Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Health and Sport Studies

First Advisor

McGannon, Kerry R

Second Advisor

Birrell, Susan

First Committee Member

Mellen, Kathy

Second Committee Member

Lewin, Ellen

Third Committee Member

Wallis, Anne


The relationship between the body, food and exercise is complex and remains poorly understood within the athletic population. Much of what is currently known stems from disordered eating literature grounded in objectivist perspectives. While this literature has been fruitful, it has limited our understanding of athletes' eating and body experiences as they have primarily been conceptualized through an objectivist lens as pathological and/or linked to individual psychological deficiencies (e.g., low self-esteem, body image distortion). In turn, the ways in which food and exercise are negotiated and experienced by athletes in the context of taken-for-granted social, cultural and gendered discourses had not yet been explored. Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation was to use an alternative theoretical perspective (i.e., feminist psychology) to look beyond the traditional objectivist notion of `disordered eating' and explore the complex relationship between the body, food and exercise in athletes (i.e., male and female distance runners), including the underlying meanings surrounding the athletic body and the role of gender and power in the social construction of their body experiences.

A narrative approach drawing from Sparkes & Smith (2008), Smith & Sparkes (2008, 2010), and Riessman (1993, 2008) was used to accomplish this research goal. As such, participants were asked to tell stories about their body experiences, in relation to both eating and exercising, over the course of two separate individual interviews, as well as to create a visual representation/story of their running experience. These stories stood as the backdrop through which meanings were sought, as they provided a window into larger social, cultural and historical narratives as well as the process of individual meaning-making around the body, food and exercise (Riessman, 1993, 2008; Smith & Sparkes, 2010). A total of nine recreational distance runners (5 males, 4 females) and three elite (i.e., collegiate or post-collegiate) distance runners (1 male, 2 females) participated in the study. Together, these 12 runners produced a sum of 23 narrative interviews and 11 visual narratives, all of which underwent a combined thematic, dialogic/performance and visual analysis.

The results of this thorough analysis indicated that the runners' stories were primarily situated in broader self-identity narratives and further demarcated by one of two opposing running narratives that shifted the meanings around the body, food and exercise in complex ways. Furthermore, their stories, along with the construction of meanings around the body, food and exercise, were found to be situated and negotiated within gendered narratives of the self. The ways in which the runners drew upon these narratives, and formed meanings within them, directly impacted their thoughts, emotions and behaviors around their bodies, food and exercise in both empowering (i.e., positive and healthy) and/or disempowering ways. As such, this study highlighted the complexity of the body, food and exercise relationship in distance runners and demonstrated how athletes' eating and exercising practices are socially and culturally formed through the narratives made available to them.


Disordered Eating, Embodiment, Female Athletes, Feminist Cultural Studies, Male Athletes, Social Constructionism


viii, 247 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 232-247).


Copyright 2011 Rebecca Lee Verkerke Busanich