The anorexia nervosa experience: Shame, Solitude and Salvation

Rance, Nicola; Clarke, Victoria and Moller, Naomi (2017). The anorexia nervosa experience: Shame, Solitude and Salvation. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 17(2) pp. 127–136.



Aim: Women with anorexia are often perceived very negatively – for example, as manipulative and deceitful – both by the wider society and treatment providers. In this context, it is important for practitioners to understand the experience of living with this illness, but there is very little empirical research focused on the everyday phenomenology of anorexia. This study aimed to expand this limited literature by ‘giving voice’ to the lived experience of women with anorexia.

Method: A purposive sample of 12 women – 11 with a formal diagnosis of AN as a result of NHS treatment and 1 with a long behavioural history of dietary restriction who had received private treatment – who saw themselves as recovered, or in recovery, from anorexia nervosa participated in semi-structured interviews. The women were asked about the history of their eating disorder, their understandings of its cause and experiences of seeking help and treatment.

Results: The data were analysed with thematic analysis and three themes identified – Shame, Solitude and Salvation – which, when taken together, describe the dual role of anorexia nervosa as both problem and solution, the cyclical nature of sufferers’ behaviours and feelings, and the way in which anorexia nervosa is a form of distress that can make its sufferers feel better as well as worse.

Conclusions: Further light is shed on the ambivalence about recovery, and resistance to treatment, that are frequently experienced by sufferers. Implications of these findings for those who work with eating disorders clients are discussed.

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