Quality of life as a vulnerability and recovery factor in eating disorders: A community-based study

Deborah Mitchison*, Lisa Dawson, Lucy Hand, Jonathan Mond, Phillipa Hay

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Emerging evidence suggests that changes in quality of life (QoL) predicts later changes in eating disorder (ED) symptoms. The objective of this study was to explore individual sufferers' perspectives on the influence of QoL on the onset, maintenance, and/or remission of ED symptoms. Method: 19 women from the community with a history of eating disorders (n = 13 currently symptomatic; n = 6 recovered) were interviewed about their observations on the relationship between QoL and ED symptoms over time in their own lives. Interviews were audio-taped and transcribed, and then thematically analysed. Results: Thematic analysis uncovered two major themes: 1. QoL as a Vulnerability Factor, and 2. QoL as a Recovery Factor. In relation to the first theme, onset of ED symptoms was discussed by women in this study as having been triggered by impairment in QoL, including a general sense of lacking control in life, stress, abusive intimate relationships, poor role modelling from family, physical impairment related to obesity, peer pressure, and weight-related teasing. On the other hand, and in relation to the second theme, subsequent improvement in QoL was nominated as central to symptom improvement and recovery. QoL improvement was described by participants differently, but included increased general satisfaction in life, emotional maturation, prioritising and improving physical health, the development of a supportive intimate relationship and social relationships, and having children. Conclusions: Impairment in QoL may act as a trigger for the onset and maintenance of ED symptoms, whereas improvement in QoL may be central to eating disorder improvement and eventual recovery. Treatment should involve consideration of a core focus on QoL improvement as a potential 'backdoor' approach to improving ED symptoms.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number328
    JournalBMC Psychiatry
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2016


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