Family experiences of living with an eating disorder: a narrative analysis

Families are considered important in the management and treatment of eating disorders. Yet, rarely has research focused on family experiences of living with an eating disorder. Addressing this gap, this study explores the experiences of an elite 21-year-old triathlete with an eating disorder in conjunction with the experiences of her parents. Family members attended interviews individually on three separate occasions over the course of a year. In line with the narrative approach adopted, whereby stories are considered the primary means to construct experience, interviews encouraged storytelling through an open-ended, participant-led structure. Narrative analysis involved repeated readings of the transcripts, sensitising towards issues of narrative content (key themes) and structure (overarching plot). Family difficulties arose when personal experiences strayed from culturally dominant narrative forms and when family members held contrasting narrative preferences. Suggestions are forwarded as to how an appreciation of eating disorder illness narratives might inform treatment and support.