Anorexia nervosa

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia Nervosa can be translated to mean "loss of appetite for nervous reasons" but this is misleading because in reality you have lost the ability to allow yourself to satisfy your appetite. You probably restrict the amount you eat and drink, sometimes to a dangerous level and you  may exercise to burn off what you perceive to be excess calories.

Signs that you may be experiencing anorexia include:

  • restriciting food intake, prolonged periods of fasting or starving yourself
  • obsessive thoughts about food and eating
  • severe or sudden weight loss (however it should be noted that someone can be experiencing anorexia without being very thin)
  • fear of gaining any weight and an intense fear of being 'fat'
  • over exercising or purging following eating
  • low self-esteem, not feeling good about yourself or even self-hatred
  • having a distorted image of your body weight and shape, e.g. thinking your fat even when you are underweight
  • becoming isolated from family and friends
  • losing interest in the things that once made you happy

With anorexia there is a focus on food in an attempt to cope with life. It is not a phase, it is not just an extreme diet and it is not about just wanting to be thin. It is a way of demonstrating that you are in control of your body weight and shape. Ultimately, however, the disorder itself takes control and the chemical changes in the body affect the brain and distort thinking, making it almost impossible for you to make rational decisions about food. As the illness progresses, you will suffer from the exhaustion and other effects of starvation. Occasionally people die from the effects of anorexia, especially if it is untreated.

Anorexia is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people, however it is believed that more people are affected by this illness but do not seek-help or speak out. It is important that if you feel you have anorexia that you seek help and speak to someone. Specialist services, support groups and advice is available for anyone worried about anorexia, and it is important that you do not feel alone with these worries. If you need support please feel free to contact a member of the EDANI team on 02890235959 or email in confidence. 

  •     In adults, extreme weight loss; in children and teenagers, poor or inadequate weight gain in relation to their growth or substantial weight loss
  •     Constipation and abdominal pains
  •     Dizzy spells and feeling faint
  •     Bloated stomach and feeling faint
  •     Downy hair on the body; occasionally loss of hair on the head when recovering
  •     Poor blood circulation and feeling cold
  •     Dry, rough, or discoloured skin
  •     Loss of periods for women, loss of interest in sex, infertility
  •     Loss of bone mass and eventually osteoporosis (thinning bones)
Psychological Effects: 
  • Intense fear of gaining weight and obsessive interest in what others are eating
  • Distorted perception of body shape or weight
  • Denying the existence of a problem
  • Changes in personality and mood swings
  • Becoming aware of an "inner voice" that challenges your views on eating and exercise
Behavioural Effects: 
  • Rigid or obsessive behaviour attached to eating, such as cutting food into tiny pieces
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness and hyperactivity
  • Wearing big baggy clothes
  • Vomiting, taking laxatives
Effects on the Family: 

Anorexia not only affects the person with the disorder - the whole family is affected. Each family is different but some common threads have been identified. Each family member is different but some common trends have been identified. People who develop anorexia often become compliant and obedient children. They would be less likely to become angry than their brothers or sisters and would have been eager to please. They have often hidden their inner feelings and anxieties. They may fear failure and have an overwhelming desire to please and care for others. They are committed to achieving high standards set - or that they assume have been set - by parents or teachers, whereas often these high standards are self-imposed.
Some families are so close and lving that the child finds it difficult to become independent. They may be fearful that they cannot manage on their own away from the family, or feel under pressure to remain within the family, regardless oftheir own feelings.
Anorexia represents an attempt to demonstrate independence through control over food and eating. It is very difficult for many people to understnad that althoughfood is an important issue, an eating disorder is actually all about feelings and emotinos. This can lead to frustration and misunderstnading. Many carers find themselves saying something along the lines of "Why don't you just eat?"

Eating Disorder Association NI
28 Bedford Street,
Belfast, BT2 7FE
Phone: 028 9023 5959