'Healthy anorexia': The complexity of care in disordered eating

Soc Sci Med. 2015 Aug;139:18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.06.030. Epub 2015 Jun 27.


This paper examines how contemporary understandings of 'health' and 'care' are engaged with and practiced by women with disordered eating. Based on findings from an Australian study investigating why people with disordered eating are reluctant to engage with treatment services (March 2012 to March 2015), we demonstrate how young women use elements of a 'health habitus' and 'care' to rationalise and justify their practices. Moving beyond Foucauldian theories of self-discipline and individual responsibility we argue that Bourdieu's concept of habitus and ethnographic concepts of care provide a deeper understanding of the ways in which people with disordered eating embody health practices as a form of care and distinction. We demonstrate how eating and bodily practices that entail 'natural', medical and ethical concerns (in particular, the new food regime known as orthorexia) are successfully incorporated into participants' eating disorder repertoires and embodied as a logic of care. Understanding how categories of health and care are tinkered with and practiced by people with disordered eating has important implications for health professionals, family members and peers engaging with and identifying people at all stages of help-seeking.

Keywords: Australia; Care; Disordered eating; Distinction; Healthism habitus; Healthy anorexia; Orthorexia; Symbolic capital.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia / psychology
  • Anorexia / therapy*
  • Australia
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Systems Analysis