Subjective experience of positive emotions and impact of disordered eating behaviors in individuals with bulimia nervosa

  • Dimitris V. Bekiaris
  • Marsha Koletsi
Keywords: eating disorders, bulimia nervosa, positive emotions


Background: Quantitave research and systematic reviews have long supported the pivotal role of emotions in the development and maintenance of bulimia nervosa (BN). However, few are the qualitative studies examining the relationship between affect and the bulimic cycle.
Aims: The current study aims to gain an in depth understanding of the experienced positive emotions and their interaction with beliefs and behaviors of bulimic individuals. It is focused on the experiences of women in order to achieve sample homogeneity and attempts to explore the perceived positive emotions and their association with different parts of the bulimic cycle, as well as their impact on various aspects of the disorder.
Method: Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 5 women who have been diagnosed with BN and were undergoing treatment for their disorder. Transcripts of the interviews were analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) methods.
Results: Participants interpreted binge eating as a practice to fill the void they felt from the absence of positive emotions and situations. It also served as a transformation technique to concretize these situations into something manageable by them. Self induced vomiting and extreme exercise provided comfort and catharsis as short term results but also instilled faith, hope and optimism for the future. Bulimia as a whole was experienced as a valuable companion and friend, allowing freedom for the true self to emerge and provided a sense of normality to self and others.
Conclusion: Bulimia was conceptualized as the bearer of many positive attributes into bulimic individuals' lives and disordered eating behaviors seemed to play a significant role to the resilience, perpetuation and secretive nature of BN.

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