Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 111–141

“Hunger Hurts, but Starving Works”. The Moral Conversion to Eating Disorders

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11013-016-9507-6

Cite this article as:
Orsini, G. Cult Med Psychiatry (2017) 41: 111. doi:10.1007/s11013-016-9507-6


This article aims to shed light on the self-perceptions of people with eating disorders in Malta and Italy through a deep understanding of their narratives. In contrast to the biomedical perception of the phenomenon and in opposition with the prevalent feminist theories on the subject, I consider eating disorders as the result of self-transformative processes. I suggest that anorexics, bulimics and binge eaters are actively and deliberately engaged in a project of moral self-transformation that is culturally defined. The moral transformations of women with eating disorders in Malta and Italy, the two considered contexts of this research, reflect the social expectations of women in these societies. The drastic changes in personal attitudes towards both food and the body that characterise eating disorders are the result of a complete dedication to the moral values embodied in thinness, namely the control of bodily needs and pleasure. The self-transformative process of people with eating disorders can be understood as a form of moral conversion along a continuum of increasing control over hunger: the higher the control, the higher the level of satisfaction and the degree of moral conversion achieved. Considering the general low recovery rates of people with eating disorders, this approach helps in the understanding of why people who are diagnosed with an eating disorder accept medical definitions and treatments to different extents.


Eating disorders Moral conversion Narratives Thinness Body 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship (Malta)

    Copyright information

    © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

    Authors and Affiliations

    1. 1.Department of Anthropological SciencesUniversity of MaltaMsidaMalta

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