“I am more than my history”
: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis exploring women’s experiences & definitions of full recovery from Anorexia Nervosa

  • Charlotte Chambury Greenlees

Student thesis: PsychD


Anorexia Nervosa (Anorexia) is a complex, life-threatening mental health condition primarily affecting females (Alwithy,2017). The process of recovery from Anorexia is challenging and lacks clarity, with limited qualitative research focusing on the concept of "full recovery". A tension exists between the dominant medical model of recovery, which defines it as the absence of symptoms and return to normal functioning (Roberts &Wolfson, 2004), and the recovery model, which views recovery as a personal journey allowing for symptom presence and the pursuit of a meaningful life (Anthony, 1993). Previous recovery research has predominantly used quantitative measures within a medical model framework (Stockford et al., 2019). In this study, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was employed to interview eight women who self-reported as fully recovered from Anorexia. Their experiences and definitions of full recovery were examined, leading to the identification of three overarching themes and six subthemes. The group experiential theme ‘full recovery as a journey of growth’ captures the necessity and importance of time in facilitating growth in confidence, trust and safety, and women’s experiences of the impact of hope and hopelessness as they navigated full recovery from Anorexia. The group experiential theme ‘new narratives of survival & identity’ captures the insight and awareness gained into the development and function of Anorexia, allowing women to reclaim control over their experiences and honour their history and survival. Within these new narratives, women are seen to renegotiate their relationship to Anorexia, reauthoring their experiences of residual symptoms into helpful reminders of their full recovery. Lastly ‘freedom in full recovery as liberation from Anorexia’ captures women’s experiences of liberation from the constraints of Anorexia, including the reduced preoccupation with food and weight and the growing acceptance of body dissatisfaction in full recovery. In their freedom, these women were seen to embrace the ‘gifts’ gained from Anorexia, re-evaluating their life values and regaining the power to make the informed choice to live a meaningful life free from Anorexia. These findings were discussed in the context of Tedeschi and Calhoun's theory of Post Traumatic Growth (1996, 2004) and evaluated against Khalsa et al.'s (2017) standardised definition of full recovery from Anorexia. Importantly, this research provides hope for the feasibility of full recovery and challenges a dominant medical model perspective. The findings here provide a holistic understanding of full recovery from Anorexia, encouraging a broader view of treatment goals beyond objective measures and symptom remission.
Date of Award12 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorSavin Bapir-Tardy (Director of Studies) & Anna Seymour (Co-Supervisor)


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA)
  • Women
  • full recovery

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