Living with anorexia nervosa: the experience of a cohort of sufferers from anorexia nervosa 7.5 years after initial presentation to a specialized eating disorders service

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Abstract:

Objective

The main aim of the present study was to further understand how sufferers from anorexia nervosa view the disorder, how it affects their lives and how they experience treatment and help.

Method

A cohort of anorectic patients were followed up 7.5 years after presentation at a specialist locally-based eating disorders service for adults. All subjects were invited to take part in a semi-structured interview and complete a series of questionnaires.

Results

Thirty-six subjects were interviewed and the group as a whole showed marked improvement compared with initial presentation, but only 14 per cent were judged to be free of the disorder and about one-quarter remained entrenched in the world of anorexia nervosa. The main results focus on common themes which emerged from the interview and extensive quotes from subjects are used for illustrative purposes. Although each person expressed a very individual experience of the disorder, a common theme was of it emerging as a response to a sense of loss of control in one or more areas of their lives, often centering on their self-image and problems in relationships with others. Although the disorder was commonly experienced as having a devastating effect on their lives, the focus on weight and eating at least offered them some semblance of control. A wide range of experiences of treatment were reported, but there was considerable consensus regarding the importance of individual psychotherapy/counselling and of the quality of relationship with a therapist.

Discussion

This study confirms the often long-term psychological problems experienced by sufferers from anorexia nervosa and helps to illuminate the client's perspective on the disorder and other people's attempts to help. The individual views of the sufferer are an important consideration for those involved in the planning and delivery of services for these vulnerable people. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; illness perception; outcome; quality of life

Document Type: Miscellaneous

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/erv.400

Affiliations: Eating Disorders Service, Leicestershire and Rutland Healthcare NHS Trust and Department of Psychiatry, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

Publication date: March 1, 2001

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