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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Can you prevent anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a complex eating disorder, developing from a mixture of factors rooted in someone’s physical and mental health as well as their environment and medical history. It’s the reason why AN can be challenging to treat and, likewise, unfortunately, why there’s no known way to prevent anorexia nervosa.1

Without a primary prevention method, the focus generally shifts to early detection and swift interventions meant not to help prevent anorexia, per se, but to prevent the disease from inflicting serious damage on someone’s mental, physical, and emotional health.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
April 26, 2024
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In this article

How to prevent anorexia complications

Rather than asking, "How can you prevent anorexia nervosa?" you may be better off asking how to prevent the condition from getting worse.

Finding appropriate treatment is essential. If you or a loved one is struggling with AN or another eating disorder, it's imperative to speak with a trusted healthcare professional for advice on the next best steps, including recommendations for any treatment programs.

But there are some ways you can work toward preventing anorexia symptoms from getting worse on your own.

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Focus on a balanced diet

Many people who struggle with anorexia nervosa have a very low body weight and need to work on healthy weight restoration when healing from the disorder.2 Regardless of where you are on your recovery journey, focusing on creating balanced and sustainable eating habits that work for you can be helpful.

Once again, the numerous individual variables in play have made it difficult for researchers to develop a standardized treatment option.2 This is another reason why working with healthcare professionals is so important. A nutritional counselor will help you further understand your particular needs when it comes to diet adjustments. In the cases of extreme anorexia nervosa, refeeding may need to be guided by professionals to prevent dangerous and potentially deadly complications.2

Still, in general, it's best to aim for a diet that incorporates sources of energy, including carbohydrates, protein, and fats, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. To help make this sustainable, it's a good idea to work on getting these micro- and macro-nutrients from common and accessible foods.3

Pursue social activities you’re passionate about

Improving eating habits is essential for preventing the worst of the physical damage AN can cause, but the condition is, at its core, a mental health disorder. To help prevent anorexia's detrimental impact on mental health, including its connection to self-isolation and, in many cases, depression, it may be helpful to take a more social approach.

Pursuing interests and hobbies that align with your interests and goals and that you're passionate about can be a great way to redirect focus from your outward appearance toward more internal measures of happiness and success. This concept is at the core of acceptance commitment therapy (ACT), a type of treatment commonly recommended for those struggling with eating disorders.4

The general idea is that eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, are driven, in part, by an outsized focus on food, eating, and body image, which can have an adverse effect on self-esteem. Instead, focusing on things that feel good and instilling a sense of personal accomplishment can help rebuild that self-esteem and utilize that energy more appropriately.4

Make an appointment with a mental health professional

No matter what point you're at in recovery—even if you've yet to enter into an official treatment program—it's always helpful to check in with a mental health professional.

Whether it's a therapist, psychiatrist, or nutritional counselor, these experts are all generally well-versed in eating disorders. They may be able to offer helpful advice on how to prevent anorexia symptoms from spiraling, how to recover from a relapse, or how to generally maintain a positive body image and stay in a positive mindset.

Many people continue a relationship with a therapist or other mental health professionals, even long after achieving recovery, to help them stay accountable to their healthier lifestyle and give them an outlet to discuss any potential concerns or triggering events.

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Get your loved ones involved

Another way to help prevent anorexia symptoms from getting worse is to work on building a home environment that's conducive to healing and positivity. This can be done in several ways, including helping parents, siblings, and other household members learn about new attitudes around food, weight, exercise, and appearance.1

For some people, family-based therapy may be a helpful way to achieve this goal. The therapeutic method involves other household members in therapy sessions, and the group works together with a therapist to learn how to best help the person with an eating disorder achieve recovery. This method is also one of the most recommended types of treatment for people struggling with AN, especially younger people with the condition.5

But even short of going to therapy, friends and family members can step up by taking the time to learn more about anorexia nervosa, including different symptoms, risk factors, and causes of the disorder. This can help them better understand what someone is going through, encourage sympathy and patience, and help give them ideas on how to best help someone through recovery.

Practice self-care and self-love

With something as personally and profoundly impactful as anorexia nervosa, it may not be possible to fully treat mental health problems without self-care.

Indeed, learning how to better love and accept yourself is the goal of many types of eating disorder treatment. Often, this takes time and practice, but building a more loving and healthy relationship with yourself and the food that nourishes you is possible.

You may enjoy pampering yourself by buying clothes that look and feel good on your body just as it is or by participating in movement that feels joyful to your body. You can create a more peaceful and restful routine by journaling, getting into a healthy sleeping rhythm, or practicing daily positive affirmations. And you can combat self-isolating tendencies by making more time to meet friends for coffee or participate in other activities.

Self-care is a very personal journey, but it's also important to ensure that the goals you set are attainable.6 There's no race or rush to reach a certain point in recovery. All you can do is try your best each day and know that you'll have another chance to try your best tomorrow.

Finding help for anorexia nervosa

Sadly, there's no way to prevent eating disorders. However, many options exist for stopping these harmful conditions before they cause irreversible damage.

Treatment for anorexia nervosa can help prevent physical symptoms from getting worse and mental complications from spiraling. Your primary care physician, therapist, or another medical professional can help you secure an official eating disorder diagnosis, which is often the first step toward entering a treatment program, or otherwise help you determine your next best steps.

At Within, our team of experts comes from multidisciplinary backgrounds and will address the many physical, mental, emotional, and environmental factors that cause anorexia nervosa. They use their diverse knowledge to create individual treatment plans for each patient based on specific needs and medical history.

Regardless of where you look, however, the most important step is looking. It's often the first step you'll take on the road to a happier and healthier future.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Anorexia nervosa. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed January 2024.
  2. Marzola, E., Nasser, J. A., Hashim, S. A., Shih, P. A., & Kaye, W. H. (2013). Nutritional rehabilitation in anorexia nervosa: review of the literature and implications for treatment. BMC Psychiatry, 13, 290.
  3. Robertson, M. (n.d.). Nutrition in Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa. The Victorian Centre of Excellence in Eating Disorders. Accessed January 2024.
  4. Fogelkvist, M., Gustaffson, S.A., Kjellin, L., Parling, T. (2020). Acceptance and commitment therapy to reduce eating disorder symptoms and body image problems in patients with residual eating disorder symptoms: A randomized controlled trial. Body Image, 32, 155-166.
  5. Gorrell, S., Loeb, K. L., & Le Grange, D. (2019). Family-based Treatment of Eating Disorders: A Narrative Review. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 42(2), 193–204.
  6. Shepherd, M. (2018, August 6). Self-Care: Sitting with Discomfort. National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed January 2024.


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Further reading

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