Causes and recovery in anorexia nervosa: the patient's perspective

Int J Eat Disord. 2003 Mar;33(2):143-54. doi: 10.1002/eat.10120.


Objective: We explored anorexic patients' subjective accounts of the causes of their anorexia and of the factors that fostered recovery. Subjective accounts could assist in understanding this complicated and often intractable disorder.

Method: All female new referrals to an eating disorders service underwent extensive interviews including open-ended questions about their beliefs concerning the causes of their anorexia nervosa and factors that led to recovery. Responses were categorized by two independent raters.

Results: The most commonly mentioned perceived causes were dysfunctional families, weight loss and dieting, and stressful experiences and perceived pressure. The three most commonly cited factors contributing to recovery were supportive nonfamilial relationships, therapy, and maturation.

Discussion: Individuals with anorexia nervosa perceive both external (family environment) and personal factors (dieting and stress) as contributory to their disorders. The results underscore the importance of interpersonal factors in recovery from anorexia nervosa and suggest that attention to this area in treatment may be beneficial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / etiology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / therapy*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology