The Meaning of Re-Emerging Disordered Eating In the Context of Motherhood: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Prof Doc Thesis

Sela, A. 2021. The Meaning of Re-Emerging Disordered Eating In the Context of Motherhood: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology
AuthorsSela, A.
TypeProf Doc Thesis

This study aimed to explore the experiences of re-emerging disordered eating (DE) in the context of motherhood. My rationale for undertaking this endeavour was based on the dearth in anonymous studies on experiences of re-emerging DE in motherhood beyond the post-partum period, and conflicting findings regarding remission and relapse following pregnancy. Theories of control, emotional regulation, and identity formed part of the theoretical framework with which I presented previous literature, and contributed to my rationale for the research question: “what is the experience of re-emerging DE in the context of motherhood?” To explore this question and to expand the diversity in relevant literature, I conducted semi-structured interviews with seven Israeli participants in the Hebrew language. Participants ranged from 24 to 47 years old and were biological mothers for one to four children. Following transcription, I translated interviews and analysed data using the methodology deemed most appropriate; Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The analysis gave rise to three super-ordinate themes: “Motherhood as healing to DE”, “Motherhood as triggering to DE”, and “Good enough vs. thin enough mother”. Each of these super-ordinate themes consisted of three to four sub-ordinate themes.
One of the key novel findings in this study is the constant push-and-pull between managing DE and motherhood demands and throughout motherhood (i.e., beyond pregnancy and the post-partum period). A reflection on both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, as well as ‘confusing’ relationship between DE and motherhood shed light into the previously observed fluctuations in DE presentations in mothers. Another novel finding was the continuous interplay between DE and motherhood, such that participants described coping with ‘guilt about DE in motherhood’ with further DE pre-occupation and/or behaviours. These findings point to the complex nature of re-emerging DE in motherhood. Furthermore, these findings emphasise the need for support to focus on the individual experience of the mother, and in-so-doing reduce shame and stigma that often prevents access to help and that may exacerbate DE struggles.
In order to offer relevant support, and to learn from individual experiences, I have made recommendations for clinical practice to explore and normalise experiences for mothers as reactive care (i.e., to mothers struggling with DE) and as preventative care (i.e., to women planning to be mothers). In order to inform guidelines, I suggest areas for future research to check for the commonality of the experiences described by my participants. Considering the context of my study and that participants mentioned conflicting societal demands, recommendations for future research also included research focusing on discourse in line with different epistemologies. My focus on phenomenological and idiosyncratic experience is acknowledged throughout the study and its implications, as aligned with my constructivist epistemological and phenomenological approach.

KeywordsDisordered eating; motherhood; IPA; mothers; eating disorders; Israeli
PublisherUniversity of East London
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Publication dates
Online22 Jul 2021
Publication process dates
Submitted16 Apr 2021
Deposited22 Jul 2021
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