When intensive mothering becomes a necessity: Feeding children on the ketogenic diet

Michelle Webster

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The ketogenic diet is a high-fat medical treatment for drug-resistant childhood epilepsy. Children being treated with this diet are given a prescription that details the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrate each of their meals must contain. Due to the nature of the diet, successful implementation requires what could be described as intensive parenting. For instance, foods must be weighed to the gram, new recipes have to be calculated exactly and parents often monitor children to ensure that they eat all of their food and nothing outside the prescribed amount. This chapter explores the extent of these intensive parenting practices when implementing the ketogenic diet by drawing upon in-depth semi-structured interviews with 12 parents from 10 families that were using the diet to treat their child’s epilepsy. It will be argued that intensive parenting practices were heavily gendered in these families, as mothers undertook almost all of the food work related to the diet; as a result it is intensive mothering that is the focus of the chapter. Additionally, the chapter explores the mental, emotional and physical labour that comprised intensive mothering in this context. It will be argued that the mothers were expert carers, which enabled them to counteract feelings of guilt that sometimes arose. Indeed, they were experts at implementing the diet, they were experts on their children and they were also experts at treating their child’s condition. Consequently, this chapter contributes to current discussions surrounding child feeding, intensive mothering and mothering identity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFeeding Children Inside and Outside the Home
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Perspectives
EditorsVicki Harman, Benedetta Cappellini, Charlotte Faircloth
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315206974
ISBN (Print)9781138633865
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2018

Publication series

NameSociological Futures

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