Motivations for healthfulness : exploring experiences of 'orthorexia' : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Science in Health Psychology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Massey University
There is a fine line between maintaining a healthy balanced lifestyle and adopting obsessive dietary practices. Not currently recognised in the DSM-5, Orthorexia Nervosa is a proposed eating disorder characterized by an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods. In this qualitative study, I explored experiences of highly significant dietary and exercise practices, which whilst considered to be healthful may paradoxically become problematic or result in dysfunction for the person instead. The role of social media platforms in encouraging and perpetuating 'orthorexic' beliefs and behaviours was also explored. Fifteen participants participated in two semi-structured interviews, the second including a social media 'go-along' component. I analysed this data using reflexive thematic analysis through a post structuralist theoretical lens. Three key themes were developed from the data set: (1) feeling good and looking good; (2) relationality; (3) how influenced are you?, with each theme highlighting how sociocultural influences impacted upon participants daily dietary and exercise practices. Participants spoke about their health practices in highly individualised ways and endorsed several reasons for engaging in specific dietary and exercise practices, which included embodied sensations, appearance/weight loss, health management and disease prevention and psychological wellbeing. They spoke about "transgressions" and compensations, as well as how their eating and exercise practices dovetailed with their lives in both helpful and problematic ways. Participants also spoke to the achievement of balance in the context of their health practices. Social media, although discredited by participants as unrealistic and unreliable, was still highly influential in promoting high dietary and exercise engagement and unattainable appearance ideals to which participants continued to work towards. Findings indicate that whilst dietary and exercise practices were motivated by a range of embodied experiences, they were also significantly subject to sociocultural influences which impacted how food choices were made, how health practices were perceived, understood and engaged with, as well as the appearance goals participants worked towards. Overall, findings indicate that achieving 'a healthy balance' may be easier said than done and point to the need for nuanced analyses of the tensions that exist within first-person accounts of engaging with "health" in both "healthful" and potentially problematic ways.