Skip links

I Think I Could Have Anorexia – What Should I Do?

*trigger warning: this article focuses on the physical and psychological impact of eating disorders and could be distressing for some readers*

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you can’t cope, you can access the following services:

If you are reading this article because you are worried that you have anorexia, please know that what you are experiencing is not your fault.

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious mental illness that is experienced by people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

What you are going through must feel very scary and isolating, but believe us, there is hope for recovery.

We’re going to talk about how you can seek help, begin recovering and start creating a happier and healthier new life.

What we’ll be looking into:

  • What is anorexia, and what causes it?
  • Anorexia and your self-image
  • Common character traits and feelings in anorexic people
  • How to begin recovering from anorexia

What is anorexia?

The NHS website defines anorexia as “an eating disorder and serious mental health condition.

“People who have anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food or exercising too much, or both.

“This can make them very ill because they start to starve. They often have a distorted image of their bodies, thinking they’re fat even when they’re underweight.”

The Cleveland Clinic states “It is characterised by extreme food restriction and an intense fear of gaining weight.”

Some anorexic people will stop eating altogether and secretly throw food away to disguise the lack of food consumed.

Did you know?

There are a number of different eating disorders that someone can be diagnosed with in order for healthcare professionals to choose the right kind of treatment for someone.

Here are some other types of eating disorders:

  • Binge eating disorder
  • Bulimia Nervose
  • Orthorexia
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
  • Pica
  • Rumination disorder

You can read more about these different types of disorders on the Beat website.

What causes anorexia?

When you are in the grip of disordered eating, it can be difficult to piece together what’s brought you to this point.

Like many other forms of self-harming behaviour, anorexia is often a response to difficult feelings, emotions or experiences.

There’s no one cause, but often, people displaying anorexic behaviour are attempting to gain control in a chaotic situation by restricting their food intake and regulating weight.

What the experts say:

Charity Beat Eating Disorders explains that there can be many different triggers for anorexia.

They say: “Researchers are still looking into the reasons why people develop eating disorders, but we know that they are more genetically and biologically based than we previously thought and could be triggered by your environment, social pressures or other events that impact your life.”

Here are some things that might trigger an eating disorder:

  • Trauma – such as physical or mental abuse, bullying, sexual assault.
  • Death and loss – if somebody you love passes away or a relationship ends.
  • Serious family problems – unhappiness or conflict at home.
  • Societal pressures – widespread beliefs about beauty, slim body shapes, and what constitutes the ‘perfect’ look.
  • Genetics – researchers believe people with relatives who’ve experienced eating disorders are more likely to develop them, too.
  • Diet culture – unrealistic standards perpetuated by media, social media and peer groups.

Even if you don’t identify with these particular triggers and you can’t pinpoint a reason but you still feel affected, you could still be experiencing disordered eating.

Anorexia and your self-image

Although there’s no one cause for anorexia, there are common character traits of people suffering from eating disorders.

Do you strive to be perfect but feel constantly unsatisfied with what you’ve done or achieved?

Are you severely self-critical, and do you find you berate yourself for every little mistake?

Perhaps you might exhibit obsessive or compulsive behaviours that eventually form part of the structure of your disordered eating.

Do you have low self-esteem and struggle to express yourself because you lack the confidence to speak up?

All these traits are often present in people who develop eating disorders.

What the experts say:

Mental health charity Mind looks deeper into how those character traits might manifest into disordered eating patterns.

When discussing how anorexic people might feel, they cite many examples of what could be happening to you internally.

They write: “If you experience anorexia, you might feel:

  • Unable to think about anything other than food
  • Like you need to be perfect or you’re never good enough
  • Lonely, especially if no one knows about your diagnosis
  • A need for control that you feel you lose by eating
  • That you’re hiding things from family and friends
  • That you are fat and scared of putting on weight
  • That losing weight isn’t enough
  • Like you want to disappear
  • Angry if someone challenges you about your weight or food intake
  • Tired and not interested in things you normally enjoy
  • Like you cannot see a way out, even depressed or suicidal
  • Anxious or panicky, especially around mealtimes
  • Like it’s an achievement to deny yourself food or over-exercise.”

The physical impact of anorexia

If you’ve been severely limiting your food intake, stopped eating altogether and exercising too much, the impact on your physical health can be serious.

Bodily functions may be dangerously impacted as your bones might become fragile, your body may weaken, and without energy from food, you may find it difficult to move around normally.

You are likely to feel dizzy, and experience brain fog or suffer from stomach aches as your body struggles to operate on little or no fuel.

For people who menstruate, regular periods could stop or become far more sporadic, and sex drive in people of all genders can be affected.

You may find you lose hair on your head yet develop lanugo (fine and fuzzy hair) on your face and arms.

What the experts say:

SEED Eating Disorder Support Services has a helpful checklist of the emotional and physical symptoms of anorexia.

This list is designed to help you and your loved ones identify if what you are experiencing is an eating disorder.

What’s devastating about anorexic thinking is that you can never achieve what you perceive to be the end goal of weight loss. However, there may be other factors that are unrelated to the intention of losing weight that keep you in the pattern of disordered eating.

They explain: “In truth, [anorexic people] 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”

Here is a link to their checklist.

How to start recovering from anorexia

If you’ve reached the point where you are fairly sure you are anorexic, it’s time to take a very brave first step.

You need to tell somebody who you trust what you are going through and let them help you.

It might feel incredibly scary to put a voice to the difficult feelings and talk about your disordered eating, but it’s vital to do so.

Only by opening up and sharing can you begin to tackle anorexia and start getting the help you need.

What the experts say:

Beat Eating Disorders charity says: “We know that this step takes bravery, and it’s completely normal to have worries about rejection, looking silly, or not being believed.

“But bottling up your feelings only fuels your eating disorder, and the sooner you can start getting treatment, the better your chance of fully recovering.”

Seek medical help

It’s really important to get checked over by a medical professional as soon as possible so they can assess if urgent treatment is needed.

Sudden weight loss can cause a myriad of health problems, and when your body weight is dangerously low, it can impact your vital organs.

The recovery work will involve lots of psychological help, but getting the body physically stable is really important at this stage.

It might feel challenging to accept the doctor’s advice or follow the treatment plan, so forgive yourself for moments of rebellion, rejection or relapse.

What the experts say:

Charity Stem recognises how difficult it is to follow medical intervention but advises people to keep trying.

Stem writes, “Don’t give up – changing behaviour isn’t easy, and it may help you to learn from your mistakes.

“When you get back on track, you will gradually feel stronger. Not everyone can fight eating problems on their own, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Building self-esteem

If you recognise that for you anorexia is linked with low self-esteem, actively trying to rebuild your self-image is really important.

Recovery may be slow and happen in small, incremental steps, so set yourself realistic goals that you can feel good about achieving.

One useful exercise is to identify one thing you like about yourself every day, that’s not linked to how you look, and really focus on that.

Slowly build a picture of yourself that’s positive and a far cry from the image cloaked in self-hatred and shame you’ve been carrying for so long.

What the experts say:

Peer support platform Recovery Warriors has an excellent piece on how to rebuild your self-esteem.

In the article, recovering anorexic Mirjam Mainland shares the strategies that worked for her. These included:

  • Surrounding yourself with positivity
  • Writing a list of your good points
  • Learning to say no
  • Respecting yourself

One of the most interesting parts of Mirjam’s blog is when she turns to the idea of looking outwards after being trapped inside your eating disorder.

Mirjam writes: “When you live with an eating disorder, your passions and dreams fade away. When you start to build your self-esteem, pursuing what you love doing will make you feel meaningful and alive. What is your heart calling you to do? What are your passions and dreams?

“In recovery, I learned how much I was living someone else’s life. I lost myself in it, and it ruined my whole identity. Gradually, I regained my strength and realised my passion and life mission, building a platform for people with an eating disorder. Once you let go of what others say you should want, you can finally discover your own dreams and be yourself.”

Challenge your thoughts and behaviours

The journey through disordered eating to establish a healthier relationship with food and your sense of self-worth can take a long time.

Anorexic people often establish rules and beliefs around food and exercise that need to be dismantled as part of recovery.

You may have an ‘eating disorder voice‘ that reinforces those damaging views and takes over your thought process

You may want to work with professionals or trusted friends to help you challenge these foundations of your eating disorder so you can move past them.

We have included a list of helpful resources on where to get help at the beginning and end of this article.

What the experts say:

Shannon Cutts, author of the book Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder & Take Your Life Back, has first-hand experience.

She writes: “It got to a point where the eating disorder spoke to me at every moment, in every hour of every day. I was never allowed a moment’s peace.  (check quote with Kate)

“At this point, I began to realise how invalid the eating disorder voice’s comments were and how pointless it was to listen to anything it had to say.

“I realised none of its commentary was helpful, accurate, or based in reality because even if it did have something of value to say, I could not hear it through the emotional paralysis caused by its alternately vicious or poisonously kind tones.”

Keep hope alive

Anorexia is a devastating mental illness which can impact every part of your life – but you can recover from it.

Keeping hope and faith that you’ll get through this might feel impossible at some points.

Yet, there are so many stories of survivors who’ve managed to work through their eating disorders and go on to live happy, healthy lives.

So, when you are feeling like this is an impossible task, seek inspiration and strength from those who’ve walked in your shoes.

What the experts say:

Writing on the American mental health website Healthy Place, survivor Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer talks about why she believes eating disorder recovery is worth it.

Mary-Elizabeth writes: “You will have the mental space for thoughts beyond just food or body image. When under the influence of an eating disorder, your brain is consumed with the number of calories you have eaten, the size of your clothes, the number of pounds you weigh, or how you look in the mirror. However, when you start to free your mind from the eating disorder’s control, you will have more headspace to focus on what is actually important and meaningful in life.

You will become more present and emotionally invested in your relationships.

As you learn how to silence that voice in eating disorder recovery, this enables you to be authentically present to those around you—to offer them your full, undisturbed time, attention, energy, and relational investment.”    

Remember,

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you can’t cope, you can access the following services:

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare professionals. We do have an in-house team of subject matter experts, who we consult to produce our content, but we would always advise following the advice of your healthcare team as a first step. They are there to help you, and will have your best interests in mind.

Did you find this article helpful this article? 

If so, you can read related Kari Health articles here:

Self-Injury in Adolescents

Surviving Sexual Assault – How To Get Help

How To Feel More Body Positive During Your Period

Was this article helpful?

Join the Kari Community using the form below to receive the latest insight and products. 

    Your Name