Finding help for eating disorders isn’t easy; they are such complex diseases and as you have seen in our page on finding help, they need a whole array of supports available to tackle all aspects of the disease. In Asia, and specifically with regards my experience in Hong Kong, you should expect some additional challenges in your quest for recovery. But don’t lose hope. The challenges identified below are for your awareness. I have suggested some ways to face this challenge and will also continually update this site with the latest on getting help in Asia.
Challenge 1 Clothes are smaller in Asia
Being a person of normal weight in Asia is challenging as a lot of the fashion comes in just the smallest of sizes. I have been told that I am a large in many shops and back in the UK and Ireland I would be considered small. There is a huge focus on being thin and this can be a huge pressure to local and expat people who already have some discomfort with their shape or size. It is very easy to lose perspective when surrounded by a generally smaller population.
To face this challenge, it may be helpful to leverage the readily available tailoring services and perhaps find a signature style that suits your body. I have also found that logging my tendency to compare to others along in my food log has allowed me to regulate the negative talk to myself. And finally, if you are trying to recover through gaining to become a healthy weight, it may be worth getting assistance in shopping for larger clothes and binning the older clothes you may be tempted to try and fit into again. All in good time though, don’t panic if you aren’t there yet.
Challenge 2 Food Centric Culture
There is definitely a food culture in Asia. Whether this be the banquet style local meals, long indulgent Sunday-brunches, or the constant list of new restaurants opening; it is hard to stick to a simple healthy meal plan without missing out on occasions or social gatherings.
To face this challenge, try new things with friends and suggest them rather than waiting for others to organize them. You may like my article on ‘Things to do that have nothing to do with food’. Writing down what you intend to eat (a meal plan) and sticking to your plan can be a way of facing these challenges. Be compassionate with yourself, it is ok not to enjoy these entirely in early recovery and it is ok to say no and not go if you cannot face this yet. Having a meal buddy with you who knows what you are going through may also help face these somewhat overwhelming experiences.
Challenge 3 Mental health isn’t spoken about enough
There is a stigma with all mental health issues in Asia that are no longer as prevalent in the US, UK or even Australia. Eating disorders are often fobbed off as a phase that will be grown out of and sometimes mistaken for a desire to lose weight, people with eating disorders are often given advice that could actually be detrimental to them. When I speak to friends about my eating disorder I have sometimes been referred to personal trainers or nutritionists when what I really need to focus on is the mental health issue that underlies the symptoms of the disease.
To face this challenge, I encourage you to break the silence and seek help. The more people that seek help the more the need is recognized and the better the situation becomes. Try and find a support group or specialist with eating disorders who you can relate to and who will take your situation seriously. If you get advice that feels unhelpful, it is ok to clarify your fears and needs and to ask if there are alternatives. It is also ok to politely disengage if someone is dismissive of your illness or doesn’t understand. Not everyone will.
Challenge 4 We have no specialist in-patient treatment facilities in Asia
Not everyone with an eating disorder will need inpatient treatment. However, it is often required especially for long time sufferers or for those at imminent health risk. Without in-patient facilities here in Hong Kong or in Central Asia, I had to make the choice to leave my husband in our first year of marriage to seek treatment in a reputable specialist facility in London. The facilities in the UK, Australia, US and South Africa are the most highly recommended in my experience.
The knock on effect of not having such facilities is that locally trained professionals have less exposure and experience in the treatment of eating disorders and so often you have to seek out doctors and consultants with qualifications and experience from these other regions. There is a limited amount of such professionals available in Asia.
To face this challenge, you may want to check with your insurance company. You may be pleasantly surprised to find you are covered for these international centers as there are no alternatives locally. If you are not covered, do ask about the potential overall costs but don’t rule this option out straight away. Your health is important. If your medical professionals locally suggest you to consider this route, remember that the cost of being ill is often far larger than the cost of recovery. Check out my article on the monetary cost of having an eating disorder, it may surprise you.
If it is not possible to go down this route talk with your psychologist for self-help and family based treatment. Take advantage of local associations resources such as helplines, dieticians and counselling to meet your needs also.
Finally, ask your local politicians about policies to improve the availability of resources for people with eating disorders. Having impatient facilities in Asia would be a benefit to the sufferers and to students who wish to specialize in the treatment of eating disorders.
If you have additional information on services available and wish to share these with our readers, please let me know more about your services and experience with patients with eating disorders. You can contact me here.