The word ‘Anorexia’ means ‘loss of appetite’, the word ‘Nervosa’ is ‘of the mind’ or ‘of the nervous system’.

Anorexia Nervosa is a Mental Health Illness.

Anorexia has no barriers when it comes to age, gender or race.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any other mental health illness with a staggering 20% of people dying every year as a direct consequence of their illness or through suicide. These are staggering statistics.

It is also a psychological illness that has a major impact on a person’s physical and mental health, and a profound effect on anyone who is part of their life!

What is Restrictive Anorexia?

Restrictive Anorexia is when someone restricts their diet to the point of starvation and have an intense fear of gaining weight. They have an abnormal pre-occupation of food and food issues.

Eating disorders in general are often linked with a low self esteem and low self worth. Someone suffering may feel that they have no control over something in their life and the only thing they feel they have control over is their food.

They have a false belief that by managing body weight and shape they will be happier.

In truth they are chasing the impossible because once they reach a weight the problems are still there so they strive for a bigger weight loss. The weight loss becomes a medical risk and the control is ‘out of control’. If weight loss drops to a severe/critical or life threatening level then the control is lost and the eating disorder has total control over you!

If someone is at a critical level or life threatening level then that person’s medical condition becomes the priority and emotional support or counselling will not be offered until that person is stablised and their weight is at an acceptable level. This will vary depending on the area in which you live but it is considered that a BMI of over 16 is acceptable to start to engage in therapy.

A good outcome for recovery is when a eating pattern established, weight is improving at a steady pac, their suffering becomes socially integrated and steps are put in place to make changes in to their life.

If someone has had a lifetime of living with an eating disorder then often it is more realistic to gain management over their illness. They should feel very proud of the changes they have made and the responsibility they have taken to ensure their medical safety.

Any improvement should be seen as a positive with focus being on the ‘cup is half full – not half empty’!

Physical effects of Anorexia

  • Physical effects of Anorexia

    A significant or serious loss of weight

  • Fatigue. Dizziness or Fainting
  • Excessive Coldness and inability to keep warm without many layers of clothing
  • Poor Hair and Skin Condition (skin becomes dry and blotchy hair may start to fall out or break off)
  • Periods have stopped or becoming irregular (decreases the chance of becoming pregnant)
  • If a female stops having period the body stops producing estrogen and bone density is lo, this can lead to brittle bones (osteoporosis and infertility)
  • Osteoporosis (brittle bones) if developed you may be at risk of broken bones and curvature of the spine. Osteoporosis levels can be improved with medication but the condition is long term and is irreparable. A person is high risk for broken bones and the break may not heal properly due to the condition.
  • Loss of libido (sex drive)
  • Distorted body image (see ‘Body Image’ on the left). Someone will see themselves as being overweight when in truth they may be very underweight.
  • Lanugo – The growth of fine body hair which is nature’s way of keeping the body warm. This will shed when eating patterns are re-established and weight improved.
  • In the case of critical low weight all organs may be compromised
  • 20% of people die as a direct result of anorexia or through suicide it has the highest mortality rate of any other mental health illness.
  • Loss of teeth, gum disease and receding gums.

Nutrition and Anorexia Nervosa

Food Values and Nutrients

Easily digestible foods should be consumed to start the re-feeding process. Good examples include mashed potato, oatmeal, and macaroni & cheese. Eventually solid foods can be introduced.

High Fibre Foods should be regularly consumed to help regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation. Good examples are cereals, oats, whole-grains, lentils, fruit and vegetables.

Gas producing foods including: fizzy drinks, sweetened drinks, sweets and cabbage; can leave you feeling bloated and therefore should be limited.

Low sodium (salts) foods control fluid retention and constipation. Consume fresh foods and fresh poultry, fish & lean meat, rather than canned, smoked or processed meats.

Energy is needed for the body to function properly and for muscular function. Good sources of energy include: bananas, oats, jacket potato, fruit and vegetables.

Protein is essential for body growth and repair, and also supplies iron, B vitamins, zinc and magnesium which all help strengthen the immune system. High protein sources include meat, fish, poultry, milk, beans, pulses and eggs.

Re-Feeding Process

At the beginning of the re-feeding process you may experience some bloating which can be uncomfortable, but it is natural.

  • NEVER force a sufferer to eat
  • Small frequent meals/snacks
  • Limit gas producing & high-fat foods
  • Begin re-feeding with foods that are easy to digest
  • Once the body readjusts to food, solids can be intro-duced, but make sure they are introduced slowly.
  • Base meals around individual preferences
  • Establish a structured eating plan – it may be useful to know what you are eating in advance.
  • Distract yourself after eating

Signs to look for in Anorexia

If 3 or more of these signs are present there may be cause for concern and it would be advisable to share your concerns with your GP or call our advice line.

Physical Signs to look for in Anorexia

  • Noticeable Weight Loss
  • Fatigue
  • Constantly feeling cold
  • Growth of fine body hair (lanugo)
  • Poor hair condition
  • Poor skin condition
  • Unable to participate in physical activities
  • Skipping meals
  • Avoiding eating with others
  • Unwillingness to attend school
  • Absence of periods

Emotional signs to look for in Anorexia

  • Change in Character
  • Low Mood
  • Low Self Esteem
  • Overall Sadness
  • Tearfulness
  • Uncharacteristic outbursts
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Isolation/Anti social behaviour
  • Pre-occupation with food & food issues
  • Anxiety around food
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