A recent study on life satisfaction (LS) among individuals with eating disorders (EDs) revealed the surprising truth about how eating disorders affect one’s outlook on life, plus uncovered new implications for ED treatment and care.
What is Life Satisfaction?
Life satisfaction (LS) was famously defined by Ruut Veenhoven, a Dutch sociologist and authority on the scientific study of happiness, as “the degree to which a person positively evaluates the overall quality of his/her life as a whole. In other words, how much the person likes the life he/she leads” .
Low (or negative) levels of life satisfaction (LS) has been directly linked to a number of health issues like arthritis, diabetes, asthma, obesity, heart disease, anxiety, and depression, while higher levels of LS are related to positive and successful life adaptation .
While numerous studies have examined individuals with eating disorders–from genetic influences and treatment outcomes to social interactions–very little research has focused on life satisfaction (LS) among individuals with eating disorders. In October 2020, a group of researchers from West Virginia University School of Public Health changed that by publishing a study entitled “Life satisfaction among a clinical eating disorder population” .
LS has been found to significantly affect an individual’s health (both mental and physical). Researchers realized that neglecting the area of life satisfaction among individuals with eating disorders may not only be a barrier to effective ED treatment and care but may also facilitate future relapses among ED patients. So the group set to work to better understand how life satisfaction may affect individuals with eating disorders.
The study was conducted via an online questionnaire and involved sixty participants–all of whom had a clinically diagnosed eating disorder. The study’s primary goal was to uncover and assess the life satisfaction (LS) of individuals with eating disorders. In addition to assessing the patients’ LS, the researchers also analyzed the connection between life satisfaction and ED history (both family and personal), the severity of their symptoms, and other personal variables like anthropometric and demographic factors.
The researchers discovered that life satisfaction among ED patients was significantly lower than the average population, with the participants’ mean LS score being only 3.7 compared to the general English population’s LS score of 23.0 (for men) and 23.7 (for women).
They also discovered that life satisfaction was positively associated with private insurance and a past eating disorder diagnosis. In other words, those participants who 1) have private insurance and 2) had a past ED were more satisfied with their life than other participants.
One possible explanation for this finding is that individuals with private insurance have access to more treatment options and are better equipped to meet their needs than those without private insurance. Additionally, the researchers suggested that participants with a past ED diagnosis may have greater self-awareness about their illness, be better equipped to recognize relapses, and may be more willing to seek professional help instead of resisting treatment, thus accounting for their higher LS score.
The researchers concluded that instead of only focusing on reducing eating disorder symptoms, ED treatment should also focus on increasing LS among patients. They suggest that even small improvements (e.g., improving self-acceptance and relationships with others) may work to increase life satisfaction, reduce depression and anxiety, and better support long-term ED recovery.
References: Veenhoven, R. (1996). The study of life satisfaction. In W. E. Saris, R. Veenhoven, A. C. Scherpenzeel, & B. Bunting (Eds.) A Comparative Study of Satisfaction with Life in Europe (pp. 11-48). Budapest, Hungary: Eötvös University Press.  Claydon, E.A., DeFazio, C., Lilly, C.L. et al. Life satisfaction among a clinical eating disorder population. J Eat Disord 8, 53 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-020-00326-z.  ibid.
About the Author:
Sarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.
Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published November 4, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 4, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC