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Anorexia Nervosa

What is Anorexia ?

The term 'Anorexia' is short for Anorexia Nervosa. It is an eating disorder in which a person, most often a young woman, deliberately, and often obsessively, loses weight.

There are two types of Anorexia:

Restricting type is found in those anorexia sufferers who severely curtail their caloric intake and/or who exercise to excess to cause weight loss.

Binge eating/purging type is found in those anorexia sufferers who eat in binges and then purge the body of the ingested food either by self-induced vomiting or excessive use of laxatives and/or diuretics.

What are signs of Anorexia?

Some early signs of Anorexia include:
  • Increased concern about body weight.
  • Disgust with body shape.
  • Wearing only baggy clothes or concealing clothing.
  • Exercising excessively.
  • Refusing to eat with others.
  • Having rituals around eating eg. Counting mouthfuls etc.
  • Lying about eating ("I've already eaten").
  • Being moody or angry when asked about dieting.

What causes Anorexia?

There is no known cause of Anorexia. What is known is that it develops in certain stages.
  • It is often from media pressure that to be thin is to be beautiful.
  • There may be genetic influences leading to a stronger likelihood to develop anorexia.
  • The sufferer's specific situation may lead to anorexia.

How common is Anorexia?

Approximately 5% of females have some form of eating disorder. Approximately 1% of young women in their late adolescence or early adulthood suffer from anorexia.

Anorexia often begins with worry about weight as a reaction to the changes in body shape and weight gain that normally occur in puberty. Excessive dieting then leads to a dramatic weight loss. 
The person can lose so much weight that their health begins to suffer.

An anorexia sufferer may not feel unwell, despite the weight loss. They may in fact feel extremely energetic and exercise to excess. They continue to diet because they do not think that they are as thin as they desire.

Family and whanau and friends may tell them that they have become too thin, however anorexia sufferers are not easily convinced that they are not overweight.

How is Anorexia diagnosed?

The diagnosis of anorexia is made when the anorexic either loses 15% of their weight or the growing child fails to acquire 85% of the minimal weight for their particular age and height. A history of excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting and the overuse of laxatives and diuretics help the mental health professional to make a diagnosis of anorexia.

How is Anorexia treated?

Individual and/or family and group therapy are important for those with anorexia. Group members can offer each other valuable support in monitoring eating and weight gain, and in improving self esteem.

Most people with anorexia can be treated as outpatients, however, when weight loss is severe, hospitalisation may be necessary.

Medications can be effective for the treatment of anxiety and/or depression associated with anorexia.

The major breakthrough in treatment comes with education and understanding of the detrimental affect anorexia has on the body and mind.

What happens to someone with Anorexia?

For some people, anorexia is a one off adverse experience lasting a few weeks or months. For a few, it can be prolonged through adolescence and into early adulthood. Sadly, for about 5% of people it can lead to death. Most people learn to realise the dangers of continuing to starve themselves and decide, often after psychotherapy, to return to more normal eating habits.

Resources in Taranaki:

Mahia Mai A Whai Tara: (Kaupapa Maori Service)
8 Warre Street,
Tel: (06) 754 4669
Raumano Health Trust: (Kaupapa Maori Service)
63 Egmont Street,
Tel: (06) 273 6010
Fax:  (06) 273 6012
Taranaki Health Child and Adolescent Service (Mainstream)
Taranaki Base Hospital,
New Plymouth
Tel: (06) 753 7790
Fax:  (06) 753 7791
Taranaki Health Adult Mental Health Service (Mainstream)
Taranaki Base Hospital,
New Plymouth
Tel: (06) 753 6139
Fax: (06) 753 7715

The following organisations may provide assistance and support:

Eating Disorders Association

Tel: (09) 818 9561 or (09) 627 8493

Eating Disorders Collective

Tel: (04) 473 590

WEDRC (Women with Eating Disorders Resource Centre)
Tel: (03) 366 7725

The following websites provide information about Anorexia Nervosa:

An international (Dublin) website with data on most mental illnesses, including eating disorders.

Mental Health Foundation - NZ
A useful NZ website with resource data on most mental illnesses, including anorexia.

A useful site developed by Child & Adolescent Services, Taranaki Health, working with youth, covering many mental health issues.


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Taranaki Mental Health Sector