be cured?

  • Yes, anorexia can be effectively treated with the right combination of therapies and support.

2. Is anorexia only a problem for young girls?

  • No, anorexia can affect individuals of any age, gender, or background.

3. How long does it take to recover from anorexia?

  • Recovery from anorexia can vary depending on the severity of the disorder and the individual’s response to treatment. Some individuals may recover in a matter of months, while others may take several years to fully recover.

4. Can an individual with anorexia recover on their own?

  • While it is possible for some individuals with anorexia to recover on their own, seeking professional help is highly recommended for a better chance at successful recovery.

5. Can anorexia be prevented?

  • While there is no guaranteed way to prevent anorexia, promoting positive body image and healthy eating habits, as well as recognizing and addressing emotional and psychological triggers, can help reduce the risk of developing the disorder.