Social dimensions of eating, dieting and their disorders


Social dimensions of eating, dieting and their disorders

There is substantial evidence in the literature that people make judgments of others based on their eating behaviors. For example, research on consumption stereotypes shows that people ascribe stereotypical attributes to others based on what those others eat. Of particular relevance to the current context, the available research suggests that people have mixed views of individuals who engage in healthy dieting. On the one hand, individuals described as eating low-fat foods are evaluated more positively on measures of attractiveness, conscientiousness, and morality compared to individuals described as consuming high-fat foods. On the other hand, individuals described as following a low-fat diet are perceived as high-strung, unhappy, antisocial, and self-centered. These studies indicate that attitudes toward healthy dieting are ambiguous and, most importantly, emphasize that there may be social repercussions for individuals who engage in healthy dieting. Given the increasing popularity of clean dieting, such social repercussions might be particularly salient.

Beyond these consumption stereotypes, there is also evidence that people hold negative attitudes toward individuals with eating disorders. Negative attitudes toward anorexia have been documented within the general population, among university students, and health-care professionals. People also appear to underestimate the severity of eating disorders i.e., how distressing these disorders are and how difficult it is to recover, which may contribute to the heightened stigmatization of the condition. In addition to this tendency to trivialize the severity of eating disorders, there is also a common belief that the illness is self-inflicted and under the individuals’ control, and both of these beliefs can potentially account for prejudicial attitudes toward individuals afflicted with the conditions. Importantly, stigma associated with eating disorders and mental health more generally is associated with negative outcomes for the stigmatized individuals, the most important of which might be a decrease in help-seeking behaviors.

To date, only one study has examined social perceptions of orthorexia. Simpson and Mazzeo had participants read vignettes describing an individual with orthorexia nervosa or a DSM-5 eating disorder anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. That study found that, although there were some group differences e.g., orthorexia was seen as less distressing and less likely to evoke sympathy than the other disorders, the stigma toward individuals with orthorexia was quite similar to the stigma toward individuals with other eating disorders. For example, evaluations of the orthorexia target did not differ from evaluations of the other targets in terms of personal characteristics e.g., boring vs. interesting, how much they are to blame for their condition, or how difficult the disorder would be to treat. Thus, there is some preliminary evidence of a stigma toward orthorexia. However, that initial study did not include a no-disorder control group to establish baseline ratings on the measured characteristics, and did not examine any potential mechanisms underlying the stigma. There are also other stigma-relevant variables that could be of interest that were not examined in that initial study e.g., affective reactions, behavioral intentions. Thus, further research is needed in order to develop a richer understanding the nature and breadth of stigma toward this condition.

Scope of the Journal: Obesity, Eating Disorders and its associated areas of research

Share your valuable work @

Best regards

Senior Journal Coordinator

Laura Gray

Journal of Obesity and Eating Disorder