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Ontogeny of the Research Questions

rebecca's research May 29, 2000

One of the 6 stories in this study is my own. I chose an intuitive inquiry (Anderson 1998, 2000) methodological design because it requires that the researcher’s personal experience is the foundation out of which the study emerges and the template for what will be explored. In addition, rather than attempting to bracket one’s assumptions and biases with the illusion that it is possible to do so to avoid data contamination, intuitive inquiry (Anderson, 1998b, 2000) encourages researchers to explicitly claim and utilize the fullness of their perspective as the tool for critically documenting their evolving interpretation of the phenomena being studied.

The first method to delineate a structured hermeneutic analysis, intuitive inquiry (Anderson, 1998, 2000), demands that the researcher rigorously track and explicate her or his hermeneutic, or process of interpretation. Adhering to this precept, this introduction and the review of relevant literature in the next chapter serve as entry points for documenting my beginning understanding (including my biases and assumptions) and my current knowledge of women’s psycho-spiritual process of healing obesity. Only slightly updated from the original content written 2 years ago, the literature review has been preserved to give the reader the necessary background to evaluate the integrity of my learning and interpretative processes and the deepening of my understanding of the topic. Successful implementation of intuitive inquiry requires the reader’s affirmative response to the questions, “Does the researcher’s perspective change, grow, and reflect new levels of understanding? Does she discover and articulate new thought on women’s psycho­ spiritual process of healing obesity?”

This new methodology supports the original research topic by providing a framework for cultivating knowledge of the psycho-spiritual process of healing obesity through the hermeneutics, or interpretative processes, of both the researcher and the co­ researchers. It is hoped that by offering theoretical, practical, and inspirational implications gleaned from the intimate and extensive explorations of both the researcher and co-researchers, this investigation will plant a seed in the research literature on obesity and stimulate further critique, explication, and replication.

Offering a standard for comparison, the remainder of this chapter is designed to familiarize the reader with my initial perspective, including (a) a brief introduction to my personal history with the topic (my story appears with the co-researchers’ stories in Appendix K), (b) my primary assumptions and biases, and (c) the research questions.

Eleven years ago I began a longitudinal study in search of a cure for obesity – my own. At that time the nuisance of my 260-pound body size was less a sensual discomfort than the mental discomfort of perceiving myself as a social anomaly. My consciousness resided primarily in thought and action; the bodily feelings of heaviness, encumbrance, lethargy, and the various emotions that flowed through my large body at that time rarely registered in my awareness. The notion of embodiment was absent from my probing investigation, which was focused on the exploration of theories and life experiences from which I might discover the secret password with which I would gain entry into the land of thinness. With the naivete and wisdom of a fool, I committed myself to seeking until I found the truth about my issues with food, weight, and-only by necessity-body. I am indebted to the wisdom and volition of grace which has masterfully engaged my vanity for the sake of my soul. Eleven years later, I am willing to trade none of the truth of my lived experience for the fantasy that ignited the search.

Still busily focused on the exploration of theories and life experiences through which I might make grand discoveries, the difference between then and now resides in my definition of the goal and my reverence for the process. The term closest to describing my goal of progressing toward greater well-being is “embodiment.” Ettling (1994) defines embodiment as “the felt experience of being in one’s own body or more deeply connected to one’s body in a way that promotes awareness of feelings and intuitions and results in a greater sense of wholeness and integration” (p. 8). My personal definition goes one step further, to include how the sensual experience of being deeply connected to my own body has expanded my awareness of the greater body of life. Moving toward embodiment through issues with weight is a journey which holds a sacred potential and may reveal the unification of matter and spirit. This notion, espoused by Woodman (1980), is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 2: Literature Review.

Other than Woodman’s (1980) work, a scouring of the scientific literature resulted in no material on the pursuit of embodiment as a treatment for obesity. While a review of current popular literature reveals a trend toward connecting spirituality and healing issues with weight, the preponderance of self-help literature is devoid of prescriptions for embodiment as healing. This lack of information linking embodiment and weight was not a surprise to me because on those occasions when I sought guidance from texts and health care professionals regarding my weight, I frequently felt we were all missing the mark. Yes, I believed that losing weight was in my best interest, but I was not willing to compromise my integrity to achieve a smaller shape. Buying into popular weight loss philosophy required that I agree to a number of assumptions and generalizations about large women and obesity that contradicted my lived experience. In fact, these very assumptions were part of a dialogue inside of me that kept me overweight.

Four of these popular assumptions— with my contradictions— follow. First, “being fat is bad/unhealthy and being thin is good/healthy.” I find this stance discriminatory and ridiculous. A woman is capable of living a full, healthy life in a body of shape and size that is unique to her individual genetic make-up. Obesity has been scapegoated by medical researchers as universally leading to poor health. Studies exist, but do not receive much recognition in the mass media, which suggest that people up to 30% above their ideal body size live longer than people with body weights closer to the insurance table ideals. While obesity may be a risk factor for life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, the assumption that obesity necessarily leads to poor health must be called into question. Studies about high functioning, physically active, large men and women with high self-esteem need to be included in the literature on obesity to balance the preponderance of research biased against fatness.

Second, “my mind must take control of my body.” My experience suggests that willpower does not have longevity and that inviting change in my weight requires my compassionate acknowledgment of the relationships between my intellect, my body, and the promptings of my soul.

Third, “I must be empty of knowledge about this problem or I would not be suffering from it and other people (doctors, experts, and authors) have the answers to correct my discomfort.” While I welcome further education and insight, I ultimately acknowledge my contextual process of discernment to determine the best courses of action for my unique body and lifestyle. Women are not empty of knowledge about their own bodies with regard to their weight. Even if confused or frustrated with their present situation, every woman I have talked with about her issues with food and weight knows a great deal about the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of approaches toward losing weight. This ability to know includes a woman’s discernment of her right body size through consideration of her genetics, her lifestyle, her intuitive knowledge of what is best for her, and her soul’s promptings.

Finally, “there is one right way to lose weight.” My experience suggests to me that there is no one right way for every woman to attain her right body size; rather, I discover my way and other women realize their own ways.

Adopting a positive view of myself as knowledgeable and capable regardless of my body size helped catalyze my letting go of more than 100 pounds. The stories herein, including my own, are not meant to be generalizable to the masses of women working with weight issues. However, I believe the experiences of women who have held the tensions of healing through obesity may offer insight, inspiration, and the seeds of transformation for women and health care professionals interested in healing this issue.

While personal stories about the details of one’s embodiment through obesity process may vary, I believe there are components of each women’s story which are relevant to the many women who struggle with overeating and body size. Just as my experience of incongruity is not unique, it appears to me that other women who have a tumultuous background with this issue may have discovered a great deal of useful knowledge and wisdom in their healing process. My curiosity about what other women had learned in their psycho-spiritual healing process led to the formulation of this study, the purpose of which is twofold: (a) to report the body of knowledge developed in the women’s focused group discussions about how their perspectives may inform other women and the body of research in this field; and (b) to explicate the process of healing obesity as informed by each woman’s evolving self-knowledge and wisdom about her body and, ultimately, her life.

In addition, this study will address the following research questions: What have the women learned individually and collectively? How do these women know what they know? For example, how do they know what their unique right body size is? Have those women who have identified an incongruence between their current body size and their right body size discerned a creative process by which to realize a congruent body size? Are their transformation experiences similar to or different from mine? How do they make sense of this process for themselves? With these research questions I aim to open the door to untapped knowledge from the experiences of these women in order to add depth, clarity, and meaning to the feminine experience of healing obesity and disordered eating.

My perspective on this topic will be further elucidated by the material in Chapter 2: Literature Review through discussions of the relevant literature on traditional view of obesity expertise, women’s ways of knowing and obesity, and transpersonal psychology and obesity.

This study employs intuitive inquiry (Anderson, 1998, 2000) as a structure for explicitly articulating the learning and interpretation processes of both the researcher and the co-researchers. It seeks to articulate the knowledge revealed by the lived experiences of 6 women who are in the process of healing the psycho-spiritual complexities of obesity for themselves, and includes both the women’s individual stories and their knowledge as a group. The individual stories reveal the personal processes of the women on their healing journey. Group reflections explicate the collective knowledge generated through deliberate collaborative inquiry into the essence of their experiences. It is hoped that the information cultivated through this new method, original topic, and novel design will stimulate further research on women’s psycho-spiritual process of healing obesity.

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