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Emotional eating : women and food - a comforting recipe or a destructive formula?

Ashby, Shirley (2013) Emotional eating : women and food - a comforting recipe or a destructive formula? Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94178) (KAR id:94178)

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The aim of this study was to investigate the discourses women use to describe their eating patterns in relation to comfort eating. The idea originated from the work of Susie Orbach (1978) which focussed upon women's eating patterns and 'fat' being rooted in powerlessness and self-denial. After undertaking a thorough search of the literature, the gap around emotional eating became apparent. This thesis examined the concept of women's relationship to food, and explored if, and if so how, women acknowledge emotional regulation through food and comfort eating. A qualitative research strategy was adopted. The process of data analysis consisted of 2 phases; phase 1 was a preliminary internet based collection of data and analysed using Thematic Analysis, and phase 2 was in the form of semi structured interviews and analysed using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis from an ontological framework of Social Constructionism. Overall, the multiple discourses in this study found that participants acknowledged the use of food for 'comfort', and that emotional distress was a mediator when describing their relationship to food. Participants constructed positions associated with; repressed anger, feelings of shame and failure to achieve an ideal, and lack of self-efficacy. This study also highlighted discourses around participants experiencing a non- tangible overwhelming 'urge' to eat that felt uncontrollable. This was in line with a sense of depleted energy and an inability to achieve the goal of weight loss. This study suggests that medium to long term psychotherapy could be a way forward to address the internal conflicts and inability to change highlighted in the participants' discourses. Inclusion of Psycho-education is also recommended for weight loss management groups in order to address the problematic area of obesity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Burns, Jan
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94178
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 22 Sep 2022 10:52 UTC
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2022 11:04 UTC
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