USF St. Petersburg campus Master's Theses (Graduate)


Elise Hummel

First Advisor

Major Professor: Jill McCracken, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Morgan Gresham, Ph. D.

Third Advisor

Kim Golombisky, Ph. D.


University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Document Type


Publication Date


Date Issued

November 1, 2019


There is very little existing qualitative research about the lived experience of individuals with eating disorders (ED) from the lens of a researcher who also identifies as a member of that community. To that end, this project asks: “What is the lived experience of having an ED? And how does my perspective as someone who identifies as having an ED inform my research process and findings?” In this thesis, I draw on feminist practices that recognize participants as collaborators and co-researchers, and I conduct open-ended interviews with four women who were diagnosed with, and sought treatment for, an ED. I then analyze the transcripts using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The results, supported by existing research, indicate that this phenomenon emerges from one’s internalization of a false self-concept, which then leads to poor self-esteem and the emergence of ED behaviors to support this identity. Further, within communities where ED behavior is part of group identity, participants adapt their behavior to meet the expectations of others. This process of utilizing participants as experts on the ED experience can form a richer understanding of this phenomenon and therefore contribute to more effective treatment modalities. Knowledge of how an ED emerges and is maintained invites change and can help researchers better respond to individuals living with an ED. My research also reveals a need for more qualitative studies that speculate on the connection between “self” and EDs in order to examine how social environments impact the creation of identity. Likewise, additional studies that take place after inpatient treatment of an ED are needed to explore further the change in ED behaviors created through the shared identity of the recovery community.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Liberal Arts Department of Visual & Verbal Arts College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida St Petersburg

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