Can You Prevent Anorexia?

If you know someone with anorexia, you may wonder if you could have prevented it. The simple answer is probably not. Doctors don’t know what causes anorexia or how to stop someone from getting it.

What they do know is when someone has it, they don’t eat enough food because they’re often trying to be perfect by being thin. They develop symptoms that make them sick and even threaten their life.

Who’s at Risk for Anorexia?

Even though doctors don’t know why someone gets anorexia, they do know what makes one person more likely to have it than another, including:

  • Being female (eating disorders also affect males, but are most common in young women)
  • Higher childhood body mass index (body fat measure based on height and weight)
  • Heredity and genes (eating disorders tend to run in families)
  • An abnormal functioning of brain chemicals and circuits that control hunger and eating
  • Social pressure to be thin
  • Difficulty expressing feelings
  • History of being teased because of weight or size
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Perfectionism, or setting unrealistic standards
  • Unhappiness with body image
  • A lack of social or family support
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression, anxiety, stress, anger, or loneliness
  • Belief that a thinner body is ideal, sometimes because of social standards, such as  pictures in fashion magazines
  • Dieting a lot
  • Social problems in general, including withdrawal
  • A history of psychiatric disorders
  • Premature birth, low birth weight, or being part of a multiple birth

Can I Help Stop Anorexia?

There are many things that you, your friends, family, and teachers can do to help ease the pressures that could lead your loved one developing anorexia, including the following:

  • Tell her being extremely thin isn’t better
  • Put more importance on her personality than her looks
  • Encourage her to be honest about her feelings
  • Build her self-esteem
  • Teach her about the dangers of dieting
  • Let her know that you don’t expect her to be perfect because perfection doesn’t exist

Detecting Anorexia Early

Before your loved one develops anorexia, she will likely start showing warning signs of the eating disorder, such as dramatic weight loss, constantly complaining about being fat, avoiding mealtimes, and excessively exercising. Here are ways you can help her from getting worse:


Get educated. Start by learning about anorexia, especially the differences between the myths and facts.

Talk to her. Discuss your worries with her. And don’t wait until her symptoms become severe. The sooner you talk about it, the sooner she can get help.

Get medical help. Encourage her to see a primary care doctor or a psychiatrist. They can prevent her anorexia from getting worse.

Give her support. Tell her you love her. People with anorexia often have a hard time trusting others. Go out of your way to show her that she can trust you.

Praise and compliment her. Tell her how wonderful she is, and remind her that true beauty comes from inside. It’s good for her to hear that someone thinks she’s great just the way she is.

Build a support network. Share your concerns with other people who care about her. The best thing for both of you is to have support.

Be her role model. Eat and exercise in positive ways. She needs to see you practice strong habits. They could inspire her to follow your lead.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella on September 11, 2020



American Psychiatric Association: “Expert Q&A: Eating Disorders.”

National Eating Disorders Association.

NEDIC: “Prevention of Eating Disorders.”

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