Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and mental health condition that can be life-threatening. It is a very serious illness which mainly affects women and girls but it is becoming more common in men and boys. It usually starts in teenage years but can become a disorder at any age.

People with anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible, usually by restricting the amount and type of food they eat. They often have a distorted image of themselves, thinking that they're fat when they're not.  People with anorexia are seriously underweight. Sometimes, the weight becomes so low that it puts the person’s life at risk. At least one in 20 teenagers has anorexia.


These are varied and include:

  • eating a severely restricted diet
  • alternating between restricting and binge-eating
  • making yourself vomit or using medicines to counteract the fattening effects of food
  • over-exercising – burning more calories than you consume in a day

A person with anorexia will want their weight as low as possible – much less than average for their age and height. They are so afraid of gaining weight they cannot eat normally.

After eating they may try to get rid of food from their body by making themselves sick. Signs of regular vomiting could include:

  • leaving the table immediately after meals
  • dental problems such as tooth decay or bad breath caused by the acid in
  • vomit damaging their teeth and mouth
  • hard skin on their knuckles, caused by putting their fingers down their throat

People with anorexia may also:

  • not be truthful about eating or what they have eaten
  • give excuses about why they are not eating
  • pretend they have eaten earlier
  • be secretive about how much weight they have lost
  • find it difficult to think about anything other than food
  • spend lots of time reading cookery books and recipes

Someone with anorexia nervosa strictly controls what they eat. For example, by:

  • strict dieting
  • counting the calories in food excessively
  • avoiding food they think is fattening
  • eating only low-calorie food
  • missing meals (fasting)
  • avoiding eating with other people
  • hiding food
  • cutting food into tiny pieces – to make it less obvious they have eaten little, and to make food easier to swallow
  • taking medicines, such as slimming or diet pills


Diagnosis and treatment of people with anorexia nervosa will vary depending on the individual. Generally your GP will be involved in your ongoing care but other specialists will also help, including nurses, counsellors, psychiatrist, psychologist and dietician. You may be treated as an outpatient, a day patient or an inpatient

Treatment includes:

  • psychological treatment – talking to a therapist or counsellor
  • advice about eating and nutrition to help you gain weight safely
  • supported meals (in-patients and day care)
  • regular monitoring of physical health with weight and height checks

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