Food ideals, food rules and the subjective construction of a healthy diet

John S McKenzie* (Corresponding Author), David Watts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The healthfulness of the populations’ diets has long been a concern in Scotland. However, despite policies aimed at improving the healthfulness of people’s diet, it remains poor. The failure of these policies to bring about desired changes is partly because the relationship between dietary advice, understandings of it and the healthfulness of food practices is complex. The Scottish Government funded a phenomenological study of thirty-one adults to understand the populations’ food practices and, drawing on interviews and food diaries, this paper reports emergent findings that illustrate how some participants construct and maintain food practices they perceive to be healthful and appear to show consistency with dietary guidelines whilst others struggle. Research data were thematically analyzed and interviews revealed participants’ reported food rules that appeared to show consistencies with nutritional guidelines. Interviews and food diaries also revealed that participants broke their food rules which resulted in less healthful eating patterns. The results suggest that those participants who routinize rules for breaking food rules achieved eating patterns that they perceived to be healthier than those who did not.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-86
Number of pages21
JournalFood and Foodways
Issue number1
Early online date4 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors are grateful to the Scottish Government for funding the work from which this paper was developed through its 2011-16 RESAS Strategic Research Programme.


  • Food ideals
  • food rules
  • eating patterns
  • healthfulness
  • phenomenological approach


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