Date of Award

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Paul Brodwin

Committee Members

Ingrid Jordt, Kalman Applbaum, Erica Bornstein


12-Step, medical anthropology, obesity, Overeaters Anonymous, subjectivity


Academic discussions regarding eating disorders have been dominated by two frameworks: biomedical and feminist. While the former explains eating disorders as a product of individual pathology, the latter asserts the cause is culture. An aspect of culture that is often suggested is neoliberalism. This ethnographic study utilizes the term “eating distress” to acknowledge the localized idioms that occur outside of the bounds of biomedical settings. The research documents the experiences of many members of Overeaters Anonymous dealing with eating distress within a social context in which their body types are stigmatized. The dissertation examines the relationship between subjectivity, Overeaters Anonymous, and participants’ experiences of eating distress. Several social processes are engaged in the normative trajectory of recovery for OA members, and these processes produce a “selfless believer subjectivity” that largely contrasts with neoliberal ideology. The selfless believer subjectivity can be seen as a response to a broader social context in which many people experiencing extreme eating distress have attempted dominant models of alleviating their distress only to experience failure and further self-loathing.