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Anorexia - What is anorexia?

BMJ Group Medical Reference


Anorexia is a serious medical condition, not just a phase or a fad. If you have anorexia, you worry a lot about how your body looks and how much you weigh. You go to a lot of effort to avoid putting on weight, even though you weigh less than you should for your height. Doing this can damage your health and put your life in danger. It's important to get help.

Your doctor will help you find the support and treatments you need to stop anorexia taking over your life.

We've brought together the best research about anorexia and looked at the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

Anorexia is a condition that leads to problems with eating. Its full name is anorexia nervosa. If you have anorexia, you're very underweight and you dread being fat.

Having anorexia means you think you are fat even when you are very thin. You often go to a lot of trouble to avoid eating. You may also make yourself throw up, take laxatives, or spend hours exercising.

If you have anorexia, you may not understand the way you behave. You may feel ashamed and guilty about it. Or you may tell yourself there's nothing wrong. But anorexia is harmful. You can die from starving yourself.

Getting help is very important. Admitting you have a problem is the first, yet hardest, step. If you take that step, you can find the support and treatment you need to stop anorexia taking over your life.

Key points for people with anorexia

  • Anorexia is a serious medical condition, not just a phase or a fad.

  • If you have anorexia, you may not be able to admit you have a problem. And you may not want treatment.

  • You dread getting fat. And you think you are fat even when you are much too thin and weigh too little for your height.

  • Having anorexia seriously damages your health. It makes you starve your body of the food it needs to work properly.

  • It is possible to get better. You can put on weight and keep it on. And you can change how you think about weight and food. But it's not easy.

  • Most people think of anorexia as something women get. But men can get it too.

  • You may think that a close friend or someone in your family has anorexia. To learn more about the signs to look for, see Worried someone close to you might have anorexia?

What's normal eating?

It's hard to say what 'normal eating' is. But usually, it means you eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full. These feelings are partly controlled by chemicals in your brain. Most of us eat three meals a day, with a couple of snacks in between.

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Last Updated: November 01, 2010
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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