Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people are of low weight due to limiting how much they eat and drink. They may develop “rules” around what they feel they can and cannot eat. Anorexia can affect anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or background.
As well as limiting how much they eat, they may do lots of exercise, make themselves sick, or misuse laxatives to get rid of food eaten. Some people with anorexia may experience cycles of bingeing (eating large amounts of food at once) and then purging.
Weight and shape may be a big factor in someone with anorexia’s sense of self-worth. This can lead to them checking their body regularly, or else trying to avoid scales and mirrors. The way people with anorexia see themselves is often at odds with how others see them – they often have a distorted image of themselves, and think they’re larger than they really are. They experience a deep fear of gaining weight, and will usually challenge the idea that they should.
Sometimes, someone’s symptoms may not exactly match everything a doctor checks for to diagnose anorexia – for example, they may be a weight considered “normal” for their age, sex, and expected development. Depending on the exact symptoms, they might be diagnosed with atypical anorexia or another form of other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). This is just as serious and can develop both into or from anorexia. It’s just as important that people suffering with OSFED get treatment as quickly as possible.
When losing weight, the effects of starvation can affect a person’s ability to think clearly and may put their life and health at serious risk. In these more extreme circumstances, it may be recommended that more intensive treatment is needed such as a hospital admission.
Body mass index (BMI) is a helpful way to assess a healthy weight and is a useful guide to anorexia risk and recovery. A healthy BMI for an adult is between 20 and 25; if BMI is less than 17.5 it may be that a person is suffering from anorexia. The lower the BMI, the more likely it is that intensive treatment is needed.