Treating eating disorders such as anorexia is a long and complex process. Lavendla cannot help you with the full treatment journey, but is here to support and inform you.

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia, or anorexia nervosa, is a serious mental illness and eating disorder characterised by an extreme fear of weight gain and a distorted body image.

Anorexia sufferers strive for an unrealistically low body weight through strict dietary restrictions, excessive exercise, or other harmful behaviours. It is a disease that affects the body and mind, sometimes leading to serious health consequences.

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Symptoms and consequences

Anorexia symptoms include:

  • Extreme weight loss.
  • Obsessive thoughts about food, calories and dieting.
  • Physical symptoms such as hair loss, dry skin and lack of energy.

The consequences of anorexia are numerous and can be severe, including:

  • Damage to the heart, liver and kidneys.
  • Risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) from a lack of nutrition that, combined with exercise, depletes the body’s resources.
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Deeper insight

Anorexia is more than just an eating disorder; it is a battle against inner demons and distorted self-image. It is important to understand that the disease is not just a desire to be thin, but often a way of dealing with deeper psychological issues. People with the disease may feel a false sense of control by restricting their food intake, but this can often be a symptom of underlying issues such as anxiety, depression or trauma.


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Causes and risk factors

The causes of anorexia are complex and often include a combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors. Risk factors can include:

  • High demands on oneself.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Influence of media and social norms around body and beauty.

Anorexia and society

There is a strong link between society’s beauty ideals and the prevalence of anorexia. Constant exposure to images of extreme thinness in the media can reinforce these distorted ideals and contribute to the development of eating disorders. So, it is important to promote a more realistic body image in society to counteract this trend. Studies have shown that Finland, a country where people of all ages share a sauna regularly, has a lower percentage of people suffering from distorted self-image. Young people simply learn what normal bodies look like and what they can expect from their own body in the future.

Treatment of anorexia

Treatment of the disease is often a long process involving several steps:

  • Medical assessment: to address physical health risks and deficiencies.
  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and family therapy are effective treatment methods.
  • Nutritional counselling: to restore a healthy diet and weight.

Treatment methods and therapies

Treatment for anorexia often involves a combination of different methods. In addition to CBT and family therapy, other therapies such as dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can help. These therapies can help sufferers develop better coping strategies, thereby improving their relationship with food and body image.


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The road to recovery

Recovering from anorexia is a journey that requires patience, understanding and support. Important steps on this path include:

  • Recognising the problem and seeking help.
  • Working with a therapist to understand and address the causes of the eating disorder.
  • Surrounding yourself with supportive people.

The importance of nutrition and recovery

Nutritional rehabilitation is a critical part of treatment. This means not only restoring weight but also rebuilding a healthy relationship with food. Nutritionists and dieticians can provide valuable guidance in creating balanced dietary plans that support both physical and mental health.

For family members: How to provide support

If you are a family member of someone with an eating disorder, it is important to:

  • Show understanding and compassion.
  • Avoid commenting on weight or eating habits.
  • Encourage professional help.

Anorexia in men and children

Although eating disorders are usually associated with young women, they can affect anyone, regardless of gender or age. In men and children, the disorders are less well known but equally serious. The symptoms may be similar, but there may be differences in how the disorder is expressed and perceived, which can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Relapse and long-term management

Relapse in eating disorders is common and should be seen as part of the recovery process. Therefore, it is important to have a plan to manage relapse, which may include regular follow-up with health care providers, continued therapy and support from loved ones.

Self-help and support groups

Self-help and participation in support groups can be a valuable resource. Sharing experiences and strategies with others who have similar experiences can provide important emotional support and reduce feelings of isolation.

First step towards treatment

Living with anorexia is a challenging journey, but it is important to remember that recovery is possible. By seeking professional help, building a supportive network and actively working towards recovery, you can find a way forward towards a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Lavendla, we cannot help with all of your treatment, but our psychologists and therapists are here to make the difficult easier. If you, or someone you know, are considering seeking help and want to find out about treatments, book an online session today through our website.


15 common questions about anorexia

What is anorexia?

Anorexia, or anorexia nervosa, is a serious mental illness where there is an intense fear of gaining weight. It often leads to extremely restricted food intake and a distorted body image.

What is the cause of anorexia?

The cause of anorexia is complex and can include genetic factors, psychological problems, environmental factors and cultural influences. Stress, low self-esteem and trauma are common contributing factors.

Who is affected by anorexia?

Anorexia can affect people of any gender, age and background, but is most common among young women. Early puberty and certain professions with a focus on body image may increase the risk.

What BMI is required for anorexia?

According to medical criteria, a BMI below 17.5 is often considered to indicate anorexia, but it is important to remember that the condition can occur even at higher BMIs. Each individual is unique.

How to detect anorexia?

Signs of anorexia include extreme weight loss, fear of weight gain, food avoidance, fixation on calories and nutrition, and changes in behaviour around food.

What are the symptoms of anorexia?

Symptoms of anorexia include dramatic weight loss, tight control of food intake, depression, isolation, physical weakness and, in severe cases, defects or deficiencies in the structure or function of organs.

How is anorexia treated?

Treatment of anorexia is often a combination of psychotherapy, nutritional counselling and medical supervision. Family therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are common forms of treatment.

Can anorexia lead to other health problems?

Yes, anorexia can cause serious physical complications such as heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility and, in the worst cases, death.

Is anorexia hereditary?

Studies show that genetic factors can increase the risk of developing anorexia, but environment and personal experiences also play an important role.

What can be done to prevent anorexia?

To prevent anorexia, it is important to promote a healthy body image, manage stress effectively and encourage a balanced lifestyle.

How to support someone with anorexia?

Supporting someone with anorexia means listening without judgement, encouraging professional help and offering emotional support through the process.

What are the risk factors for anorexia?

Risk factors for anorexia include previous eating disorders, family history of eating disorders, perfectionism, and cultural or occupational pressure to be thin.

Can anorexia affect men?

Yes, although less common, anorexia can definitely affect men. The signs and symptoms are similar, but often less recognisable.

What role does psychology play in anorexia?

Psychological factors such as low self-esteem, perfectionism and need for control play a major role in the development and maintenance of anorexia.

When to seek help for anorexia?

If you or someone you know shows signs of anorexia, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. Early detection, and then promptly seeking help, increases the chances of a faster recovery.

Steps for treating anorexia

Seeking help and treatment is an important process in finding the path to a healthy life. If you suspect you are suffering from anorexia-related symptoms, your path to treatment may look like this:

Seek professional help

Contact a healthcare provider or psychologist. Professional help is essential for effective treatment. If you feel unsure, remember that we are here to make the difficult easier. You are not alone.

Medical evaluation

A doctor will conduct a full medical evaluation to assess your physical health and any immediate risks.

Psychological assessment

A psychologist or therapist can help identify the causes of the eating disorder and develop strategies to deal with it.

Nutritional counselling

A dietician can offer guidance on healthy eating and help create a meal plan to support recovery.

Treatment plan

Together with your healthcare team, an individual treatment plan is created which may include therapy, medication and nutritional advice.

Therapy

Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is effective in treating eating disorders. Group therapy can also be helpful.

Support groups

Attending support groups can provide additional support and understanding from others going through similar experiences.

Long-term follow-up

Recovery is a long-term process. Continued support from healthcare providers and therapists is important to maintain progress.

Self-care and positive routines

Develop healthy routines and activities that promote self-care and positive self-image.

As it can often seem daunting or challenging to begin treatment, the best step in the right direction can be just having a conversation with a psychologist or therapist. Lavendla unfortunately cannot offer complete treatment for eating disorders, but can support you in choosing if treatment is appropriate? Simply book an introductory online session with one of our therapists to discuss your situation. Our goal is to make the difficult easier.

Lavendla – Making the difficult easier

Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.