Pride Before a Fall: Shame, Diagnostic Crossover, and Eating Disorders

Original Research

Open Access. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry volume 16, p365–374 (2019). Published online: 01 July 2019

Rose Mortimer

Abstract: This paper discusses the findings of qualitative research that examined the accounts of five “mostly recovered” ex-patients who had experienced transition between two or more eating disorder diagnoses. This study found that, in the minds of participants, the different diagnostic labels were associated with various good or bad character traits. This contributed to the belief in a diagnostic hierarchy, whereby individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa were viewed as morally better than those diagnosed with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Consequently, diagnostic crossover from a “better” to a “worse” eating disorder was often experienced as shameful moral failing, and a new diagnosis impacted the individual’s sense of self-identity. These findings are of significance for both ethicists and clinicians; the paper concludes by outlining the relevance and possible clinical implications of shame in diagnostic crossover and suggesting avenues for future research.

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