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A Grounded Theory of Eating Behaviours Among Older Widowed Women

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Title: A Grounded Theory of Eating Behaviours Among Older Widowed Women
Author: Vesnaver, Elisabeth
Department: Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
Program: Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
Advisor: Keller, HeatherSutherland, Olga
Abstract: Widowhood is a common and expected life event for married older women. Prior research has found disruptions in diet and eating behaviours to be common among widows. Little, however, is known about the process underlying these disruptions. Aiming to fill this gap, this study explored the eating behaviours of older widowed women for the purpose of generating a substantive theory to explain the changing eating behaviours of older women living in the community during the transition of widowhood. Qualitative methods based on constructivist grounded theory guided by a critical realist worldview were used. Individual active interviews were conducted with 15 women living alone in the community that were mostly independent with respect to eating behaviours. Participants were aged 71 to 86 years (mean age: 77) and had been widowed six months to 15 years at the time of the interview. Participants described a variety of educational backgrounds and levels of health, were mainly white and of Canadian or European descent, and had sufficient income to meet their needs. A substantive theory of why and how older women’s eating behaviours shift in widowhood was developed. The shifts in eating behaviours described by participants were interpreted as a process in which they were aligning their eating behaviours with their food-related self. It was found that the primary catalyst of change in behaviour as part of the widowhood experience was the loss of commensality with their spouse, that is, the loss of regular shared meals. Two sub-processes were conceptualized whereby women first fall into new patterns and then re-establish the personal food system. These sub-processes enabled women to redirect their food system from one that satisfied the couple to one that satisfied their personal food needs. A number of factors influenced the trajectory of the aligning process including the couple’s food system that women brought into the process, their experiences with nutritional care, their food-related values, the food-related resources they had access to, and the social integration they experienced. Further research is needed to include the voices of more vulnerable widowed women in the theory. Implications for research and practice are discussed.
Date: 2014-12
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