Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Leslee Fisher

Committee Members

Lars Dzikus, Sandra P. Thomas, Lisa Jahns


The current epidemic of obesity has caught the attention of the entire nation as the social, economic, and personal consequences of being overweight or obese affect everyone from politicians to insurance companies, employers to health care providers and health and medical industries across the country (National Institutes of Health, 2000). In response, the physical aspects of weight loss have been examined in great detail. However, the psychological, emotional and social factors that are an integral part of the process are often neglected. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the experience of significant weight loss. Utilizing the phenomenological method based on the philosophical underpinnings of Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962), 12 individual experiences of weight loss were analyzed to find descriptive themes of the weight loss experience. Individuals (23-72 years old) who had lost at least 20% of their body weight (50-200 pounds) participated in one-on-one audiorecorded interviews describing their personal experience with weight loss. Themes that emerged include: (a) Control/Freedom; (b) Changing; (c) Choosing; and (d) Size/Image. Each of these themes is grounded in Body, Self and Other (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). Individuals engaged in a continuous struggle between control (being controlled by weight) and freedom (controlling the weight and being free from it). Nearly all participants distinctly identified a conscious choice or decision to change their lives and thus through daily personal choices, external triggers, support, encouragement and setbacks along the way, the battle began. This lifestyle change was further described as a transformation, a path, a journey, and a process as physical, psychological, emotional, and social changes were discovered. Individuals described their bodies changing in physical size and image as they were personally aware of it as well as when others noticed it. Participants’ descriptions shed light on the phenomenon of weight loss which may aid researchers, teachers, health and fitness professionals, doctors and other health care providers in their treatment approaches. This research points to new possibilities for addressing the problems associated with overweight and obesity across the globe.

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