Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Daniel Lende, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tara Deubel, Ph.D.


medical anthropology, psychology, history, eating disorders


The objective of this thesis is to critically examine the diagnostic divisions of eating disorders as proposed within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). I focus on Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), although there were several new categories issued in 2013. Using person-centered ethnographic interviews, focus groups, participant observation, and autoethnography, I collected qualitative data to highlight how disordered eaters perceive themselves and their behaviors in relation to their diagnoses. I recruited participants in Boston, MA from Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA), a decentralized network of support groups for disordered eaters. Subjects in my study, as well as from EDA at large, have a wide variety of diagnoses. Building off anthropologies of the pathological body, embodiment, medicalization and neuroanthropology, I highlight how predominant scripts of mental illness in both popular media and science shape the ways that disordered eaters understand their pathological behaviors. I also examine the historical and contemporary evolution of eating disorder theory within the psychological literature, offering a reflexive approach to the theoretical foundations within the field. Interweaving psychological literature reviews with ethnographic data, I demonstrate that disordered eaters do not fit as straightforwardly into diagnostic categories as presumed. Instead, findings indicate that individuals express different combinations of symptoms that range across diagnostic divisions.