Diet and identity: being a good parent in the face of contradictions presented by the ketogenic diet

Michelle Webster, Jonathan Gabe

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The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet used to treat drug-resistant childhood epilepsy. Given that negative meanings tend to be attached to fatty foods and children's food consumption is seen to be the responsibility of parents, the ketogenic diet may be problematic for parenting identity. This paper draws upon in-depth semi-structured interviews with 12 parents from 10 families that have a child whose epilepsy is being treated with the ketogenic diet. The main focus of the paper is the meanings these parents attached to foods and how they were drawn upon or altered to overcome some of the contradictions presented by the diet. It will be argued that the diet was medicalised and parents came to view 'food as medicine' . When viewing food in this way, negative associations with fat were reversed. Furthermore, parents also used food as a symbol of inclusion and prioritised portion size or the child's enjoyment of food in order to use food as a symbol of love. In turn, this enabled parents to feel they were being 'good parents'. Overall it seems that diet can be medicalised, and the identity of the good parent maintained, if dietary treatment is successful.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-136
Number of pages14
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number1
Early online date18 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • Diet
  • Identity
  • ketogenic diet
  • 'good parent'
  • Epilepsy

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