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What Is Anorexia?

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is a collection of one-page information handouts for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, handouts in the series describe how it can feel to struggle with a difficulty and are reliable sources of information for your clients. Drawing upon established cognitive behavioral models, each handout has a particular focus on maintaining factors that might might prevent the problem from getting better. What Is Anorexia? is designed to help clients with anorexia nervosa to understand more about their condition.

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Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)
  • Italian
  • Spanish (International)
  • Vietnamese

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

It is common to feel conscious of your eating, but extreme dieting and weight loss can lead to an eating disorder called anorexia (or anorexia nervosa), which impacts your physical and mental health. It is thought between 1 and 4 out of every 100 people will experience anorexia nervosa at some point during their lives. The good news is that there are effective psychological and medical treatments for anorexia nervosa, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

The What Is Anorexia? information handout is designed to help clients with anorexia nervosa understand more about their condition. It includes:

  • A summary of the most common symptoms of anorexia.
  • Descriptions of what it can feel like to have anorexia.
  • A description of why anorexia might not get better by itself, derived from the Fairburn, Cooper & Shafran (2003) transdiagnostic cognitive model of eating disorders.
  • A brief overview of evidence-based psychological treatments for anorexia.

Therapist Guidance

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is designed to support your clients:
  • Reassure and encourage optimism. Many clients find it hugely reassuring to know there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that there are evidence-based psychological models and treatments specifically designed to help.
  • Scaffold knowledge. The handouts are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • Signposting. If you’re just seeing a client briefly for assessment, or you have a curious client who wants to know more, these resources can be a helpful part of guiding them to the right service.

References And Further Reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
  • Galsworthy-Francis, L., & Allan, S. (2014). Cognitive behavioural therapy for anorexia nervosa: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 54-72.
  • Keski-Rahkonen, A., & Mustelin, L. (2016). Epidemiology of eating disorders in Europe: prevalence, incidence, comorbidity, course, consequences, and risk factors. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 29, 340-345.
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE: 2017). Eating disorders: Recognitions and treatment. Retrieved from:
  • World Health Organization. (2019). ICD-11: International classification of diseases (11th revision). Retrieved from