Ways To Manage And Overcome Anorexia

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated October 4, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Mental and physical health often intersect, so understanding the difference between mental and physical illness can be difficult, especially when it comes to eating disorders like anorexia. People living with eating disorders frequently experiences mental health issues as well as physical health issues. It’s important to seek help quickly, when experiencing anorexia, due to serious physical and mental implications.


What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia, or anorexia nervosa, is an eating disorder that affects approximately 1%-4.2% of women in the world. In contrast, only about 0.3% of men experience anorexia. Statistically, women are at a higher risk for developing this eating disorder, but men may still develop it as well. This particular eating disorder is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including (but not limited to):

  • Periods of time spent fasting (and sometimes binge eating)

  • An abnormal concern with food intake, calories, weight, and fat content

  • Fear of being fat or gaining weight, despite being underweight

  • Heavily regimented exercise rituals that are completed regardless of weather, fatigue, physical well-being, or other responsibilities/situational factors

  • Dislike of eating in public or in front of other people

  • Loss of menstrual period (for women who are post-puberty and pre-menopause)

The physical symptoms of anorexia can vary from patient to patient depending on their individual constituency and the severity of the eating disorder. Significant, rapid weight loss is one of the first and most dangerous signs. Some people may experience severe stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal issues, dry skin, difficulty concentrating, constantly feeling cold, dizziness, fainting, muscle weakness, and cold, mottled hands and feet.

The manifestations of this eating disorder vary greatly, and it may be a challenging to recognize the disorder in its early stages. 

According to the DSM-5, in order for a doctor to diagnose someone with anorexia, their behaviors should meet these conditions:

  • Limitation of energy intake as it relates to requirements that lead to a remarkably decreased body weight in terms of sex, age, developmental trajectory, and physical health.

  • An extreme fear of getting fat or gaining weight, despite being underweight.

  • Disruption in the manner in which a person’s shape or weight is experienced, excessive influence of one’s shape or bodyweight upon self-evaluation, or one’s denial of the severity of his or her present low body weight.

It’s important to note that you should always seek professional help and support if you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of anorexia. Treatment options are available, and due to the severity of the disorder, it’s essential to have expert assistance in order to treat the disorder safely and successfully.

How To Treat Anorexia

There are many different treatment options available to individuals living with an eating disorder like anorexia. Coming up with a treatment plan is a personal process that is best created with the

support and advice of a therapist or another healthcare professional who specializes in treating eating disorders. Here are some of the most popular and effective treatments for anorexia (and other eating disorders as well):

Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT)

When it comes to treating eating disorders, including anorexia, one of the major barriers to treatment comes from fear of gaining weight and not seeing the disorder as an illness but rather a life choice. Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT) is a facet of talk therapy that is designed to help an individual overcome harmful thought patterns and replace them with healthier ones. Often, one of the core causes of anorexia-related behaviors goes back to a particular set of thoughts. Cognitive Remediation Therapy gives patients the opportunity to reflect on their thoughts and emotions and to utilize practical exercises and thought experiments while under the careful supervision of a licensed professional. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)


Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is another standard therapy used to treat anorexia. It has also successfully been used for substance abuse, personality disorders, and bulimia, a different eating disorder. Dialectical behavior therapy reasons that anorexia is difficult to treat before the behaviors associated with the eating disorder are observed, understood, and then altered to be healthier. 

Practitioners of the DBT method believe that the most effective way to combat an eating disorder is by consciously changing behaviors. Some of the techniques that individuals learn during DBT treatment include increased mindfulness, better interpersonal relationship skills, improved emotional control abilities, and a higher tolerance for stress.

Family Based Therapy (FBT)

Recent research has shown that cases of eating disorders in adolescence are increasing. Adolescents today are exhibiting signs of an eating disorder more than ever before, with anorexia being one of the most prevalent among younger generations. 

For young people living with anorexia, FBT can be a highly effective therapeutic approach. The support and love of the family is incredibly important for recovery, and this is especially true for teenagers and pre-teens. Adults living with eating disorders may also greatly benefit from family support.

Hospitalization and Inpatient Care

In some severe cases, people experiencing anorexia may need hospitalization. This occurs when an individual with an eating disorder reaches a point where their body weight is too low to sustain a healthy life and their body becomes depleted of necessary nutrients. In these cases, hospitalization may save their life. 

Extreme weight loss and other physical symptoms such as dizziness and cognitive impairment are signs that the individual may need admission to a hospital to recover. After hospitalization, doctors and psychiatrists may recommend a treatment plan that can involve in-patient care, out-patient care, a combination of the two, or residential care. 

If an eating disorder reaches a point where hospitalization is necessary, creating the appropriate treatment plan with your healthcare team is important in order to keep the individual safe and comfortable. Trust is another essential component that must be present between the individual experiencing an eating disorder and their healthcare team in order for them to recover both physically, mentally, and emotionally.  


Getting Professional Help

Eating disorders require a lot of consideration when it comes not only to physical well-being, but also to mental and emotional well-being. Some individuals experiencing an eating disorder are able to recover without therapy or medication of any kind. Yet, many individuals need some kind of professional help in order to successfully recover. This help may come in the form of therapy or medication. 

Talking to a licensed therapist and obtaining professional therapeutic help may be the first step toward recovering from an eating disorder. If you or a loved one is living with an eating disorder, the therapists at BetterHelp can offer advice and support. Remote therapy, such as that provided by BetterHelp, may be beneficial to those living with eating disorders in that it does not require you to travel or visit unfamiliar locations, which can be disquieting or even cause feelings of shame. With online therapy, you can meet with a licensed professional therapist and get individualized support from the convenience of your home.

Research has shown that online therapy is just as effective as its in-person counterpart for a variety of mental health conditions including mood disorders like depression and anxiety. A study published in 2022 found that internet-based therapy was effective in providing positive results for those with eating disorders, including introducing healthier eating patterns and more positive body image over time. 

Working through the symptoms of eating disorders like anorexia can take time and dedication on the part of the individual as well as their families. If you find that you may be experiencing an eating disorder, such as anorexia, you are not alone; there are resources out there to offer support and guidance.


Eating disorders, such as anorexia, are best treated using a team approach including mental health professionals, healthcare providers, family, and friends. It is a disorder that affects the individual greatly as well as their close loved ones who may not understand the complexity behind its occurrence. Although eating disorders can be difficult to overcome, there are many different treatment methods that can be used to successfully recover.

Healing from eating disorders is possible

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