Eating disorders: Health is more than the Absence of Dysfunction




When it comes to eating disorders, health is more than the absence of dysfunction – it’s about a general sense of well-being according to Science of Eating Disorders.


Sufferers of eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating find themselves being ruled by their condition, which severely compromises their social interactions and their mental health.


Eating disorders research focuses on the quality of life of patients looking at how happy they are with their bodies and if they have positive feelings about themselves.


A new assessment model


Carol Ryff from the University of Wisconsin developed a new assessment model for eating disorders that takes a more holistic approach when dealing with a patient. The model works on six different dimensions:



  • self-acceptance (positive self-evaluation)

  • a sense of continued growth and development

  • a sense of purpose and meaning in life

  • a sense of self-determination and autonomy

  • possession of quality relationships with others

  • ability to manage life effectively (‘environmental mastery’)


Ryff gave a self-assessment questionnaire to 321 men and women using the six dimensions and found that social aspects like relating to others were unrepresented in previous studies.


Definition of psychological well-being


Factors like difficulties in living and general happiness must be looked at in more depth. Positive psychology functioning brings together mental health and quality of life studies. Psychological well-being is defined as the ability to cope with life’s challenges. Psychological well-being is not polar opposite to dysfunction as each corresponds to different modes of being.


Well-being for eating disorder patients


Another study looked at psychological well-being of eating disorders patients suffering from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. The 2013 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders lead by E. Tomba looked at 245 cases plus a control group of 60. The case studies were assessed on the satisfaction with their body image.


The main differences in the results of the study across eating disorder patients compared to the control group clustered around these four dimensions:


  • Autonomy

  • Environmental mastery

  • Positive relationships with others

  • Self-acceptance


Psychological factors like “feeling in control” that anorexic patients have about their food intake may contribute to them scoring themselves higher in self-acceptance than binge eaters. Anorexic patients may also associate their thinness with desirability.








 Words by Paola Bassanese