Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Craig Wrisberg

Committee Members

Patricia Beitel, Robert Kirk, Mark Hector


A qualitative research investigation using the phenomenological interview was conducted to describe the experience of eating disorders in five university women athletes, aged 19-23 years, who had been clinically-diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and/or Bulimia Nervosa. At the time of the interview, one athlete was a current competitor while the other four had retired from their sport prior to their senior year. Three athletes retired due to complications from their respective eating disorders; one retired because of a sport-related injury. The thematic analysis suggested that the eating disorder experience of these women was one of paradox and was invariably bivalent, i.e., the world was experienced in dualistic way. This duality is characterized by contradiction, i.e., words and actions that are opposite of each other; and irony, i.e., an event or a result that is the opposite of what might be expected (Webster, 1989). The athletes of this study described contradictory feelings, thoughts, and actions/behaviors that they struggled with personally, and collectively, during their eating disorder experiences. The myriad of descriptive elements, paired or clustered in opposition, appeared to be the salient components of the athletes' experiences. These descriptive elements were collapsed into the metatheme grouping of simultaneous control/out-of-control/uncontrollable. The simultaneous oppositional control elements, present in all of the transcripts, reflected a life of paradox. From the ground of "paradox" two major themes became figural: "The Monster" and "Recovery/The Real Me." The Monster--the name selected to represent the other labels the athletes used to identify the driving force of their respective eating disorders--dominated the experiences of these athletes until they began recovery from their respective eating disorders. During recovery the dominant personality appeared to be more reflective of what the athletes referred to as "The Real Me." The presence of the element of the paradoxical control metatheme appeared to change as the athletes began recovery processes from their respective eating disorders. Subthemes specific to theme of "The Monster" included: powerless to stop at will, harmful consequences, unmanageable life, escalation of use, and beginnings of awareness. The subthemes specific to Recovery/The Real Me included: identifying contributing factors and the struggle to recover.

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