Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Existential Well-Being in Younger and Older People with Anorexia Nervosa – A Preliminary Investigation

Objective: Previous research suggests that anorexic behaviour may be an attempt to introduce control into a chaotic environment, and that the need for stability and meaning in life is an important factor in the development of psychopathologies. The phenomenon of ‘existential anxiety’ is a characteristic reaction to a lack of meaning in the life of an individual. This preliminary study attempted to identify whether existential concerns are associated with anorexic symptoms. Method: Two groups of women with anorexia (those aged between 18 and 30, and those aged over 30, respectively) were compared to two age-matched comparison groups across four measures: The eating disorder inventory (EDI), the Beck depression inventory (BDI), the anorectic cognition scale and the McGill quality of life existential well-being subscale. Results: Both anorexia groups demonstrated lower existential well-being scores and higher eating psychopathology than their comparison groups. However, while significant relationships between eating disorder symptoms and existential well-being were found in the older anorexia group, no such relationships were found in the younger anorexia group. Discussion: Individuals with symptoms of anorexia nervosa appear to experience lower existential well-being than their non-eating disordered peers, although it is unclear how this may be related to psychopathology. This result may offer some explanation as to why anorexia nervosa is so resistant to treatment efforts.