Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people limit the amount of food they eat and do not get enough energy to stay healthy.
Some people think anorexia is about slimming and dieting, and weight and shape concerns are often central to the person suffering, but in reality, it's much more complex. At its core, it's often connected to low self-esteem, negative self-image and feelings of intense distress.
Anorexia and your feelings:
If you have anorexia, you may feel:
- unable to think about anything other than food
- like you need to be perfect or you're never good enough
- lonely, especially if no one knows about your diagnosis
- a need for control, that you feel you lose by eating
- that you're hiding things from family and friends
- that you are fat and scared of putting on weight
- that losing weight isn't enough
- like you want to disappear
- angry if someone challenges you about your weight or food intake
- tired and not interested in things you normally enjoy
- like you cannot see a way out, even depressed or suicidal
- anxious or panicky, especially around mealtimes
- like it's an achievement to deny yourself food or over-exercise.
Anorexia and your actions
If you experience anorexia, you might:
- reduce your food intake or totally stop eating
- spend a lot of time counting calories of everything you eat
- hide food or secretly throw it away
- avoid 'dangerous' foods, like those with high amounts of calories or fat
- read recipe books and cook meals for others, without eating them yourself
- use drugs that claim to reduce your appetite or speed up digestion
- spend your time thinking about losing weight, checking and weighing yourself
- exercise a lot, with strict rules about how much you must do
- develop very structured eating times
- make up rules about food – for example listing 'good' and 'bad' types or only eating certain colours of food.
Anorexia and your body
While experiencing anorexia, you might:
- weigh less than you do normally, or should do for your age and height
- lose weight very fast
- become physically underdeveloped, especially if anorexia starts before puberty
- feel very cold and weak
- move around more slowly than normal
- have irregular periods or none at all, if you usually menstruate
- lose your hair or start to have very thin hair
- develop fine fuzzy hair on your arms and face called lanugo lose interest in sex, or find you're not able to have or enjoy sex
- find it hard to concentrate
- develop fragile bones or problems like osteoporosis – this is a disease that makes your bones break easily.