Skip to main content

Anorexia Nervosa

Contact us about in-person and virtual anorexia treatment options.

Anorexia nervosa is all-consuming. It fixates a person’s mind, fuels their anxieties, and distorts their self-image. Eating, food, and weight become obsessions. Tragically, anorexia is among the most deadly of all mental illnesses.

But there is hope. With the right support, recovery from anorexia is possible. The Emily Program offers exceptional, comprehensive treatment for anorexia that goes far beyond simply “eating more.” We’ll guide you toward a peaceful relationship with food, your body, and yourself, laying the path for long-term recovery.

Food shouldn’t control you. Take the first step toward freedom today.

The frightening truth about anorexia nervosa

Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight caused by malnourishment. A person struggling with anorexia often has a distorted perception of their weight and an intense fear of gaining weight. Although diet programs may be the “gateway” to the condition, the diet alone is not responsible for the onset of an eating disorder. Anorexia is not a choice, a fad, or a phase. It’s a painful internal emotion of fear associated both with food and with the perception of one’s own body.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with anorexia are up to ten times more likely to die as a result of their illness compared to those without the condition. Complications from starvation, such as cardiac arrest, organ failure, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, and suicide claim the lives of adolescents and adults every year.

A mother comforting her upset daughter
A person stepping onto a scale
thoughtful young man

Anorexia warning signs

Anorexia nervosa has two subtypes: “restrictive” and “binge-purge.” Both subtypes result in malnutrition, limiting a person’s ability to function normally. People with anorexia typically weigh themselves repeatedly, portion food carefully, and eat small quantities of a narrow variety of foods. Anxiety, depression, or difficulty concentrating may also accompany these warning signs:

  • Relentless pursuit of thinness
  • Unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
  • Extremely disturbed eating behavior
  • Distortion of body image
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Excessive exercise
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Misuse of diuretics, diet pills, or laxatives

Do you think you or someone you know might have anorexia? Take our eating disorder assessment quiz.

If you or someone you know needs help with anorexia, reach out today.

A back view of two people hugging

What are the physical effects of anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa can start as early as childhood or late into a person’s life, but its onset is most common around or just after puberty. Adults are likely to experience a dramatic drop in weight, while adolescents or children may fail to gain weight and slip from their expected weight-growth pattern. By definition, individuals with anorexia are below normal weight standards. Atypical anorexia (a diagnosis that falls under OSFED) is when all criteria of anorexia are met, except the individual is not medically classified as “underweight.”

Menstruating people often experience either a delay in starting menstruation or a loss of menstrual functioning (amenorrhea). Other medical conditions may also be present, such as anemia, dry skin and scalp, osteoporosis, lowered body temperature and blue fingertips, and slow thinking due to brain shrinkage.

Everything in the person’s regular daily life suffers as the condition controls thoughts and behaviors. Family ties, friendships, romantic relationships, schoolwork, or career—they’re all jeopardized. The joy of life wilts under its stress.

Read more about the physical effects of anorexia.

30 million

individuals in the U.S. alone will struggle with an eating disorder

1 in 3

people with an eating disorder is male


of people with eating disorders need a higher level of care to recover


is the most common age of onset for anorexia

What causes anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is caused by a complex blend of biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

There is no single cause to point to, and despite common misconceptions, families and communities of support are not to blame. They are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to anorexia nervosa that may or may not be awakened by environmental influences throughout their life.

  • Biological factors such as genetics, altered brain circuitry, and weakened food-related pathways can all contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa. Malnutrition can also induce changes in physiological processes that regulate hunger and fullness signals.
  • Environmental factors including cultural pressures to conform to appearance standards, weight-based comments and teasing, and media messages can result in an increased risk of anorexia in those susceptible.
  • Psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, stressors, low self-esteem, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and trauma are among the contributing factors that could tip a vulnerable population group into developing anorexia.

Do you or someone you know need treatment for anorexia? We can help.

A woman standing by her fridge eating

Treatment for anorexia

With proper treatment, recovery from anorexia is possible. If you, your patient, or a loved one are struggling with anorexia, don’t wait to reach out for help. The earlier you get treatment for anorexia, the better the outcomes tend to be.

At The Emily Program, we work with you to create an individualized anorexia treatment care plan so you or your child with anorexia get the right treatment at the right time. We offer a wide range of anorexia nervosa care options, including residential, partial hospitalization/intensive day (PHP/IDP), intensive outpatient (IOP), outpatient, and virtual programs for children, adolescents, and adults of all genders. This allows us to provide best-in-class care and support throughout your recovery journey, even as your needs change. Our anorexia nervosa treatment programs focus on real-life skills, including hands-on nutrition and culinary experiences that you can take with you for lasting recovery. We encourage family involvement and offer family-based therapy and educational support for children and adolescents who are receiving treatment for anorexia.

A father and son laughing with each other
Two women eating and laughing together
A male dietitian meets with a group of clients

The first step in getting treatment for anorexia nervosa is to reach out and schedule an assessment. No referral is needed. Give us a call at 1-888-364-5977 or complete an online form. We’re available seven days a week to answer your questions and help you get started on the path to recovery from anorexia.

Recovery from anorexia begins here.
Get started today. 

A person typing on a laptop

Additional resources about anorexia

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa are still widely misunderstood. That’s why we provide a variety of resources to help navigate these complex illnesses. Check out these resources for information about anorexia treatment and eating disorders in general:

Frequently asked questions about anorexia nervosa

What is the first step for getting anorexia treatment?

If you believe you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, reach out for a free assessment. There’s no commitment and no referral is needed. We’ll talk about your concerns and answer any questions you may have about getting treatment for anorexia. For more information about the admissions process, visit our Get Help webpage

How long will I be in treatment for anorexia?

We personalize eating disorder treatment for each individual, so the answer is different for each person. Everyone’s recovery journey is different. Together we’ll determine the level of eating disorder treatment that is the best fit for you and go from there. We’ll be at your side every step of the way.

What is The Emily Program’s approach to anorexia treatment?

The Emily Program takes an empathetic and holistic approach to anorexia nervosa treatment. Acknowledging the complex challenges of eating disorder treatment, our program offers guidance to clients of all ages and genders, helping them navigate through their journey to recovery.

The foundation of the Emily Program’s approach is its mission to deliver exceptional, individualized treatment for anorexia nervosa, working toward the goal of each individual maintaining a peaceful relationship with food and body image. This commitment is propelled by a passion for offering a comprehensive continuum of anorexia nervosa treatment & care tailored to each person’s unique needs.

Respect and empathy are central to our anorexia treatment philosophy, making certain that every client is recognized beyond their disorder. The commitment to evidence-based anorexia nervosa treatment includes a variety of options and advocacy for improved access to care for everyone.

Our methodology is based on collaboration, with multidisciplinary teams that combine medical, therapeutic, psychiatric, and nutritional expertise to offer exceptional anorexia treatment. This collaborative effort extends to clients, families, and the wider healthcare community, ensuring a supportive and comprehensive treatment for anorexia nervosa.

How should I talk to my child about my concerns?

The approach to difficult conversations is unique to each family. In the case of an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa, the critically important piece is to start a dialogue about your concerns early, instead of waiting to see if things resolve on their own.

For younger children (ages 11 and under), share your concerns with your child’s pediatrician, primary care physician, or therapist for guidance on the next steps.

The following suggestions are intended for conversations with adolescents (ages 12 and older):

Consider how, when, and where you share your concerns. It is important to express yourself calmly. Choose a time when you are not feeling rushed and can talk openly with your adolescent. In general, limit the number of people involved in this very personal conversation and respect your loved one by creating a safe environment. It is helpful to be clear and specific about what you are seeing in your loved one and why this concerns you.

There might be the instinct to confront your adolescent when you have discovered that they are engaging in harmful eating disorder behaviors. It is understandable that you would be upset or scared in these moments. You will fare better if you take time to gather your thoughts and meet in a less emotionally heightened state.

Many biases and myths exist about eating disorders and it is imperative to educate yourself. That said, please recognize that you don’t need to know everything about eating disorders to have this conversation with your adolescent. A reliable source and place to start is our Eating Disorders We Treat or Eating Disorder Facts pages.

There is a chance that your loved one may dismiss your concerns and/or have ardent reasons for their behaviors. They may not see this as a problem or a struggle. Alternatively, your child may feel relief in feeling seen and heard in their experience. Simply put, reactions can vary. It can be very unnerving for your loved one to have the eating disorder openly talked about. They will likely need ongoing conversations.

Eating disorders are highly complex and serious illnesses that are often accompanied by intense feelings of shame and inadequacy. While you may naturally feel concerned about the outward symptoms (bingeing, restriction, purging, etc.), focusing too intently on these behaviors can reinforce core disordered beliefs, such as “There is something wrong with me,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m bad.” This is not to say that these behaviors should be ignored. The outward symptoms of the eating disorder need intervention and monitoring by professionals — doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, and registered dietitians — as they have profound and serious effects on the mind and body.

Your struggling loved one needs to know you are taking the eating disorder seriously. If your child isn’t ready to accept your concerns, one way to explain what you are witnessing is by sharing that they appear to have less energy, focus, joy, or time for the things they once loved. Let them know your care for them extends deeper than their outward symptoms, to their internal experience. Your child needs to hear that you care about them as a person and that you intend to get them connected to help.

If your loved one doesn’t engage with you, let them know you will give them some time to think about what you’ve shared and that you will revisit the conversation with them within a specific timeframe. Consider waiting no more than a couple of days, even if your child downplays what is occurring. Often in the intense experience of the eating disorder, your loved one may desperately attempt to convince you (and themselves) that everything is fine. Stick to your message. Assure them that they matter to you and give them options for how they can continue the conversation (text, email, or in person) after they have had time to think.

Here are some conversation starters:

  • “I have noticed that you are having a hard time with eating. You often tell me you’ve already eaten when it’s time for a meal.”
  • “I have heard you talk very negatively about yourself and your body.”
  • “I have noticed that you are limiting the foods that you eat.”
  • “I have noticed that you talk about eating only a certain number of calories and don’t allow yourself much flexibility to eat with your friends or family.”
  • “I remember when you wanted to learn more about nutrition, and I’ve noticed that over time it seems that making food/exercise choices has become very stressful.”
  • “It seems like we continue to fight over what food is in the house and how we prepare it.”

Follow up with:

  • “I care about you so much and am concerned.”
  • “Can you tell me what it’s been like for you?”
  • “What do you think about what I’ve said?”
  • “I’d like to hear from you and learn what’s been on your mind.”
  • “What have the last several months been like for you?”

Now listen and thank them for confiding in you.

Find other tips in the For Families section of our website.

I am concerned my child will not participate in the intake appointment, but I know they need help. How will you handle this?

Our trained professional intake therapists will treat your child with kindness and respect and work to make you and your child comfortable.

It can be helpful to keep in mind that an eating disorder impacts a person’s energy level, mood, focus, and thoughts. You likely have experienced the ups and downs of your child’s struggle. We value your input and perspective. We know that this experience affects your whole family system and can cause chaos and uncertainty. We are here to assist your child in their growth and healing and help your family through this difficult time.

Are there recommended support groups, websites, or books to help me make sense of what I’m experiencing?

We encourage you to seek support — the experience of an eating disorder may leave you feeling frightened, powerless, and overwhelmed.

You will receive educational materials when you start treatment for anorexia with The Emily Program.

The Emily Program also offers a blog and hosts the Peace Meal podcast to share knowledge, stories of recovery, and the latest happenings at The Emily Program.


National Alliance for Eating Disorders – A national non-profit organization providing referrals, education, and support for all eating disorders. The Alliance hosts free virtual therapist-led support groups (e.g., pro-recovery, larger bodied individuals, and LGBTQ+ groups)and has a national, interactive database for finding eating disorder care.

The National Alliance for Eating Disorders also has a free therapist-led virtual support group for Friends & Family. You can join and participate as much or as little as you need — listening is OK too.

F.E.A.S.T. – Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment for Eating Disorders – A global community offering support, education, and empowerment to families of people affected by eating disorders

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) – This is a non-profit organization devoted to preventing eating disorders, providing treatment referrals, and increasing education and understanding of eating disorders, weight, and body image.

ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) – Anational non-profit organization that provides free peer support services to anyone struggling with an eating disorder.

Project HEAL – A national non-profit organization focused on equitable treatment access for those with eating disorders needing treatment


When Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder: Practical Strategies to Help Your Teen Recover from Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating
By Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD

Overcoming Binge Eating: The Proven Program to Learn Why You Binge and How You Can Stop – 2nd Edition
By Dr. Christopher G. Fairburn

Help Your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder – 2nd Edition
By James Lock, MD, PhD, Daniel Le Grange, PhD

How to Nourish Your Child Through an Eating Disorder: A Simple, Plate-by-Plate Approach to Rebuilding a Healthy Relationship with Food
By Casey Crosbie, RD, CEDRD, CSSD, Wendy Sterling, MS, RD, CSSD, CEDRD-S

Autism and Eating Disorders in Teens
By Fiona Fisher Bullivant, Sharleen Woods, MSc, PgDip, RD

Skills-based Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: The New Maudsley Method – 2nd Edition
By Janet Treasure, OBE, PhD, FRCP, FRCPsych, Grainne Smith, Anna Crane, PhD

Survive FBT (Family Based Treatment): Skills Manual for Parents Undertaking Family Based Treatment (FBT) for Child and Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa
By Maria Ganci

Off the C.U.F.F.: A Parent Skills Book for the Management of Disordered Eating
By Dr. Nancy L. Zucker, PhD

Throwing Starfish Across the Sea: A Pocket-Sized Care Package for the Parents of Someone with an Eating Disorder
By Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, MS, Charlotte Bevan

Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia
By Harriet Brown

Telling ED No!: And Other Practical Tools to Conquer Your Eating Disorder and Find Freedom
By Cheryl Kerrigan, PNP, Thom Rutledge, LCSW

Life Without ED – 10th Edition: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too
By Jenni Schaefer

Goodbye ED, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life
By Jenni Schaefer

See our Eating Disorder Books and Resources for Families pages for more.

Ask for help. You are not alone. Begin your journey to recovery today.

Get help. Find hope.