Family life cycle transitions and the onset of eating disorders: Retrospective grounded theory approach

Jerica M. Berge, Katie Loth, Carrie Hanson, Jillian Croll-Lampert, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Aims and objective. The aim of this retrospective qualitative study is to understand how transitions in the family life cycle and responses to these events may relate to the onset of eating disorders in an attempt to generate new theoretical insights and inform future research in the area of eating disorder prevention. Background. Little is known about the contextual factors that occur throughout the family life cycle that may be risk factors for the development of eating disorders. Design and methods. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 27 individuals of varied ages (age range=17-64; median=27; SD 13·7) currently receiving treatment for eating disorders in an outpatient clinic specialising in eating disorder treatment. Data were analysed using grounded theory methods. Results. Six themes were identified as family life cycle transitional events that preceded the onset of participants' eating disorders: (1) school transitions, (2) death of a family member, (3) relationship changes, (4) home and job transitions (5) illness/hospitalisation and (6) abuse, sexual assault, or incest. Conclusions. Results indicated that transitional events in the family life cycle followed by a lack of needed support during these transitions may precipitate the onset of eating disorders. Thus, future research should use these findings to inform the creation of interventions that reduce the intensity of the stress brought about by these transitional periods and increase the adaptability and coping skills of individuals and family members to prevent eating disorders. Relevance to clinical practice. Nurses and other healthcare professionals should be aware of the importance of transitional events occurring in the family life cycle of adolescents and young adults. Helping parents to be aware and supportive of difficult transitional events may be more important than trying to solve or fix the problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1355-1363
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Eating disorders
  • Family life cycle
  • Grounded theory
  • Nurses
  • Nursing


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