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China Struggles to Come to Grips with Anorexia

Posted: 09/2/2014 10:52 am

Suzhou anorexia nervosaAnorexia nervosa is a well-known eating disorder around most of the world, but it’s still relatively new in China, which was impoverished for decades prior to the reform and opening period that began in 1978.

The Mayo Clinic describes it as a disease that results in people starving themselves as an unhealthy way to deal with emotional problems. For these people, being thin is the only thing that gives them self-esteem.

There are many causes of anorexia, ranging from psychological, biological, and sociological; some sufferers are even influenced by images in the media. But the perception of anorexia in China is still evolving as medical practitioners come to terms with it. Here, the disease is still viewed as something you “catch” if you diet too much.

Chinese media has recently profiled a 24 year-old Suzhou woman who has apparently been suffering from a “mysterious ailment” that has caused her to continually lose weight for six years.

Suzhou anorexia nervosa

Xiaoxiao (a pseudonym) was 169 cm (5’6″) tall and weighed 55 kg (121 lbs) when she was a second-year high school student in 2007. Today, she weighs a mere 39 kg (88 lbs).

The problem started in 2008 when Xiaoxiao returned to high school after taking a year off to recover from an operation to correct her spine. Discovering that many of her classmates were dieting, Xiaoxiao followed the trend of eating less as a way to become thinner. Xiaoxiao only ate one mouthful of food at dinner, and skip lunch all together.

By 2009, Xiaoxiao had dropped to 50 kg (110 lbs). She looked unhealthy, but her parents didn’t think much of it. When Xiaoxiao complained of being constipated, a doctor prescribed her a laxative that made things worse by giving her diarrhea. At this time, Xiaoxiao stopped having her period.

Xiaoxiao was later taken to a hospital where she received treatment from the Traditional Chinese Medicine department. She was prescribed nourishing medicine to increase her health, but this proved to be ineffectual.

This past April, Xiaoxiao was taken to a Wuxi hospital where she was diagnosed as not receiving enough nourishment and required drug supplements. This treatment was very effective at first: after two months, Xiaoxiao’s weight increased from 40 kg (88 lbs) to 44 kg (97 lbs). However, after three months, her intestines were found to be massively swollen as a result.

In July, Xiaoxiao was taken to Huashan hospital in Shanghai where she was given anti-allergy medication that proved to be very effective. Xiaoxiao got her appetite back, but the situation reversed itself after a week.

At no time was Xiaoxiao given any psychological counselling or even diagnosed with anorexia. Xiaoxiao’s parents have now stopped giving her any nutritional supplements, including expensive foreign imports. Instead, Xiaoxiao’s father, Mr Song, is desperately asking anyone for their help to solve his daughter’s ailment.

Suzhou anorexia nervosa

He has struggled to cope with his daughter’s problems, and confessed he often cries due to the unbearable pain of seeing his daughter suffering. He is at a loss of what to do to help her.

Xiaoxiao, though, does have some advice for others considering dieting:

Girls: be sure not to blindly follow trends just to torment yourself. I feel that being a bit pudgy is better in the end.

Despite the dire situation, Xiaoxiao has so far not received any emotional or psychological treatment to deal with her condition.

Photos: China News, Guangzhou Daily


  • The master of none

    Very common problem here.
    Made more so by the constant bombardment of adverts on momo wechat and other social media to sell girls products to loose weight.
    Also the culture of skinny is better all though china now suffering extremely obese people.
    Seems all the western wealth problems have arrived in China for the same reason.
    Lack of education and regulation is the root cause.
    My gf is 170cm tall and 50kg constantly moaning about loosing weight, rather listen to the mainstream media then common sense.

  • Jenn O.

    It sure would help if a respected medical site like the Mayo Clinic wasn’t posting outdated and harmful information. Eating disorders are biological brain-based illnesses that appear after a period of malnutrition and/or weight loss. For up-to-date information from an academic source, please reach out to Dr. Walter Kaye at UCSD or Dr. Cindy Bulik at UNC-Chapel Hill or Dr. Daniel LaGrange at University of Chicago or Dr. James Lock at Stanford.

  • Amy Cunningham

    Eating disorders such as anorexia have been around for centuries and have affected both men and women. We know there is a genetic basis. We know that they are biologically based brain disorders. There is currently a global study underway called the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative that is looking at the genetic variation of those with anorexia. What we suspect is that the relative affluence many nations have experienced in the past 100 years and the ‘thin’ ideal for both women and increasingly men, is also triggering weight loss that can essentially jump start the illness in those already predisposed, making it extremely difficult for sufferers to eat normally. Eating disorders are not a diet, but often begin with a desire for ‘healthy eating’ or restricting foods and being vegan, vegetarian, frutarian etc. can also be a ‘cover’ for an eating disorder. if the father is reading this please direct him to the research noted in the comment below and also to the site where he can learn about Family Based Treatment in which the family is empowered to refeed the child. In this case however the illness has persisted for some time and needs both family and medical management. Please look at the data and research from the studies below. As parents we must work together to fight deadly eating disorders!

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