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Recognizing Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by the restriction of energy intake, leading to a severely low weight in the context of an individual’s age, height, and physical health. Low body weight is accompanied by a persistent pattern of behaviors to prevent the restoration of normal weight, which may include restrictive eating, purging, and behaviors aimed at increasing energy expenditure (e.g., excessive exercise). People with anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of their own body weight or shape. Recognizing Anorexia Nervosa presents the ICD-11 diagnostic criteria to help clinicians in identifying Anorexia nervosa in clients.

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

Psychiatric diagnostic frameworks serve multiple purposes. Classification of mental disorders enables clinicians and researchers to speak a common language when describing patterns of experience and behavior, guide appropriate treatment interventions, and act as a coding system for insurance purposes. The success of these classification frameworks has varied across diagnoses but in the best cases has led to improved understanding and treatment of conditions, as well as helping many service users who find such classification valuable (Perkins et al, 2018).

Diagnostic frameworks are not without controversy. They have been criticized on grounds of reliability, validity, and distortions due to commercial interests (Zigler & Phillips, 1961; Frances & Widiger, 2012; Bell, 2017). Perhaps most importantly there are instances where they have had, and continue to have, extremely negative effects upon service users (Perkins et al, 2018). Diagnosis is not the only way of understanding people and their experiences. Many clinicians and their clients find that attending to personal stories and narratives is a helpful approach, and psychological formulation is one technique for bringing together information about what has happened to an individual and the sense that they have made of it (British Psychological Society, 2018). 

Notwithstanding the above caveats, the ‘Recognizing...’ series from Psychology Tools is designed to aid clinicians in the recognition and understanding of common mental health problems.

Therapist Guidance

The assessment and diagnosis of mental health problems should only be undertaken by qualified mental health professionals. Attempting to self-diagnose or diagnose others without proper training can lead to inaccurate conclusions, inappropriate treatments, and potential harm. Information for the ‘Recognizing...’ series was drawn from the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision (ICD-11: World Health Organization, 2019).

References And Further Reading

  • Bell, V. (2017). We need to get better at critiquing psychiatric diagnosis. Retrieved from
  • British Psychological Society (2018). Understanding psychiatric diagnosis in adult mental health. Retrieved from:
  • Frances, A. J., & Widiger, T. (2012). Psychiatric diagnosis: lessons from the DSM-IV past and cautions for the DSM-5 future. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 8, 109-130.
  • Perkins, A., Ridler, J., Browes, D., Peryer, G., Notley, C., & Hackmann, C. (2018). Experiencing mental health diagnosis: a systematic review of service user, clinician, and carer perspectives across clinical settings. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(9), 747-764.
  • World Health Organization. (2019). International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision (ICD-11). Geneva: World Health Organization.
  • Zigler, E., & Phillips, L. (1961). Psychiatric diagnosis: A critique. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63(3), 607.