Anorexia

Anorexia is an illness which makes people stop eating food. It can start because of different reasons, like going through a stressful or traumatic event. Anorexia can be very dangerous – but there are ways to get support.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder and a serious mental health problem. People with anorexia often feel they look fat, even when they're very underweight. They'll stop themselves eating so they can lose weight. 

Sometimes anorexia makes people feel scared or uncomfortable when they think of food. People with anorexia may also take tablets to lose weight or exercise too much.

Stopping yourself from eating is very dangerous. Eventually people can die if they don’t eat. Anorexia could make it hard to realise you have a problem, even though you might be really ill. That’s why it’s really important for you or a friend to get help if you’re eating less and losing a lot of weight.

Things to remember:

  • both boys and girls can be affected by anorexia
  • anorexia doesn’t have to control your life and you can recover
  • talking to someone you trust can really help
  • a doctor can support you
  • we're always here to help you find ways to cope.

recovering from anorexia

Anorexia could help you feel in control of things, especially if other parts of your life are getting stressful. Like if you’re experiencing bullying. Or having a bad time at home or in relationships. But anorexia can also get out of control and start to feel like it’s taking over your life.

Things to try:

  • Stay strong
    Remember that you're stronger than anorexia. You can beat it.
  • Make a plan
    Decide what you want to say to yourself when the urge comes to avoid eating. You could even write it down and carry it around with you. That way you can always remind yourself why you can beat anorexia.
  • Set small goals
    You might aim to just eat a little bit more each week.
  • Write down your feelings
    Especially your feelings about food. This can help you make sense of what’s going on and help you start to recover.
  • Be positive
    Make a list of things you like about yourself. It could be about your body, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be your smile, hairstyle, taste in music or football skills. Once you think of a few positive things, you’re more likely to be able to think of some more. It can really help improve the way you think about yourself.

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Get support if you're struggling

What happens if you don't eat

Even if you feel like you can't eat, stopping yourself from eating can cause a lot of damage to your body. The effects of anorexia can include:

  • losing your hair
  • problems with your heart 
  • girls stopping their periods  
  • finding it hard to concentrate or think properly 
  • your bones getting weaker 
  • having a weak immune system, which can make you more likely to get ill
  • your skin turning blue.

Eventually people can die if they don't eat properly. 

It’s important to eat so you can grow, have strong bones and stay healthy. Food also gives you energy to think, study, work and do physical things. You could speak to a doctor about a healthy eating plan and ways to feel better about eating.

Pro-ana sites

'Pro-ana’ sites are online communities where people with anorexia go to post pictures of themselves and share tips on losing weight. ‘Pro-ana’ websites or 'thinspiration' blogs can be really harmful and negative places. They encourage people to get dangerously underweight.

Why are these sites bad?
It might seem like these websites are a good way to talk to people who know what you’re going through. But, these sites often make eating problems worse. They make it seem like not eating is a good thing when it isn't.

‘Thinspiration’ and ‘pro-ana’ sites may make it seem like anorexia or bulimia is a lifestyle choice. This isn’t true – anorexia is a mental illness. You can recover from eating disorders and you don’t have to face it alone.

Visit our message boards
It can feel like nobody knows what you’re going through. And it can feel good to be part of an online community with other people who also know what anorexia’s like. But there are communities full of people who know about anorexia and want to support you.

Go on the message boards and talk to other people about their experiences with anorexia. Or you could check out the recovery community on Beat. People here know what you’re going through and can help you get better.

Helping a friend with anorexia

Sometimes people with anorexia can be secretive. Your friend might pretend they don't have anorexia. They may even try to stop eating with you.

It’s important to include your friend and to keep doing the things you enjoy together. It can be helpful to let your friend know how much you think of them as a person.

You could:

  • compliment them on their personality rather than their physical appearance or weight
  • try not to make comments about other people’s weight when your friend is around
  • ask how they feel and let them know you're there if they want to talk.

If you know your friend is anorexic, meal times can be really tough. It’s often better if you don’t try to make your friend eat a lot of food they wouldn’t normally eat. This can make them feel pressured and they might get even more secretive.

Other sites we recommend: 

  • Beat has lots of support for young people experiencing eating problems, including a helpline
  • YoungMinds has more advice to help with eating disorders