Stomach and legs of an extremely thin girl with a measuring tape over the top

Anorexia nervosa is when make yourself lose very serious amounts of weight. It's more than just being slim and more than just dieting - not every slim person is anorexic and nor is every dieter.

It usually starts when you are 14 or 15, and often with a bit of dieting. You think you are a bit fat or overweight and want to look like all the supermodels. You start by controlling your food, but then your diet starts to control you and you can't stop. You think you are fat even when you are very, very thin, and look as if you are starved. Nobody really knows why it happens, but there are lots of theories:

  • It may be because you are depressed
  • It may be because you are stressed
  • It may be because you don't want to grow up
  • It may be because you are scared of getting fat
  • It may be a way of feeling in control
  • It may be because you want other people to notice you

Not eating damages your body, but part of the problem is in the mind - how you see yourself and your body.

Anorexia is quite common - 1 in 100 teenage girls suffer from it (but only 1 in 2000 boys)

Are people telling you you're anorexic?

A teenage girl talking to a woman in a friendly counsellors office.

If people are telling you that you're anorexic:

  • Listen to them before you just say "No - not true!"
  • If it might be true, try and admit to yourself what's really happening.
  • Don't blame yourself for this problem - it's an illness, which can be treated.
  • See a doctor or nurse as soon as possible - the earlier you admit there is something wrong, the sooner you will get better and the easier the problem is to treat.
  • As you recover, people will tell you that you look better. Believe them.
  • Getting treatment for anorexia will make you will feel less tired, and your body will work better. You'll be able to concentrate again and be able keep at your schoolwork. And best of all - you won't have to be worried about your weight all the time.

Signs of anorexia

A set of weighing scales and a measuring tape

What happens first:

  • You lose a lot of weight by deliberately not eating.
  • You want to exercise all the time.
  • You get obsessed with the idea that you are fat and think it's dreadful to be fat.
  • If you are a girl, you stop getting periods.

What happens next:

  • Your arms and legs get as thin as sticks.
  • You have trouble sleeping.
  • You find it difficult to concentrate.
  • You feel the cold.
  • Your skin gets dry and hairy over your neck, arms and legs.
  • Your hands and feet get blue and liable to chilblains.
  • Your heart rate gets slower and slower.
  • You become increasingly sad and depressed.
  • Your body begins to die from starvation.
  • You keep on using laxatives (tablets that make you poo a lot, stop you from absorbing your food and can make you very ill.

If this sounds like you, you need to think "Yes, I have got a problem", and that's the hardest thing to do.

Worried about an anorexic friend?

A young girl with her arms crossed looking upset.

You should worry that someone else is becoming anorexic if they:

  • Become obsessed with food and cook for others, but don't eat themselves.
  • Get very thin.
  • Seem restless when meals are served up, won't sit down and eat.
  • Mess about with food on their plate and spread it all around instead of eating it.
  • Leave the table before meals have finished.
  • Spit the food out somewhere or make themselves sick in the toilet.
  • Weigh themselves a lot.
  • Behave very secretively.

If you think that a friend or family member is anorexic, try and talk to them about it. Share your worries with someone else like your parents or a teacher. And keep eating normally yourself - it's not your fault and you don't have to blame yourself. You've got to be a normal person she or he can trust. It won't help the anorexic person to get better if you blame them or make them feel guilty, either. Anorexics are already scared and unhappy inside. Keep showing them the affection you always used to.