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Understanding women's experiences of developing an eating disorder and recovering: a life-history approach

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PATCHING J and LAWLER J. Nursing Inquiry 2009; 16: 10–21

Understanding women's experiences of developing an eating disorder and recovering: a life-history approach

Qualitative inquiry into eating disorders is burgeoning, offering valuable and innovative insights into various aspects of the condition. This study used life-history interviews with 20 women who had recovered from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or both and who had remained healthy. The interviews focused on the women's narratives and experience rather than a diagnostic therapeutic model. Three themes of control, connectedness and conflict emerged as significant in the development, experience of, and recovery from an eating disorder. The development of the condition was attributed to a lack of control, a sense of non-connectedness to family and peers and extreme conflict with significant others. Recovery occurred when the women re-engaged with life, developed skills necessary for conflict resolution and rediscovered their sense of self. Rather than viewing the development of, and recovery from an eating disorder as separate and discrete events, the data from the life-history interviews suggest they are better viewed as one entity — that is, the journey of an individual attempting to discover and develop their sense of self. This perspective challenges some current constructs of eating disorders; it is not a condition in and of itself but a symptom of deeper issues that if addressed, when the individual is ‘ready’ to make that choice, will lead to recovery.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa; control; life history; recovery

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-1800.2009.00436.x

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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