“Your mind doesn’t have room for anything else”: a qualitative study of perceptions of cognitive functioning during and after recovery from anorexia nervosa

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Abstract

Background
Past research has indicated the presence of cognitive difficulties in individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN), although it is unclear how these are experienced in real life. Moreover, it is unclear how and whether the experience of cognitive difficulties changes in nature and intensity over the course of the illness and following recovery.

Methods
Twenty-one female participants (AN = 11; recovered AN = 10) participated in online semi-structured interviews, utilising open-ended questions and exploring topics relating to their experiences of their cognitive function, changes over time and their perspectives on the future. Reflexive thematic analysis was conducted on the resulting transcripts.

Results
Six themes were identified, centred around the effects of the illness on mental and physical function, cognition, adaptation to living with the illness, similarities between AN and other psychopathology, tentative optimism for the future and recovery as a representation of liberation. Whilst respondents with AN appeared to perform remarkably well in their professional and educational lives, the cognitive difficulties were described as significantly impacting their ability to engage in life, particularly in the context of leisure and socialising. Respondents recovered from AN noted the importance of developing a non-AN identity as well as better emotion-regulation skills as central to recovery.
Original languageEnglish
Article number201
JournalJournal of Eating Disorders
Volume10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2022

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