I am a fourth-year PhD student based in the Centre for the History of Medicine (CHM). My project is supervised by Professor Hilary Marland, and kindly funded by a Departmental Scholarship. I am broadly interested in the history of psychiatry, the history of food and diet, and how gender intersects with these fields.
In recent years there has been a marked rise in a new form of disordered eating. Orthorexia nervosa is a term initially coined in 1996, referring to symptoms of patients who were obsessed with healthy eating and food purity, rather than body size and weight as seen in cases of anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Recent popular interest in ‘clean eating’ along with the rise of health gurus supported through expanding social media networks, often with questionable nutritional qualifications, such as Ella Mills (Deliciously Ella) and Madeleine Shaw, has been cited as the cause of an outbreak of orthorexia nervosa. Current medical discourse on the illness presents it as a modern development in the wider history of eating disorders. Through my PhD research, I aim to cast a new light on orthorexia nervosa and clean eating, understanding it not as something entirely new dependent on the age of social media, but rather as part of a longer history of obsession with dieting and healthy eating.
My work builds on historical studies of dieting and eating disorders in order to explore the relationship between the individual, the body, wider culture and society, and food – and importantly, how these relationships become disordered. Using a variety of primary sources including cookbooks, diet books, and social media, I aim to answer the fundamental question: can clean eating and orthorexia nervosa be understood as part of a wider history of dieting and disordered eating, furthered by contemporary obsessions with social media and influencers, as current medical literature would suggest? Or rather, is it part of a longer cultural obsession with our own health and diet? In order to answer these questions, I look primarily at why clean eating became popular; how clean eating became popular; and how clean eating became disordered.
My PhD is broadly split into two sections – the first section examines the rise, and subsequent fall, of clean eating. In this section, I firstly examine links between clean eating and vegetarian activism, curative eating for health, and concerns over food quality and food scandals. Secondly, I study the use of social media and blogging platforms to turn clean eating into a popular movement, different from its origins as a detox diet. Finally, I study the backlash against clean eating in which famous clean eaters actively distanced themselves from the movement, falling against a backdrop of twenty-first century body positivity and fat activism.
The second section of my research looks at the rise of orthorexia nervosa. I first question how eating disorders come to exist, both in the psychiatric sphere and the public imagination, looking at historical studies of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Secondly, I look at the medicalising of obsession. I am particularly interested in the tipping point between understanding something like clean eating as a fad or a lifestyle choice and understanding it as obsessive to the point of unhealthy psychological behaviour. Finally, I use memoirs and social media to analyse the role of knowledge-sharing and awareness-raising in creating legitimacy for a new form of disordered eating.
Ultimately, my thesis will address the relationship between healthy eating and disordered eating. By examining the point of intersection between clean eating and orthorexia nervosa, this work will add to both the literature of eating disorders and the history of health, food and dieting.
[Book Review] Louise Morgan, 'Mark Jackson and Martin D. Moore (eds), Balancing the Self: Medicine, Politics and the Regulation of Health in the Twentieth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020)', Social History of Medicine [DOI: 10.1093/shm/hkaa066]
29th June - 2nd July 2022 - 'Building Bodily Resilience Through Clean Eating in the Twenty-First Century', Society for the Social History of Medicine Biennial Conference: 'Resilience', Swansea University.
7th-10th September 2021 - 'Religious Conversion Narratives in Twenty-First Century British Clean Eating', European Association for the History of Medicine and Health Biennial Conference: 'Faith Medicine and Religion', KU Leuven. Online.
17th-18th June 2021 - Organising Committee Member, 'You Are What You Eat: Food and Identity From The Middle Ages to the Modern', University of Warwick. Online.
25th-28th May 2021 - Organising Committee Member, History Department Postgraduate Conference, University of Warwick. Online.
11th January 2021 - '‘Having Been There… I Know How Hard It Is’: Relatability and Ordinariness in Clean Eating', Gender, Subjectivity, and "Everyday Health" in the Post-1945 World, University of Essex. Online Seminar Series.
9th December 2020 - 'Clean Eating and the Gendered Body in Twenty-First Century Britain', Graduate Seminar Series, Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, University of Warwick. Virtual Seminar.
30th-31st July 2020 - 'Clean Eating and the Pursuit of the Ideal Body in Twenty-First Century Britain', 'The Ideal Body': Perceptions of Perfection from Early Modernity to the Present, University of Cambridge. Virtual Conference.
8th-11th July 2020 - 'Building Bodily Resilience Through Clean Eating in the Twenty-First Century', Society for the Social History of Medicine 50th Anniversary Conference: Resilience, University of Swansea. Postponed due to COVID-19.
16th-18th April 2020 - '‘Having Been There… I Know How Hard It Is’: Relatability and Ordinariness in Clean Eating', Gender, Subjectivity, and "Everyday Health" in the Post-1945 World, University of Essex. Rescheduled due to COVID-19.
8th November 2019 - 'Clean Eating and Orthorexia Nervosa: The Removal of Toxicity', 'Cultures of Toxicity' Symposium, University of Warwick.
2nd March 2019 - '"Eat Better Not Less": The Rise of Clean Eating Through Cookbooks', 'Cookbooks: Past, Present and Future' Symposium, University of Portsmouth.
8th-9th June 2017 - ‘Homosexuality, Medicine, and the Law in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Britain’, ‘A Cabinet of Curiosities’ HSMT Postgraduate Conference, University of Oxford.
8th-9th June 2017 - Panel Chair, ‘War in the Twentieth Century’, ‘A Cabinet of Curiosities’ HSMT Postgraduate Conference, University of Oxford.
Feast! Food Festival, Coventry City of Culture, University of Warwick, November-December 2021.
2021-current - Modern British History Reading Group, University of Warwick.
2020-2022 – Co-convener, PGR Work in Progress Sessions, University of Warwick.
2020-current – Food and Drink History Reading Group, University of Warwick.
2019-2021 – Committee Member, Queer History Warwick.
2019-2020 – Work in Progress Co-convener (with Dr Kathryn Woods), Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick.
2018-2019 – First-year PhD Student Representative, Postgraduate History Staff Student Liaison Committee, University of Warwick.
2018-2019 – Contributions Editor, Pubs and Publications: The PhD Blog.
2017 – Co-organiser of ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ HSMT Postgraduate Conference, University of Oxford.
2013-2015 – Academic Editor, Retrospect Journal, University of Edinburgh.
2021-2022 – Seminar Tutor, HI180 Britain in the Twentieth Century: A Social History, University of Warwick.
2019-2020 – Seminar Tutor, HI153 Making of the Modern World, University of Warwick.
2018-2022 – PhD Student, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick.
Provisional Title: 'Eat Better, Not Less': Contextualising Clean Eating in Contemporary History. Supervised by Professor Hilary Marland.
2017-2018 – Student Association Co-ordinator (West Coast), Highlands and Islands Student Association, University of the Highlands and Islands.
2016-2017 – MSc in History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, University of Oxford.
Dissertation Title: Homosexuality, Medicine and the Law in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Britain. Supervised by Dr Sloan Mahone.
2011-2015 – MA (Hons) in History, University of Edinburgh.
Dissertation Title: “The Gravest Offence”: Homosexuality and the Law in Late-Nineteenth Century Scotland. Supervised by Dr Gayle Davis.
Received the Edinburgh Award for my work during a library internship, based at the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology.