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Orthorexia: eating right in the context of healthism

Abstract

Orthorexia is a putative new eating disorder vying for a place in the DSM, roughly meaning “eating right”. While a continuum can be drawn between anorexia and orthorexia, there are enough differences to make this disorder a distinct one. In this paper, I trace the origins of the term and its clinical career to date, employing Ian Hacking’s concept of “ecological niche” to establish the place of orthorexia as a contemporary cyberpathy, a digitally transmitted disorder inwardly and narrowly focused on health through the consumption of “pure” foods. I critique both the notions of “health” and “purity” in this context, showing that orthorexia can only be understood in the context of healthism, an individual preoccupation with health in the context of neoliberalism. Using Jordan Younger's Breaking Vegan memoir (2015) and “Balanced Blonde” blog as a case study, I argue that orthorexia replicates via a digital proliferation of entrepreneurship of the self. Ultimately, this excessive preoccupation with health as a neoliberal cultural pathology bares life of meaning.

  • cultural studies
  • cultural history
  • mental health care
  • nutrition and metabolism
  • popular media
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