Thesis

Behavioral, emotional, and attitudinal outcomes of a healthy-eater identity

The meanings associated with food and eating serve as ever-present systems through which we communicate to ourselves and others where we come from, which groups we claim membership to, and the type of person we are. The boundaries between food choices that are "right" and "good" and those that are "wrong" and "bad" fluctuate across time and place, but always serve as guides for evaluating ourselves and others on the basis of food choice. This study examines the meanings attached to and attitudes taken towards food through the lens of identity. Specifically, I seek to understand how current meanings attached to food as a means of maintaining personal health are internalized by individuals for whom healthy-eating becomes incorporated into their sense of self. I do this by employing an identity theory framework to investigate the influences of a healthy-eater identity on behavior, experiences of emotion, and attitudes taken towards food, eating, and the body. Behaviors examined herein include types of grocery stores shopped at more frequently, use of food-related media, and self-elected social exclusion. Emotional outcomes include experiences of guilt upon eating food considered unhealthy, and distress upon finding oneself in a social situation in which available food options do not meet the standards of acceptability. Attitudinal outcomes include objectified body consciousness, food anxiety, and orthorexia. An original survey was distributed electronically and yielded 540 responses. Results of this study indicate that the meanings, salience, and prominence of the healthy-eater identity influence the behavioral, emotional and attitudinal outcomes examined with few exceptions. The findings presented herein contribute to the literature on identity theory by examining various processes of an otherwise unexplored identity. Additionally, the findings of this study have implications for those interested in fostering healthy eating habits and understanding eating disorders.

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