Objective: The study sought to develop a theoretical understanding of identities related to eating.
Design: A grounded theory approach and open-ended, in-depth interviews were used to examine identity and eating from the perspectives of adults.
Participants: Seventeen middle-class, white adults (nine women, eight men) were purposely recruited to vary in gender, age, household composition, and ways of eating using convenience and snowball sampling.
Data analysis: Interview transcripts were analyzed using the constant comparative method.
Results: Identities involved in participants' food choices related to usual or preferred eating behaviors, personal traits, reference groups, and social categories. Participants varied in the number, type, and complexity of identities involved in eating. Identities were reported to be both stable and dynamic over time and were shaped by participants' life course experiences. Participants varied in the attention they paid to evaluation and monitoring of identities related to eating, the extent to which they enacted identities in eating, and how they managed identity conflicts.
Implications: The concept of identity may help researchers understand food choice processes and assist practitioners in recognizing the multiple meanings that people bring to and derive from eating.