Identifying fundamental criteria for eating disorder recovery: a systematic review and qualitative meta-analysis

J Eat Disord. 2017 Nov 1;5:34. doi: 10.1186/s40337-017-0164-0. eCollection 2017.


Background: Outcome studies for eating disorders regularly measure pathology change or remission as the only outcome. Researchers, patients and recovered individuals highlight the importance of using additional criteria for measuring eating disorder recovery. There is no clear consensus on which additional criteria are most fundamental. Studies focusing on the perspectives of recovered patients show criteria which are closely related to dimensions of positive functioning as conceptualized in the complete mental health model. The aim of this study was to identify fundamental criteria for eating disorder recovery according to recovered individuals.

Methods: A systematic review and a qualitative meta-analytic approach were used. Eighteen studies with recovered individuals and meeting various quality criteria were included. The result sections of the included papers were searched for themes that were stated as criteria for recovery or 'being recovered'. All themes were analyzed using a meta-summary technique. Themes were labeled into criteria for recovery and the frequency of the found criteria was examined.

Results: In addition to the remission of eating disorder pathology, dimensions of psychological well-being and self-adaptability/resilience were found to be fundamental criteria for eating disorder recovery. The most frequently mentioned criteria were: self-acceptance, positive relationships, personal growth, decrease in eating disorder behavior/cognitions, self-adaptability/resilience and autonomy.

Conclusions: People who have recovered rate psychological well-being as a central criterion for ED recovery in addition to the remission of eating disorder symptoms. Supplementary criteria, besides symptom remission, are needed to measure recovery. We recommend including measurements of psychological well-being and self-adaptability/resilience in future research, such as outcome studies and in routine outcome measurement.

Keywords: Eating disorders; Meta-analysis; Positive mental health; Positive psychology; Psychological well-being; Psychopathology; Qualitative research; Recovery; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review