Can You Prevent Anorexia?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on September 11, 2020

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

Detecting Anorexia Early

Before your loved one develops anorexia, they 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 them from getting worse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be their role model. Eat and exercise in positive ways. They need to see you practice strong habits. They could inspire them to follow your lead.

Show Sources


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

National Eating Disorders Association.

NEDIC: “Prevention of Eating Disorders.”

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