What’s Helpful and What’s Hurtful- Survey Results

What sort of interpersonal interactions are seen by people with eating disorders as being helpful? Which are perceived as harmful? We decided to find out.

The Survey
We created an online survey and invited people who had struggled with eating disorders to participate. Survey participants were asked questions such as “What is the most helpful thing a professional (therapist, doctor, psychologist, dietitian, physician, dentist, professor.. etc) did to encourage recovery for you while you had your eating disorder?” “What was the most hurtful thing a friend or family member has done that hampered your recovery process?” and “What things do you find triggering for your eating disorder symptoms and relapses?”. Additionally, we asked what the participants found to be most triggering, and what they perceived as the root causes of their eating disorder.

The goal of the survey was to provide family members and treatment providers with knowledge of how to collaborate more effectively with those who are struggling. Although the survey was initially developed as a platform from which to provide persons of support with constructive and educational information, it also provided a safe and nonjudgmental place for participants to reflect upon their unique experiences and express themselves in the hopes of educating the community around them.

The survey was voluntarily completed online by 71 individuals ranging from ages 13 to 52 and who self-identified as having an eating disorder. Demographically, the results indicated that the group was highly educated, with approximately 54% having a Bachelor’s degree and approximately 20% having a Master’s or Doctorate. Although 74% of the participants reported being residents of the United States; 26% of the participants resided in other countries throughout the world. The majority of respondents were female.

As the questions were open-ended and qualitative, the responses received were each participant’s perception of what was helpful or hurtful. The survey did not attempt to measure the actual degree to which specific interactions were helpful or hurtful towards achieving recovery. Participation was voluntary, so some self-selection bias may be expected. Regardless, there were some remarkable similarities among responses in some areas, with a great deal of diversity among responses in other areas.

A team of researchers first worked independently to categorize the answers for each question. Then, the researchers compared their categorized answers with the other researchers. Any discrepancies were discussed until agreement was reached on the most appropriate way to categorize the answers.

And now, without further ado, we’d like to share these results with you.

We hope that this information is helpful and informative.



2 Responses to “What’s Helpful and What’s Hurtful- Survey Results”
  1. Rachel says:

    As a statistician, I don’t think 71 respondents is very informative… also “a team of researchers” were really needed?

    • joyproject says:

      Thanks for your comment!
      You’re correct in stating that this isn’t a large-scale study for the purposes of quantitative analysis. This is not a study that should be used for the purposes of policy or decision-making (Incidentally, however, given that the average sample size in any study of anorexia nervosa ranges from 14 to 23 depending on what meta-analysis you’re citing, our sample size is better than many other studies about EDs that have been published in academic journals over the years).

      The goal here was to share the perspective of a group of individuals with eating disorders, hence the qualitative nature of our study. And, since this is a qualitative study, we used multiple researchers to code the data into categories in order to reduce the potential for bias that would happen if using one single researcher’s point of view. By coding each item independently and then comparing results, we were able to identify any anomalies in data categorization. This is common practice in qualitative analysis.

      Thank you for reminding us all that it is always important to consider the method of data collection and purpose of any study when reviewing data from any source.

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