Making Sense of Eating: Exploring Lived Experience and Self-Identity
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This study was designed to explore different experiences of eating and how these relate to a person’s sense of self-identity. Using a fairly recent method of investigation known as Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), we carried out short semi-structured interviews that aimed to give participants a voice; and offer readers an in-depth knowledge of their different experiences with food. We conducted six interviews (5 females and 1 male), with participants who were all students from the University of Edinburgh and aged between 18-21. Experiences that were discussed included over-indulgence, deprivation, feelings of low body satisfaction or problems with body image; and each participant recognised the negative effect that such experiences can have on their sense of self, especially during the vital period of adolescence. We coded our interviews according to IPA guidelines, and established four super-ordinate themes: A fear of putting on weight, being in control, mood and social pressures. Each of these themes represents the ways in which negative experiences with food can impact upon an individual’s sense of identity and each theme is illustrated using verbatim excerpts from the interviews. We found that negative experiences of eating usually begin around early adolescence; and Western society’s ideal of a thin body is internalised by many, especially young girls. By highlighting the thoughts and feelings of young people who may have distorted views about food, we have tried to show that these are widespread and are potentially damaging to the development of identity.