ANOREXIA NERVOSA – Going to University or College can be a Trigger

Most parents fear the word “Anorexia”, as most of us know that it is a serious mental health condition which, if not taken seriously, can have fatal consequences. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of the food related mental illnesses. As a clinical hypnotherapist and child behavioural specialist I have been treating children, teens and young adults with anorexia for many years.

One of my ex clients, Amelia Watson from Berkshire has given me permission to chat with her about her condition which she is now in recovery from. Amelia was 17 when she first came to see me.

E: Amelia, what age were you when you first realised you needed help?

A: I guess I was around 14 when my parents noticed that I was extremely thin and exercising madly!

E: ….and how long were you struggling with the disorder …the anorexia?

A: For around eight years!

E: Have you any idea what caused you to start restricting your food?

A: I have no idea! Both my parents loved me, and I have two brothers who I get on really well with – apart from the normal sibling rivalry! I wasn’t abused in any way, and I was doing well at school. My mum wasn’t one of these mums that is always on a diet either in fact we all used to eat really healthily as a family.

E: Did you struggle with any other anxieties at all?

A: No, I was just a normal, friendly person with quite a few friends, both male and female, if anything I was over – confident and didn’t really suffer with low self-esteem. I think probably I started off eating less because all my friends were fairly slim and a lot of them were doing diets but it was when I started my GCSE’s that the illness really took hold and lost more and more weight! I remember my mum taking me to the doctor and he just looked over his glasses and said: “she’ll grow out of it – it’s a phase!” and mum was really angry! I managed to get through my GCSE’s and passed most of them with good grades and then did my two A levels and did well with those. Going off to Uni was a struggle. Mum phoned me virtually every day to check I was eating and most of the time I wasn’t! That’s when the anorexia really took control – I ended up being sent home and my parents put me in a private clinic. My weight was so low I could hardly walk, and I had a feeding tube put in which I absolutely hated! When I think about it now, I can’t believe how bad I had let it all get! We always think we can just cope – we can eat just enough so that we can live but it never stops there – I’ve learnt that now!

E: How long did it take for you to think you were “cured”?

A: Oh, I don’t think any anorexics are ever “cured” completely are they? It’s a bit like an alcoholic or a drug addict – all it needs is a trigger and you can be back there!

E: So, Amelia, what happened about Uni? I know you were back at Uni when we had around six sessions on zoom weren’t you?

A: Yes, I went back to Uni once I had recovered and my weight was back to a more normal and stable level and I had kept to that for six months with no problems. That’s when my mum got in touch with you for the hypnotherapy – if you remember I felt very angry (more at myself really) because I had missed out on quite a lot but to be honest, I was just happy to be still alive. I feel very guilty about what I put my family through. My mum and dad had to re-mortgage the house to pay for the private clinic and of course that makes me feel bad, but it also helps me because I kinda think I HAVE to stay well to show them how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me.

E: Anorexia really does affect the whole family doesn’t it?

A: Yes, it affected one of my brothers – he went off the rails for a bit and he said at one time that he felt neglected by our parents because naturally all the attention went to me! I do feel guilty about that too, but I have had a lot of counselling now and I have learnt how to deal with my feelings.

 E: There are so many myths about Anorexia Nervosa do you think you could tell us a few of them?

A: Yes of course, there are loads, but these are some of the more common ones;

  • “Anorexia is all about strict food restriction or avoiding food altogether.”

However, normally the reason for these restrictive behaviours is all about control and perfectionism. A person (child, teen or adult) may feel that they cannot control certain areas of their life, but they CAN control how much they do or don’t eat.

  • “You have to be excessively thin to be anorexic.”

Actually, this is not true because some people of a “normal” weight can still be diagnosed with anorexia. Weight is not the only criteria for a diagnosis of Anorexia. A diagnosis will comprise of: relating self- esteem and self- worth to their weight and body shape – reluctance to gain weight – restricted eating and calories counting – obsession with exercise.

  • “Males don’t suffer with anorexia”

Although Anorexia is usually related to females, and it is often thought that men don’t suffer with this disease, around 15% of men suffer with it! Boys and men who have anorexia nervosa usually present in a different way to females – they suffer more from body dysmorphia and wanting to be lean and muscular, rather than thin. Males are just as likely to suffer from all the pressures of academic, professional, social and personal expectations as females.

  • “Anorexia is just an attention seeking ploy”

In our western countries, thinness is quite often looked at as glamourous, fashionable, attractive and basically a very positive quality. Therefore, some people may think that the youngster is trying to be thin to seek praise and attention both from peers and friends. The truth is, Anorexia is a very debilitating disease and psychiatric condition which requires a lot of serious attention.

  • “You can’t die from anorexia”

This is totally false. I know because I did nearly die from it! Anorexia nervosa has a very high death risk.

(We have all mostly heard or know of the story of Karen Carpenter, the famous singer who died many years ago from years of struggling with this disease.) If the body does not get the correct nutrition, the major organs will not sustain life. It’s as simple as that. The heart, the brain, the lungs will all be compromised and if the anorexic person is also obsessed with exercise this will put added stress on to the heart and the muscle will die.

E: Thanks for talking to us Amelia and I know all the readers will wish you all the best for the future!

A: Thanks Elaine and thank YOU for helping me get back on my feet mentally when I came out of the clinic and went back to Uni and rebuilt my self- esteem!

After talking to Amelia, and talking about University etc… it made me think of all the youngsters who have gone through such a traumatic time because of a) Lockdown/Covid and b) the unfair marking of exams system that occurred recently. These youngsters will be feeling totally out of control, very angry and anxious. Do watch out for any signs that your child or family member may be struggling.

The signs and symptoms that your child/teen/family member may be struggling with anorexia.   

Physical Symptoms

  • Severe weight loss
  • Unable to sleep
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Moody
  • Angry
  • Low blood pressure
  • Inability to focus
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Tummy pains
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Hair growth of fine hairs all over body
  • Feeling cold

Behaviour changes:

  • Excessive calorie counting
  • Body dysmorphia (distorted vision of one’s body)
  • Fear of getting fat
  • Fear of putting on weight
  • Missing meals
  • Avoiding eating in front or with others
  • Cutting food into small pieces and moving it around the plate
  • Putting food into a tissue
  • Nibbling food instead of eating properly
  • Obsessive rituals around food and eating
  • Spilling food on the floor or the table
  • Excessive exercise
  • Cutting themselves off – isolating themselves.

What therapy is available for patients with Anorexia Nervosa?

These days there are several different avenues of help for Anorexics such as initially going to the GP (if you are in the UK) and getting a referral to CAMHS where the child or teen will be seen by a Psychiatrist and then they will be referred to an eating clinic if there weight is too low.

CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is very good, as is family therapy.

If the situation is severe, an inpatient admission may be required.

However, I would strongly suggest that AS SOON AS you realise your youngster has a problem – you must find someone who will talk to them about their self – esteem, low confidence and anxieties. In this way you may be able to prevent the problem from escalating. If you are in doubt please contact me at

I have treated many children and teens with anorexia and other serious eating disorders.

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