Anorexia Nervosa

The warning signs of Anorexia Nervosa can be physical, psychological and behavioural. These are just some of the major indicators and it is possible for someone with Anorexia to display a few, all or a combination of these symptoms.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Fear of specific food types; particularly food believed to be fattening
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Having a distorted body image
  • Low self esteem and perfectionism
  • Extreme body image dissatisfaction
  • A self critical inner Voice demanding perfection and obedience.

Behavioural Signs 

  • Obsessively ‘reading packaging’ and counting calories in food
  • Weighing self daily and feeling compelled to do so
  • ‘Body checking’, which involves persistently and repeatedly weighing and measuring self (such as waist size) and checking body in the mirror
  • Compulsive or excessive exercising
  • Withdrawal from normal life and spending a lot of time worrying and thinking about food.
  • Increased sensitivity to comments relating to food, weight, body shape, exercise
  • Eating in private and avoiding meals with other people
  • Radical changes in food preferences
  • Obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating
  • Preoccupation with preparing food for others, recipes and nutrition
  • Deliberate misuse of laxatives, appetite suppressants, enemas and diuretics

Physical Symptoms

  • Unable to maintain a normal body weight for age and height
  • Continuing weight loss
  • Bloating or constipation
  • Poor circulation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Feeling very tired and not sleeping well
  • Feeling cold most of the time, even in warm weather
  • Discoloured hands and feet caused by poor circulation
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss from the scalp
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fine downy hair (lanugo) growing on the body and face
  • Brittle nails
  • Women and older girls with anorexia may stop having their periods (known as amenorrhoea, or absent periods).

A significant number of people with anorexia nervosa die as a result of the condition as a direct physical consequence of the weight loss.

There are risks associated with Anorexia which can be severe and life threatening. They include:

  • Anaemia
  • Compromised immune system
  • Intestinal problems
  • Increased risk of infertility in men and women
  • Kidney failure
  • Osteoporosis– a condition that leads to bones becoming fragile and easily fractured
  • Heart problems
  • Death

People with eating disorders often say it is the only way they feel they can stay in control of their life. But, as time goes on, it is the eating disorder that starts to control you.

If you think you have an eating disorder, talk to someone you trust. You may have a close friend or family member you can talk to. You may be able to ask them to go with you to see your GP.

Before you decide to get help, you must be honest with yourself about whether you are ready. Nobody will be able to help you get better unless you are able to accept that you have a problem. There are all sorts of ways you can approach your condition and you must choose one which suits you. Remember that if you have managed to open up to someone and started to think and talk about your anorexia nervosa, you have already taken a big step forward. Do not try to rush your recovery, but feel proud of each advance you make. 

Having awareness about Anorexia and its signs and symptoms can make a huge difference to the duration and severity of the illness. Seeking help at the first warning sign is much more effective than waiting until the illness is in full swing.

It is important to seek help immediately. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery.

There is considerable evidence to show that the earlier treatment begins, the more successful it will be. The longer an individual lives in secret with their illness the more difficult it becomes to treat.

Your GP can give you advice and talk to you about getting a diagnosis and the possible treatment options. Before anorexia can be treated, a physical, psychological and social needs assessment will need to be carried out by the GP or an eating disorders specialist to help determine the most suitable care plan.

In most cases, treatment will involve a combination of psychological therapy and individually tailored advice on eating and nutrition to help you gain weight safely. A range of different healthcare professionals will usually be involved in your care, such as GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, specialist counsellors, specialist nurses and dieticians.

Most people are able to be treated on an outpatient basis, which means you can go home between appointments. More serious cases are treated in hospital or specialist eating disorder clinics.

Recovery is something that you may find yourself thinking about a lot when you are struggling with an eating disorder. Maybe it is something you fear – or something you long for. Maybe it is both of those things at different times. It may be something that other people talk about – or perhaps it is something you are working towards.

Recovery from an eating disorder is possible.  An individual cannot recover without support and guidance. Anorexia treatment is forward-looking and not just about food and weight. Recovery is about building a new relationship with food and about emotional strengthening, raising self worth and finding better ways of feeling in control.

Specialised services for eating disorders offer the best support; however, many parts of the UK have little or no designated NHS specialist services for eating disorders.  Guidelines on treatment for eating disorders provided by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) tell you what you can expect from the NHS. Visit NICE for a downloadable leaflet

There are a number of very good self-help resources available. These resources can tell you about ways other people have found to get better, can suggest some of the reasons why you may be feeling as you do and can give practical suggestions of measures you can take in your life to try to recover.

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Self-Help

These leaflets developed by the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust providing information and exercises from a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) perspective.

Reading Well Books on Prescription

Reading Well Books on Prescription is an early intervention service to help people understand and manage their mental health. The agency provides a core book list of accredited titles recommended by healthcare professionals that covers a range of common mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, phobias and eating disorders. These can be recommended/referred to by G.P or health care professional.

For lists of books available go to

Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)

A resource designed to provide information, strategies and techniques to change thinking patterns associated with disordered eating. It is organised into modules that are designed to be worked through in sequence, each including information, worksheets and suggested exercise or activities.

Diet or Disorder App

The Diet or Disorder App is an evidence-based app to help you better understand eating disorders, signs and symptoms, treatment and recovery. Available on iPhone and Android, you can find out more here.

Recovery Road App

The recovery road app is an evidence-based recovery-focused app for eating disorders. Delevoped by professionals it helps you to track your recovery progress and learn new coping skills. Find out more by clicking here.

Wellbeing Services Library 

Take a look at the books available in our library. All books in the Wellbeing Library can be borrowed by providing your student details to staff at the reception desk. You are also able to access e-books, information for how to do this is on the library section of our website. 


Videos can provide you with a wealth of information in a short space of time. Below we have a list of short films/clips and videos which give information about eating disorders, personal recovery stories and tips for taking the first steps towards seeking help.

Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group

An Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group run by students at the University of Exeter. For more information click here.

Haldon Unit

The Haldon Eating Disorder Service is dedicated to providing care for those affected by eating disorders. The unit is situated within Wonford House Hospital in Exeter, has twelve beds and accepts both female and male patients from 16 years old, from across the South West Peninsula. 

Tel: 01392 208263

More information at:


Somerset & Wessex Eating Disorders Association (SWEDA) offers a range of services throughout Somerset and the surrounding area. 

Based at Shepton Mallet in Somerset, in the Southwest of England (UK), they provide support to anyone affected by eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, compulsive eating, binge eating disorder and all related conditions.

Their services include Counselling Services, and a monthly Self-help Support Group.

British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) 

If you would like to find a private counsellor who specialises in eating disorders to help you cope with your difficulty and make positive change, you can find a qualified, experienced therapist in your area by using the Find a Therapist search tool -

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)

The BABCP provide details for accredited therapists working within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy model -

Mental Health Foundation

The Mental Health Foundation provides up-to-date research and studies to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health. There are links to articles, blogs and research.

NHS Choices

The NHS Choices website has information about conditions and treatments as well as services and hospitals.

NHS Direct

NHS Direct provide 24-hour medical advice and information. They have comprehensive information and advice on all types of eating disorders, videos of people’s experiences, an eating disorder forum, and other useful links.

Telephone: 111

Student Minds

Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity. Its aim is to empower students with the knowledge, confidence and skills to look after their own mental health and support others.

There is an excellent section written for school leavers and students with experience of eating disorders. The information here has been written by individuals with experience of eating disorders and health care professionals to help you think proactively about what you can do to support yourself through university or college. It also includes some inspirational recovery stories.


Mind are a national charity who offer information on all mental illnesses. They have specific leaflets and information sheets on eating disorders.

Tel: 020 8519 2122

Information Line: 0845 660163

You can download a booklet entitled, Understanding Eating Problems here:


Fixers offer online support and have a range of young people’s stories, family’s personal experiences and expert information about eating disorders.


If you have an eating disorder or know someone who does, you may find it useful to contact a support group such as B-eat for information and advice.

Beat provides:

  • a confidential helpline on 0808 801 0677 – they also have a designated youth helpline on 0808 801 0711 (all year round, 4– 10pm)
  • live chat and online support groups, where you can talk to others in a similar situation
  • a national network of volunteer support groups

You can also use the Beat HelpFinder directory to find eating disorder support services in your local area.

National Centre for Eating Disorders (NCFED)

NCFED provides information and advice about eating disorders, including recommendations for treatment options as well as support for carers, recovery workshops, residential treatment and professional training.

Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC)

Provide on-going care, emotional support and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders. We support and care for those struggling personally and resource and equip parents, families, friends and professionals. There is also a helpline run by trained staff, who have both professional and personal experience of eating disorders.

Telephone: 03000 11 12 13

Eating Disorder Hope

Pro-recovery movement for Christians and people of faith.

Eating Disorder Hope are passionate about helping eating disorder sufferers find hope, health and healing. They believe that each individual is precious and uniquely designed by God. Eating disorders hinder the sufferer in their journey of life by crippling their ability to use their gifts and talents in ways that provide personal fulfilment and happiness. Recovery from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders allows individuals to meaningfully participate and contribute to the world.


Samaritans offer a 24 hour online and telephone support service, when you need emotional support and someone to talk to anytime. You can call their free and confidential helpline 24/7 on 116 123.