26 April 2019
Eating disorders affect people of all ages, but are especially prominent among teenagers. Photo: Reuters
Eating disorders affect people of all ages, but are especially prominent among teenagers. Photo: Reuters

Anorexia among teenagers

Let’s meet Siu Yee, a typical 16-year-old average secondary school student. Among other passions, the young woman enjoys dancing. During a practice session recently, she was mortified when she found that a dancer partner wasn’t able to lift her up for one of the moves. Siu Yee realized that it was because she must have gained some weight, owing to her sweet tooth. That was when she decided to cut off all sugary and greasy food and step up her game in exercising.

On top of her regular two one-hour-long dance practice sessions per week, Siu Yee spent time running on the treadmill and doing high-intensity interval training at home. She even wore layers of shirts when she exercised, believing it could burn extra calories.

However, all these ended up causing her a bigger appetite, so she came up with a “win-win” solution: compensating for the eating, by purging.

Within a year, her weight dropped to 50 kilograms from 54kg, which made her feel light and amazing. Since then she went on exercising rigorously, with eating and then purging. Eventually, her weight plunged to 42kg. Her bony figure, low energy level and layers of clothes got her friends and family worried about malnutrition.

Much concerned, her mother took her to visit a psychiatrist, who initially thought Siu Yee was only stressed about school work and her dance performance, but later feared she might actually be progressing towards being anorexic.

Siu Yee was told several times to eat more and gain weight but she could not do as told. Not wanting to see her situation get worse, her mother and the psychiatrist decided to get her hospitalized for some serious treatment.

At first, Siu Yee felt betrayed by her mother but then she started correcting her anorexic tendency willingly and diligently during hospitalization.

The young woman followed the doctor’s dietary guidelines closely by having three proper meals a day, and taking snacks if necessary. She neither skipped meals nor indulged in binge eating. She also set a weight target with her nutritionist and gradually increased her daily calorie intake. And of course, she no longer made herself throw up.

Perhaps the most beneficial course of this battle was the therapy Siu Yee received in the end, from which she learned how to cope with stress and handle her eating disorder.

As a matter of fact, eating disorder ran in her family, as her two elder sisters had also been obsessed with weight loss and rigorous exercising. They even covered for each other in the way they consumed food and purged afterwards.

It was truly a blessing that her mum wisely took the doctor’s advice and agreed to get Siu Yee hospitalized and treated professionally.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 1

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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FHKAM (Psychiatry)

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