Anorexia Nervosa Treatment

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curly-haired young woman with anorexia nervosa in a therapy session for eating disorder

Anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia, is a common eating disorder with the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness after opioid use disorder. Anorexia can be associated with several different physical and mental health consequences. Anorexia is associated with food avoidance, severe food restriction, or eating in very small quantities.

The Kahm Center for Eating Disorders in Burlington, Vermont, offers outpatient treatment for individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa. Evidence-based therapies, nutrition plans, and regular testing are utilized to help individuals find anorexia recovery.

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What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a mental health disorder that is classified as an eating disorder. Anorexia is often characterized by low body weight and an intense fear of gaining weight. This eating disorder can be emotionally and physically damaging and can begin to interfere with daily functioning.

Obsessions with food, body weight, and body shape are common in anorexia, leading to significant physical and mental consequences without treatment. This is also true for atypical anorexia, a variant that mirrors these symptoms without the low body weight typically expected. Proper treatment for both conditions can greatly improve quality of life, address health problems, and bolster mental health, underscoring the importance of recognizing and treating atypical anorexia with the same urgency and care.

Signs of Anorexia

One of the most obvious signs that someone may have anorexia is drastic weight loss over a short period of time. People may also restrict their food intake, such as avoiding meals or only eating certain types of foods.

Here are some additional warning signs to consider if you suspect you or someone you know may be struggling with anorexia:

  • Deliberate self-starvation
  • Intense, persistent fear of gaining weight
  • Excessive facial/body hair
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Absent or irregular menstruation
  • Hair loss
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Avoiding social activities that involve food

It's important to recognize that there are other variants of anorexia, such as drunkorexia, that may not exhibit the same signs but are equally significant to acknowledge. Learn more about drunkorexia signs and long-term effects.

It's also important to note that although anorexia and bulimia nervosa are separate disorders, they share some similarities. Recognizing the distinctions in symptoms, behaviors, and health consequences is crucial for healthcare professionals to provide effective support. Learn more about the differences between anorexia and bulimia.

Diagnostic Criteria for Anorexia

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), is a diagnostic tool that clinicians and researchers can use to diagnose and classify different mental disorders. Eating disorder classifications and diagnoses are included in the DSM-5.

The DSM-5 Criteria for Anorexia Nervosa:

  1. Restricting energy intake leads to significantly low body weight compared to age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health
  2. Intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviors can interfere with weight gain
  3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight

Types of Anorexia

Restricting type

During the last three months, the individual has not engaged in recurrent episodes of binge eating or purging behavior. Restricting type often presents with weight loss through dieting, fasting, and/or excessive exercise.

Bing-eating/purging type

During the last three months, the individual has engaged in recurrent episodes of binge eating or purging behavior. These behaviors can include self-induced vomiting and the misuse of laxatives or enemas.

Atypical anorexia nervosa

Similar to anorexia nervosa, however, individuals with this diagnosis are not considered underweight. Technically this disorder is classified under Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).

Anorexia Nervosa Health Risks

Anorexia has the potential to result in severe health consequences both in the long and short term. The more severe and longer an individual partakes in anorexic behaviors, the more severe and long-term health risks can become. One question that often arises is, "can anorexia cause diabetes?" While anorexia primarily affects weight and nutritional intake, it can also lead to metabolic disturbances that might influence the risk of developing diabetes. This complex relationship underscores the importance of addressing anorexia early to prevent such severe health complications.

Health risks associated with anorexia can include:

  • Osteoporosis – bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. Anorexia is linked with excessive amounts of cortisol and reduced production of growth hormones which is linked to bone loss.
  • Seizures – can occur due to dehydration, hyperglycemia, or ketoacidosis, which is common among individuals with anorexia nervosa
  • Anemia – deficiency of red blood cells due to malnourishment. This can cause additional risks of heart disease, hypertension, and other cardiac complications.
  • Infertility – female body needs enough nutrition to make hormones to conceive.
  • Organ Failure – organ damage and failure can occur without proper nutrition. This damage can sometimes be irreversible even if eating resumes.
  • Hair Loss – without proper nutrition, hair can fall out or thin
  • Gastrointestinal Problems – nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, bloating, or constipation
  • Dehydration – large amounts of water are consumed through food, so without consuming food, dehydration becomes more likely

Untreated, these health risks can intensify. The longer the disorder persists, the more severe and potentially life-threatening the consequences become. Learn more about the long-term effects of anorexia.

Treatment for Anorexia

Anorexia treatment at the Kahm Center for Eating Disorders includes collaboration with a therapist, dietitian, and doctor. Therapies that are commonly used in treatment can consist of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and family-based therapy (FBT). Individual therapy and group therapy are utilized in outpatient settings to help individuals struggling with anorexia. A critical aspect of treatment is addressing the potential long-term health effects, such as asking the question, "can anorexia cause infertility?" By incorporating comprehensive therapies, the Kahm Center aims to mitigate these risks and support individuals on their path to recovery.

PHP for Anorexia

The partial hospitalization program (PHP) at the Kahm Center for Eating Disorders takes place in Burlington, Vermont, and is held five hours per day, five days per week. PHP can be utilized as an intensive treatment that can provide a controlled environment to help develop healthy coping skills.

Individuals will be well suited for PHP treatment if they are medically stable, but anorexia still impairs their emotional and mental functioning. Individuals will receive support to avoid engaging in anorexic behaviors and gain skills to remain in recovery.

IOP for Anorexia

The intensive outpatient program (IOP) at the Kahm Center for Eating Disorders takes place in Burlington, Vermont, and is held for three hours per day, five days per week. This program is intended to be a step down from the PHP at the Kahm Center. IOP is less intensive, and requires fewer hours of participation.

a support PHP group therapy session for anorexia and eating disorders

Outpatient Treatment for Anorexia in Vermont

Anorexia nervosa is a challenging type of eating disorder that is common throughout the United States. Anorexia can present with a restricting type that results in being underweight due to dieting, lack of eating, and overexercising. The other type of anorexia is the binge-eating/purging type that results from behaviors like self-induced vomiting or laxatives.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anorexia, reach out to the Kahm Center in Vermont today. At the Kahm Center for Eating Disorders, anorexia treatment can include therapy, nutrition plans, and structure that can help establish physical and nutritional health. Utilizing a nutritionist can help manage ongoing challenges with body image, food, and eating disorder behaviors.

Clinically Reviewed By

nick kahm reviewer

Nick Kahm, PhD


Nick Kahm, a former philosophy faculty member at St. Michael's College in Colchester, VT, transitioned from academia to running the Kahm Clinic with his mother. He started the clinic to train dietitians in using Metabolic Testing and Body Composition Analysis for helping people with eating disorders. Now, he is enthusiastic about expanding eating disorder treatment through the Kahm Center for Eating Disorders in Vermont.

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