07 Apr 2020

A Students Dissertation Journey, Jade Brady Talks About Her Research Into Orthorexia

Jade Brady, a recent graduate of ICHAS talked to us about her dissertation and how she came to focus on the subject of Orthorexia.

Finding a Dissertation Topic, Don’t Put Too Much Pressure On Yourself

I started my master’s degree with ICHAS in 2017 having completed the diploma in psychotherapeutic skills and engagement in Griffith College earlier in the year. I knew the dissertation was a huge component of this degree and to be honest, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to focus it on when I started my degree. It’s safe to say I felt very overwhelmed and jumped from one idea to another.

I started searching dissertations online, mental health in Ireland, gaps in current research and so on in order to find something suitable to focus my attention on and nearing my research proposal deadline, I was no closer to a topic than when I started the year. I realised I was trying so hard to find a topic that would make a significant difference in the research field. ‘You are not the next John Bowlby or Freud’ I had to tell myself. 

I was hoping this amazing idea would come to me! But I was a novice in the research field and I realised that while I was searching for this ‘breakthrough’ topic for research, there was something that was close to my heart and was causing me to ask questions around the nature of a particular behaviour. 

How I Chose The Topic of Orthorexia

Health and nutrition have always been a key focus in my daily habits. My partner plays GAA at county level and the type of health factors that surround this infiltrated into our own relationship and my personal habits. I had had an unhealthy relationship with food previous to this where I believed that dieting (i.e. eating less than 1200 calories) was the only way to lose weight. This mindframe completely changed when the focus shifted to ‘energy in, energy out’ and building muscle was more of a ‘goal’ than losing weight.

Fast forward a few years and the unhealthy relationship I previously had with food was manifesting in different ways:

‘If I eat this chocolate bar, I will feel sluggish and it will ruin my gym session later’

My focus was more on health than weight loss yet similar thought patterns still remained although altered. Thus, beginning the research topic for my dissertation. 

What is Orthorexia?

I came across the term ‘orthorexia’ online about 3/4 years ago. Orthorexia describes a pathological obsession with proper nutrition that is characterized by a restrictive diet, ritualized patterns of eating, and rigid avoidance of foods believed to be unhealthy or impure (Koven et al., 2015). Orthorexia is a relatively new phenomenon which has had very little research conducted in the field. 

I believed that the attitudes toward health and fitness in Ireland have dramatically changed in the past decade with the online fitness movement contributing to the spread of health information, shaping new ideas and concepts around ‘healthy eating’ and could be a cause for this new phenomenon. I spoke to a few people about this topic and realised it was probably more prevalent than I had initially thought. I knew that while bias could play a part in my rationale for this topic, I felt very strongly about conducting research on it the more I looked into it and the more people I spoke to. I knew I would have the ability to remain open to all ideas and concepts and I felt that given my own experience with similar behaviours, I felt I would do it justice.

From Topic to Findings

I began researching as much as I could and although time-consuming, it was an integral component of shaping the way in which the research would be conducted. Increasing numbers of individuals were reporting disturbed behaviours due to a desire to eat clean and healthy food. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was chosen to undertake research on this phenomenon due to the absence of rich, detailed experienced accounts from individuals identifying similar characteristics related to orthorexia.

The interviews focused on areas such as:

  • Current attitudes toward healthy food
  • Possible precursors that shaped current behaviours
  • Consequences of this eating behaviour
  • Attitudes towards oneself and others with contrasting eating behaviours.

The findings presented similarities in participants eating behaviours but also various diverging opinions such as:

  • Participants overall view of their lifestyle where most stated positive, one participant states clear overall negative consequences.

The discussion follows on with a combination of the participant’s accounts reinforced by current literature surrounding orthorexia as a means to highlight the overwhelming evidence for necessary research in this field.

Overall, I found the topic extremely interesting and really immersed myself in the study in order to bring the best possible findings.


Jade Brady is a graduate of ICHAS with an M.A in Counselling and Psychotherapy


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