Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition. It’s an eating disorder where a person keeps their body weight as low as possible.
People with anorexia usually do this by restricting the amount of food they eat, making themselves vomit, and exercising excessively.
The condition often develops out of an anxiety about body shape and weight that originates from a fear of being fat or a desire to be thin. Many people with anorexia have a distorted image of themselves, thinking they’re fat when they’re not.
Anorexia most commonly affects girls and women, although it has become more common in boys and men in recent years. On average, the condition first develops at around the age of 16 to 17.
Read more about the causes of anorexia.
Signs and symptoms of anorexia
People with anorexia often go to great lengths to hide their behaviour from family and friends by lying about what they’ve eaten or pretending to have eaten earlier.
Signs someone may have anorexia or another eating disorder include:
- missing meals, eating very little, or avoiding eating any fatty foods
- obsessively counting calories in food
- leaving the table immediately after eating so they can vomit
- taking appetite suppressants, laxatives, or diuretics (a type of medication that helps remove fluid from the body)
- repeatedly weighing themselves or checking their body in the mirror
- physical problems, such as feeling lightheaded or dizzy, hair loss, or dry skin
Anorexia can also be associated with other psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, alcohol misuse, and self-harm.
Bulimia is an eating disorder and mental health condition.
People who have bulimia go through periods where they eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binge eating) and then are deliberately sick, use laxatives (medication to help them poo) or do excessive exercise, or a combination of these, to try to stop themselves gaining weight.
Men and women of any age can get bulimia, but it’s most common in young women and typically starts in the mid-to-late teens.
Symptoms of bulimia
Symptoms of bulimia include:
- eating very large amounts of food in a short time, often in an out-of-control way – this is called binge eating
- making yourself vomit, using laxatives or doing an extreme amount of exercise after a binge to avoid putting on weight – this is called purging
- fear of putting on weight
- being very critical about your weight and body shape
- mood changes – for example, feeling very tense or anxious
These symptoms may not be easy to spot in someone else because bulimia can make people behave very secretively.