Section Author: Katharine L. Loeb, Ph.D. (Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine)
Anorexia nervosa is a serious disorder characterized by a persistent refusal to maintain a normal body weight, extreme fear of gaining weight, disturbance in the experience of shape and weight, denial of the seriousness of one’s low body weight, and, in post-pubertal females, sustained absence of menstrual cycles. Anorexia nervosa carries significant medical risk as well as the highest risk of death of the psychological disorders. Individuals with anorexia nervosa frequently experience co-occurring depression, and half the deaths in anorexia nervosa result from suicide. In most cases, the fear of weight gain is sufficiently strong to deter people with this problem from engaging in treatment. There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa: restricting type, in which individuals achieve and maintain their low weight exclusively via dieting, fasting, and/or excessive exercise, and binge eating/purging type, in which individuals also engage in one or both of these problematic behaviors.
- Family-Based Treatment (strong research support)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (modest/controversial research support)
Note: Other psychological treatments may also be effective in treating Anorexia, but they have not been evaluated with the same scientific rigor as the treatments above. Many medications may also be helpful for Anorexia, but we do not cover medications in this website. Of course, we recommend a consultation with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and discussion of various treatment options. When you meet with a professional, be sure to work together to establish clear treatment goals and to monitor progress toward those goals. Feel free to print this information and take it with you to discuss your treatment plan with your therapist.