Eating Disorders in the Asian Community
Eating disorders (ED) have been a popular topic in recent times. The prevalence of EDs, a disorder of disrupted eating patterns accompanied by body dissatisfaction, has widespread across the globe. From collected research regarding this disorder, EDs were characterized to primarily affect the white, wealthy, and educated young women that led to the extrapolation of women’s beauty standards. As evident in the media, through advertisements and social media platforms, the beauty standard of women is the thin ‘ideal’. This ideal was accompanied by improvements in the physical body through diet and exercise to achieve a ‘perfect’ body.
Although EDs have become present in many countries, EDs are typically labeled to be part of the Western culture and not often mentioned in Non-Western cultures, particularly in the Asian culture. The rise in evidence of EDs in Asian culture is noted to be a result of globalization and EDs are mentioned as a ‘cultural-bound syndrome’ seen within Western societies. However, with more research dedicated to EDs outside of Western societies, EDs are shown to be more culture reflective, rather than culture-bound. Thus, the trend of increasing prevalence of EDs in Asian societies is not a by-product of Westernization.
It is unfortunate that within the Asian culture, the stigmatization of mental disorders is still very much evident. Mental disorders, including EDs, are perceived as shameful therefore, people with EDs avoid sharing about their struggles in fear of being shamed and accumulate feelings of self-guilt. Furthermore, food plays a large dynamic role in Asian culture as it not only represents nourishment, but is also symbolic of unity, celebration, and love. Eating food cooked by an older relative or family member reflects your love and appreciation for them. Hence, if an individual going through an ED refuses to eat the food served, they are called out for being ungrateful and disrespectful, adding to their self-guilt. These individuals are at a crossroads of being stigmatized because of having EDs or have to endure the complaints of underappreciation when refusing to eat.
Reported cases of prevalent eating disorders were seen in Japan in the 1970s. 40 years ago, there were no reported cases of Bulimia, but today, it is the leading ED faced amongst the Japanese. Prior to 2000, there were very few reports on EDs in India and in the past 15 years, the reports have grown 10x more than previous decades.
How did this happen? As a consequence of very low rates of reported cases, seeking professional help does not even play out as an option. There is a lack of available resources to treat EDs because of how the fear of being stigmatized dominates over the need to seek treatment.
If the root of the cause of the rise of EDs is a consequence of individuals wanting to attain an ‘ideal body’, we hope to continue encouraging individuals to embrace their unique selves, rather than continuously pressuring ourselves to conform to the sky high ‘perfect’ standards within the beauty and fashion industry. Several movements, including the Healthy at Every Size movement, actively spreads awareness regarding body positivity. Within the McGill community, The Body Project is an amazing workshop led to talk about body image and learn skills to improve your own body image. EDs is an occurrence that should be discussed more openly, Asian or not, to allow those with EDs to feel secure enough to share about their struggles and be able to seek help without any judgement or stigma! In doing so, we can strive to break the ‘ideal’ image set by society and promote individuality instead.
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(2) Louie, S. (2017, June 13). Eating Disorders Spread Among Asians. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/minority-report/201706/eating-disorders-spread-among-asians
(3) Kim, L. (2018, August 08). Eating Disorders in the Asian American Community: A Call for Cultural Consciousness - MEDA - Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.medainc.org/eating-disorders-in-the-asian-american-community-a-call-for-cultural-consciousness/
(4) Channa, S., Lavis, A., Connor, C., Palmer, C., Leung, N., & Birchwood, M. (2019). Overlaps and Disjunctures: A Cultural Case Study of a British Indian Young Woman’s Experiences of Bulimia Nervosa. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 43(3), 361-386.
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