“Obese” individuals encounter a pervasive stigma. How obese individuals concep -tualize their relationships to food and navigate their eating behaviors, within this stigmatizing context, must be explored. This article discusses findings from an eth -nographic, critical obesity study undertaken in a mid-size urban center. Partici -pants described contingent, fluctuating, and regularly onerous relationships with food within a context of often marginalizing discourse and social interplay. All par -ticipants (n = 15) spoke of the importance of health and food; however, participants’ interactions with, and conceptualizations of, food were contingent on (1) personal weight history; (2) current weight status and goals; and (3) discursive and con -textual exposures. Participants conceptualized weight as dependent on the widely disseminated energy balance model. For those maintaining lost weight, food was an ever-present source of enticement and anxiety. Their emotionally laden encounters with food frequently affected their social interactions. Participants often felt cen -sured when consuming food publicly, and food was a constant source of temptation and potential exclusion in social situations. Participants hoping to lose weight loss often internalized orthodox obesity messaging, and conceptualized their consump -tion as an “addiction,” a “comfort,” or a medicalized or psychological condition. In contrast, individuals who had experienced disordered eating and been exposed to the Health-at-Every-Size (HAES) movement strove to adopt alternate viewpoints on food. These individuals endeavored to remake their relationships with food in a positive manner, emphasizing pleasure, variety, or models of healthy eating, and referenced the dangers of dieting as regards metabolism. Overall, encounters with food were complex and involved managing numerous discursive influences to cope with stigma.
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