“I’m not a teenager, I’m 22. Why can’t I snap out of it?”: a qualitative exploration of seeking help for a first-episode eating disorder during emerging adulthood.

Potterton, R., Austin, A., Allen, K., & Schmidt, U.

Journal of Eating Disorders




Eating disorders (EDs) typically have their onset during adolescence or the
transition to adulthood. Emerging adulthood (~ 18–25 years) is a
developmental phase which conceptually overlaps with adolescence but
also has unique characteristics (e.g. increased independence). Emerging
adults tend to come to ED services later in illness than adolescents,
and emerging adulthood’s unique characteristics may contribute to such


This study aimed to explore attitudes towards ED symptoms, and their
implications for help-seeking, amongst emerging adults receiving ED
treatment through FREED, an early intervention care pathway.


Participants were 14 emerging adults (mean age 20.9 years; SD = 2.0), all currently
receiving specialist treatment for a first-episode, recent-onset
(< 3 years) ED. Semi-structured interviews relating to experiences of
help-seeking were conducted, and data were analysed thematically.


Symptom egosyntonicity, gradual reappraisal and feelings of exclusion from ED
discourse were key attitudinal phases prior to help-seeking, each of
which had distinct implications for help-seeking.


Emerging adults with first-episode EDs show a distinct set of
help-seeking-related challenges and opportunities (e.g. help-seeking for
others; help-seeking at transitions; self-sufficiency). This research
might be used to inform the development and evaluation of interventions
which aim to facilitate help-seeking amongst emerging adults with
first-episode recent-onset EDs.

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