Consume happy: the relationship with food for fat women with a history of early psychological adversity

Carley, Brigid (2020) Consume happy: the relationship with food for fat women with a history of early psychological adversity. DCPsych thesis, Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute. [Thesis]

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Obesity is recognised as a worldwide epidemic; however, little is known about the psychological influences on the development and maintenance of obesity. There is increasing evidence that early adverse experience impact adult health, but very little empirical data, beyond naming emotional regulation as a mediating factor has been produced. This research project tried to fill this gap in relation to obesity. In the context of this study, the relationships with food, its origins, development and meanings were central rather than a focus on weight and the body.

Seven semi-structured interviews of women who were obese and had reflected on the impact of their childhood experiences on their weight, were conducted to collect the data and constructionist grounded theory methodology was applied to analyse the results of this study. As a result of data analysis six major categories were developed; abuse, neglect, loss, emotionally unavailable caregiver, adaptive emotional regulation strategies and food.

The analysis of the data revealed multiple adversities in the context of early interpersonal relationships which were marked by inadequate nurturing and emotional scarcity or deprivation along with a complex and multi-layered relationship to food and eating. Food offered relational intimacy, securing feelings of safety, love and connection in challenging early environments. Consequently, eating developed as a very effective emotional regulation strategy. In this context, I propose the idea of ‘consuming happy’ as an important and distinct process specific to this population that has its roots in the early trauma and attachment difficulties.

This research proposes that the cumulative effect of the multiple ongoing traumas and challenges of an emotionally disadvantaged early caregiving system, laid the foundation for a complex relationship with food in adulthood. In this perspective the body is not the problem; instead the body offers an insight into developmental trauma which is reflected through eating behaviours.

The implications of this study are discussed in terms of their applicability and contribution to clinical practice, service provision and in relation to the wider context of the understanding and treatment of obesity. This research is a call to recognise the interface between eating, attachment and trauma in order to offer compassionate and informed healthcare and to dismantle the prejudices held against fat individuals. Whilst this study highlighted a value of a developmentally informed, trauma-sensitive perspective to obesity, limitations of this research project are discussed and further research ideas put forward.

Item Type: Thesis (DCPsych)
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
B. > Theses
C. Collaborative Partners > Metanoia Institute
Item ID: 33559
Depositing User: Brigitte Joerg
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2021 10:34
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2021 17:26

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