​Anorexia Nervosa


Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by refusal to maintain a healthy body weight, a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight. The disorder compels you to become so consumed by your looks and your desire to be thin that it impacts all aspects of your life. Thoughts about going on a strict diet, food and losing weight take up most of your day. You relentlessly pursue extreme measures of losing weight.

There are two types of anorexia: restricting and purging. In the restricting type of anorexia, weight loss is achieved by restricting calories, such as dieting, fasting and constantly exercising. In the purging type of anorexia, weight loss is achieved by vomiting or using laxatives and diuretics to get rid of your food intake.

At its core, anorexia is not really about weight loss and food management. It is a much deeper emotional problem where you are using food as a way to control your life. Being thin makes you feel powerful and by losing more and more weight, you attempt to make yourself feel powerful and in control.

There is also a huge cultural and sometimes family pressure to being thin. Sometimes anorexia is even known to run in families.​​

Following are the common symptoms of anorexia nervosa:

  • Being on a diet despite being thin. Anorexia involves following a severely restricted diet and eating only certain low calorie foods. 

  • Obsession with calories, fat and nutrition

  • Pretending to eat or lying about eating 

  • Denial about being too thin

  • Refusing to eat around others or in public places

  • Dramatic weight loss

  • Obsessively exercising

  • Using diet pills or other medications to lose weight

  • Throwing up after eating

Other symptoms that may appear after the disorder starts exhibiting itself visibly include:

  • Severe mood swings; depression

  • Lack of energy and weakness

  • Poor memory

  • Dry, yellowish skin and brittle nails

  • Constipation and bloating

  • Tooth decay and gum damage

  • Dizziness, fainting, and headaches

  • Growth of fine hair all over the body and face​

If you or a loved one has an unhealthy attitude about eating and weight loss, seek help from your doctor. You can obtain additional information and expert medical advice from a doctor working with the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here ​are some tips to help get you started.

Your doctor will run several tests and exams to help form a diagnosis and rule out medical causes for weight loss. These include:

  • Physical exam: your doctor will measure your height and weight, checking your body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature, listen to your heart and lungs and examine your stomach.

  • Lab tests: blood tests to check for electrolytes and protein as well as functioning of your liver, kidney and thyroid.

  • Psychological evaluation: your doctor will ask about your thoughts, feelings and eating habits. You may also be asked to complete psychological self-assessment questionnaires.​

It is very hard to admit that you have a problem. Therefore, the first step to recovery is to seek professional help. Treatment for anorexia involves three aspects:

  •  Medical treatment for anorexia

If you are dangerously malnourished or distressed, you may need to be hospitalized until you reach a less alarming weight. 

  •  Nutritional treatment for anorexia

Nutritional counselling involves seeing a nutritionist or dietician who will teach you about healthy eating and proper nutrition. The nutritionist will also help you develop and follow meal plans that include ample calories to reach or maintain a normal, healthy weight.

  •  Counselling and therapy 

Counselling is crucial to treatment of anorexia. Counselling helps to identify and eliminate negative thoughts and feelings and replace those with healthier, less distorted beliefs. Another important goal of counselling is to teach you how to deal with difficult emotions, relationship problems, and stress in a productive, rather than a self-destructive, way.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments' costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.



The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider. ​​