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Meghan Butcher is a 2019 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee

  • Kathi A. Borden, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Martha Dunn, Psy.D., Committee Member
  • Porter Eagan, Psy.D. Committee Member

Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2019

Abstract

This qualitative study explored the subjective experience of pregnant women in remission from Anorexia Nervosa (AN). This subject matter is of importance due to the high relapse rates of AN, the ability for women to become pregnant while in remission from AN, the significant physical and emotional tolls of pregnancy, and the known dangers of AN behaviors during pregnancy. Prior to this study, minimal research had been conducted pertaining to the experience of women who became pregnant while in remission from AN. This study utilized Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to inform interpretation of narrative responses collected through semi-structured interviews. Participants consisted of three women between the ages of 26 and 32 who self-identified as having become pregnant within the past five years while in remission from AN. The outcome of the analysis resulted in the following themes: (a) control as a mechanism of AN, (b) experiences of lack of agency over body and health of pregnancy, (c) rigidity vs. restriction: lingering AN voice and inflexibility, (d) pregnancy positively impacts some aspects of relationship with food and body image, (e) environmental stressors impair level of engagement in self-care behaviors, (f) social relationships have significant influence on formation of self-perception and health-maintenance behaviors, and (g) history of AN minimized during routine prenatal medical care. Exploration of the findings in the context of existing research brings to light the possibility that aspects of pregnancy trigger women’s desires to maintain or regain control, and that efforts to do so may mimic behaviors that are characteristic of AN. Additionally, the results shed light on the possibility that “rigidity” is a characteristic of AN that can remain post remission and manifest in inflexible behaviors surrounding food and exercise. Lastly, the results suggest that there is a heavy reliance on medical providers to monitor and manage the residual effects of a prior AN diagnosis among this demographic, and suggest that the role of mental health providers should be more prominent in the prenatal care course.

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