St. Mary’s University Faculty Research Feature – Dr. Alana Ireland

A critical Approach to Understanding Weight Related Issues

As an advocate for health promotion, Dr. Alana Ireland, Associate Professor of Psychology at St. Mary’s University, is an expert in weight-related issues (i.e., body image, obesity, weight stigma, and eating disorders), their influence on mental health, as well as the social practices and systemic structures that influence our constructions of weight.

Dr. Alana Ireland

“In a culture that emphasizes the thin-ideal and a fear of fat, we scrutinize and oppress people based on body shape and size. It is critical that we challenge this in the work that we do and aim to create systems that promote acceptance of all bodies,” explained Dr. Ireland, a Registered Psychologist who completed her PhD in Counselling at the University of Calgary. Her research seeks to promote wellness by developing a more comprehensive and complex understanding of weight, body image, and mental health. Her work invites the field to critically reflect on how we conceptualize and treat obesity and eating disorders, as well as the impacts of weight bias. She believes that an emphasis on social justice will be essential to conducting research that calls for change to marginalizing systems that pathologize and place too great an emphasis on individual responsibility.

Currently, as part of her SSHRC Insight Development Grant, Dr. Ireland is investigating body image in adolescent and young adult survivors of cancer. In addition to undergoing significant developmental changes, adolescent and young adult cancer survivors often live in bodies that differ considerably from their body pre-cancer. Dr. Ireland believes exploring body image in contexts beyond weight related issues (e.g., cancer, burn recovery, transgender or gender fluid identity) is fundamental to enhancing policies and practices that will enhance the quality of life for those individuals, and that a broader understanding of body image can inform interventions in relation to weight related issues as well.