Anorexia nervosa: friend or foe?

Int J Eat Disord. 1999 Mar;25(2):177-86. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1098-108x(199903)25:2<177::aid-eat7>;2-d.


Objective: The aim of this study was to examine anorexics' attitudes towards anorexia nervosa.

Method: Anorexic patients were asked to write two letters to their anorexia nervosa, one addressing it as a friend and the other addressing it as an enemy. A coding scheme was developed using a "Grounded Theory" methodology to group recurrent themes. The scheme was used independently by three raters: the first author, a rater with extensive experience in eating disorders, and a novice in the field. Use of the coding scheme showed high interrater reliability and comprehensivess.

Results: Commonly expressed benefits of anorexia nervosa included feeling looked after or protected, gaining a sense of control, and feeling special. Perceived costs of the disorder included constant thoughts about food, feeling taken over, and the damage done to personal relationships.

Discussion: The positive themes found in the letters are important indicators of factors which may maintain anorexia nervosa. The use of the letters to examine these factors has important clinical implications which are outlined.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Self Concept
  • Self-Assessment
  • Writing