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Title: Toward an ecology of addiction : Overeaters Anonymous and Weight Watchers in a culture of consumption
Author: Wenger, Melanie S.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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There is increasing evidence that aspects of human eating may be 'addictive'. Much of the existing literature examining this focuses on specific foods or individual pathologies of 'addiction'. Qualitative research methods, in particular content analysis, offers a rich opportunity to better understand 'addictive' aspects of human eating through the stories shared by those who have experienced compulsive eating. This research examines two different organizations that use storytelling as a tool for changing eating behaviours. Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and Weight Watchers (WW) began in the United States in the early 1960s as mutual support groups designed to help members with problems of compulsive overeating. This research examines: 1) the ways that OA and WW addressed 'addictions' with food when they were first formed; 2) how each organization has changed over time; and 3) the ways that identities are constructed through the telling of stories within each programme. For this thesis, I used historical analysis, in-person and online participant observation, and content analysis as research methods. I found that while OA and WW once similarly addressed 'addictions' with food, this is no longer the case. WW no longer understands their members as fundamentally different from others in the ways that they eat, and OA now welcomes members with a variety of different compulsive eating behaviours. However, similar themes regarding identity emerged from the OA and WW stories used in this research. OA and WW members describe that they acquire different belief systems regarding health and how to eat in each programme. In comparing these two organizations, how each has changed over time and the shifts in identity described by OA and WW members, this research identifies aspects of everyday living that members of both groups similarly highlight as important factors influencing compulsive eating. Based on these findings, I then assess to what extent a new framework for understanding 'addiction' may be needed, and conclude by suggesting further areas of research that would be suitable for constructing this.
Supervisor: Ulijaszek, Stanley Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Medical and ecological anthropology ; American studies ; Health and health policy ; addiction ; compulsive eating ; obesity ; dieting ; weight loss ; stigma ; nutrition ; twelve-step programmes ; commercial weight-loss programmes