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Food As Medicine? An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the Experiences of Female Cancer Survivors’ Heightened Preoccupation with ‘Healthy Eating’

Eisenberg, E (2023). Food As Medicine? An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the Experiences of Female Cancer Survivors’ Heightened Preoccupation with ‘Healthy Eating’. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


The end of treatment is known to be a particularly challenging time for many cancer survivors as they transition to coping with their condition independently. They may engage in health behaviours such as implementing drastic dietary changes to manage treatment side-effects, or as a way to assuage their anxiety. Understanding cancer survivors’ preoccupation with healthy eating is therefore fundamental to our understanding of the psychological phenomenology of cancer. This study explored how people who have developed a heightened preoccupation with healthy eating after cancer make sense of this change. Eight participants were recruited through social media and engaged in a semi-structured interview over Zoom around their changed relationship with food following their cancer diagnosis. Their accounts were then analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Five group experiential themes emerged from the analysis: ‘food as redemption’, ‘forbidden food’, ‘reclaiming control through food’, ‘new connections’ and ‘a better me?’. Participants reflected on how food became a means for them to redeem themselves for mistakes they felt had led them to develop cancer. They also described approaching food through a more dichotomous lens, with some foods now perceived as dangerous, and requiring that they remain vigilant to keep themselves safe. Participants emphasised how food became a means to both heal and empower themselves after feeling brutalised in the medical system. They further highlighted how their experience of cancer had led them to connect with food in a more loving and playful manner, which in turn reconnected them with their forgotten bodies and for some, deepened their existing relationships and fostered new ones. Finally, they spoke of how becoming preoccupied with healthy eating could create a sense of enlightenment, but also become all consuming. These findings are discussed in light of existing theory and research, and their clinical implications are outlined. Areas for future research are suggested.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0254 Neoplasms. Tumors. Oncology (including Cancer)
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Eisenberg thesis 2023 redacted PDF-A.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 30 June 2026 due to copyright restrictions.


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