What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder where the individual is overly concerned with their body weight and engages in behaviour that causes them to lose weight to achieve thinness. While only 3% of individuals with an eating disorder have Anorexia Nervosa, it is a life-threatening eating disorder.

Teenage boy with anorexia and depression needs medical support

Subtypes of AN

Restriction – The person loses weight mainly through dieting and fasting, and/or other weight control behaviours such as excessive exercise.

Binge/purge – In addition to restricting overall food intake, weight loss is achieved by episodes of binge eating and/or purging behaviours, including self-induced vomiting and misuse of laxatives.

Atypical – Despite losing a significant amount of weight, the individual’s body weight is considered to be within or above the normal range. Atypical AN is classified as an OSFED.

An individual with Anorexia Nervosa may experience the following:

  • Basing their self-worth on their physical appearance 
  • Perception of their body weight or shape does not match their physical appearance
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Restricting food intake, where they do not eat enough to sustain healthy growth and development to maintain health as an adult.
  • Taking extreme measures to lose weight and/or avoid gaining weight, such as:
    • not eating sufficiently for their caloric needs
    • purging, which can include excessive exercise, using laxatives, or vomiting
  • Physical, cognitive and psychological effects

Early intervention and Recovery

If you suspect your loved one has Anorexia Nervosa, it is important to encourage them to seek help early.

Your loved one may avoid getting help (especially if they do not believe they are unwell). It is  important to keep persevering.

While your loved one has the greatest chance of recovery by getting into treatment early, recovery is possible at any stage.

Sad woman suffering from anorexia and needs some mental health support


Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa includes refeeding to reverse the physical and cognitive effects of starvation, in addition to psychological therapy. Your loved one’s treatment team will decide on the best type of treatment, and whether they can be cared for at home or in hospital.

While your loved one has the greatest chance of recovery by getting into treatment early, recovery is possible at any stage.

Families and carers can help loved ones recover, so where possible, stay connected with your loved one and their treatment team.

For support in how to help your loved one, join a Carer Support Group.