Journal of Consumer Sciences

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The meaning of food for obese men: a qualitative study

HH van der Spuy, HM de Klerk, HM Vogel, FAM Wenhold


A qualitative study sought to explore the role and meaning of food in the eating behaviour of obese men along their life course. Adopting a phenomenological approach, symbolic interactionism and life course perspectives to elucidate this phenomenon, data was collected during unstructured in-depth interviews with fourteen obese men in different age groups. Two main themes emerged, namely, eating for ‘the love of food’ and the fact that food has ‘special meaning’ for a particular person. Eating-related pleasure was an essential part of life for him. Food preparation was associated with the joy of anticipation of sharing a meal.  In interaction with significant others, his mother and wife and reference group others, such as colleagues and friends, food represented his individual self, and was used to facilitate interpersonal relationships. Food per se changed from being a source of sensory pleasure to being a social marker and a symbol of identity. During childhood, food became a symbol of nurturing, love, care and comfort. In young adulthood, food symbolised corporate acceptance by colleagues, a ‘manly man’ and ‘jolly good friend’. Cognitive appraisal took place in each situation in which the obese man needed to make a decision, or take action in terms of food behaviour. Clearly, food cannot be easily separated from its symbolic meaning

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