Culture and Eating Disorders: A Singaporean Perspective — Part 1

Some previous posts on this blog have explored whether eating disorders might (or might not) be considered culture-bound, or in other words specific to or presenting specifically in certain cultures. If you consider eating disorders to be “culture bound,” they would present primarily in Western cultures, with non-Western cultures ‘receiving’ eating disorder pathology through Westernization. In this post, I explore eating disorders in the Singaporean context to continue to unpack the relationship between culture and eating disorders. Singapore is an interesting place in which to look at eating disorders (not just because I live there) because it complicates the idea of “culture-boundedness.”

Studies have been conducted in Asia; primarily in Hong Kong and to a lesser extent Japan. Most notably, Lee (1991) found non-fat-phobic presentations in Hong Kong supported by Ngai, Lee & Lee (2000) (see this post for more on the Ngai study). Singapore is … Continue reading →

Teacher, Learn Thyself: Critical Issues in School-Based Eating Disorder Prevention

Prevention programs for eating disorders abound, though many people I’ve talked to (mostly on Twitter, because that’s where I have a lot of discussions of this type) have expressed the sentiment that limited resources might be better spent on early intervention or treatment in general. Still, it isn’t hard to understand why we still optimistically aim for eating disorder prevention; of course we would rather stop eating disorders in their tracks, before they wreak havoc on the lives of people and their loved ones. I’ve written about my own take on the “is prevention possible” debate elsewhere, highlighting some of my concerns, as well as some more optimistic sentiments about truly systemic prevention efforts.

One of the things I am most concerned about is the fact that prevention tends to take place in the school context, delivered by teachers who may or may not know much about eating disorders … Continue reading →

Eating Disorder Recovery In a Non-Normative Body

Do you think it is easier for someone to recover from an ED when they have a more normative or stereotypically desirable body? Versus, say, an obese person who will never stop hearing extremely triggering stuff about their body type everywhere they turn? . . .

This post was originally written in response to the above question that was posed to Tetyana on the SEDs Tumblr (you can see the full question and Tetyana’s response here).

This is an interesting and timely question, and one that drives much of my research: I’m interested in knowing which bodies are easily accepted as “recovered,” and how body privilege (i.e., unasked for benefits associated with having a body that is perceived as “normal” in sociocultural context, to oversimplify) might play into the experience of recovery.

Tied into the question, I’ve been wondering, lately: Can one only hold themselves up as a beacon … Continue reading →

Disordered Eating and Athletic Performance: Where’s the Line?

If a person severely restricts his diet and exercises for hours each day, he has an eating disorder. If another does exactly the same but it is because she wants to make the lightweight rowing team (which has an upper weight limit), she’s a committed athlete. When the two overlap, and an athlete presents with eating disorder symptoms, how do we distinguish between the demands of the sport and the illness?

I’ve been interested in the distinctions we make between disordered and non-disordered eating and exercise behaviours for a while now. Recently, when I was browsing through articles, I came across a literature review by Werner et al. (2013) (open access) of studies examining weight-control and disordered eating behaviours in young athletes.

The authors start by noting the sheer lack of research that has actually been done in this area. This is worrying: typical onset of eating disorders is during … Continue reading →

Eating Disorders and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Eating disorder patients commonly complain of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation. This is, of course, not surprising. After all, disordered eating behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and restriction are bound to have negative effects on the digestive system.

But just how common are GI complaints and functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) like irritable bowel syndrome among ED patients? And is there more to the relationship than simply ED behaviours causing GI disturbances? Luckily, a growing number of research studies are beginning to shed some light on these questions.

In a study published in 2010, Catherine Boyd and colleagues examined the prevalence of FGIDs among ED patients admitted to a hospital Eating Disorders Unit. They found that out of the respondents (73 in total), 97% had at least one FGID (as evaluated using the Rome II questionnaire). More specifically, on admission, 73% of the … Continue reading →

Calorie Restriction, Anorexia Nervosa, and Memory Gaps

This post has been translated into Russian by Polina here.

I have often heard anorexia nervosa sufferers complain of “memory gaps,” particularly during the times they were really sick. As if they weren’t really there.  It can be scary and unnerving, to say the least. A few months ago, a Tumblr user asked me about this:

Hi Tetyana, I’m not sure if this is merely based on my own subjective experience of if there is any grounding at all, but I was wondering if there could perhaps be a link between EDs and a sort of memory loss. It’s hard to describe but I definitely seem to have huge “gaps” in my memory of during that time, as if I selectively block things out. I have limited inaccurate knowledge with regards to memory on a molecular/neurological basis so I do not know if there’s anything there. Perhaps with calorie

Continue reading →

The “Double Life” of Bulimia Nervosa: Patients’ Perspectives

My psychiatrist once compared my life to Dexter. He said I was living a double life. It was the summer before my final year in undergrad and I was working in a neuroscience lab. Yet things were so bad that at one point I was very close to quitting and doing Day Program treatment. (I didn’t, and things ended up getting better, thankfully.)

This post is going to be more personal than most. One, I can relate well to the topic. Two, I feel that I can give voice to it under my real name. (As opposed to just discuss it abstractly, or anonymously. There’s nothing wrong with being anonymous, but I feel that, for many reasons I am in a position where I don’t feel I have to be anonymous anymore.)

I think this is important because there are a lot of myths that surround eating disorders and … Continue reading →

3 Personality Subtypes in Eating Disorder Patients: Which One Fits You?

Scientists love classifying and categorizing things they study. But it can be a double-edged sword. Classification can lead to new insights about etiology or new treatment methods. But classification can also hamper our understanding. For example, researchers like to classify and study anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa as if they are two wholly separate disorders, but clinicians know that most patients fluctuate between diagnoses, and as a result often fall into the eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) category.

Nonetheless, if we keep in mind that the way in which we classify things can be very artificial and may not necessarily reflect some fundamental truths about the subject matter, we can focus on extracting the insights gained from the classifications.

In the case of eating disorders, classifying patients into subtypes may be useful for developing successful treatment approaches suited for particular patient subgroups.

Previous research on this topic has identified … Continue reading →

Diabulimia: Disordered Eating in Type 1 Diabetic Patients

Type 1 diabetes mellitus (DMT1) is a lifelong chronic disorder that occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin – a hormone that is required for carbohydrate metabolism. Patients must learn to manage their disorder by monitoring their blood sugar levels on a regular basis, carefully selecting the foods they eat and how much exercise they do. Before insulin was extracted and purified (at University of Toronto!), type 1 diabetes, which usually occurs in children and adolescents, would very quickly lead to death – the body, unable to take in the very thing it needs to survive.

Unfortunately,  patients with type 1 diabetes are at increased risk of developing eating disorders or disordered eating behaviours. Diabulimia refers to an eating disorder in patients with DMT1 who reduce or skip insulin doses to reduce their weight.

The exact prevalence rates vary study by study, depending on the population sampleContinue reading →

Predictors of Diagnostic Crossover and Symptom Fluctuation in Eating Disorders

Symptom fluctuation and diagnostic crossover are common in eating disorder patients. A study by Eddy et al. (2008) – who followed patients over an average of 7 years – showed that crossover between subtypes and full-syndrome diagnoses is very common : of those initially diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, almost 73% crossed over to another diagnosis (between symptoms and to bulimia nervosa). More specifically, roughly 50% experienced fluctuation between subtypes (restricting, AN-R, and binge/purge type, AN-BP) and roughly 35% crossed over to bulimia nervosa (a subset experienced both). Of those initially diagnosed with bulimia, roughly 14% crossed over to AN-BP and of those, 3.91% crossed over to AN-R.

This finding (though, well-known to ED specialists and even more well-known to patients) has important implications for treatment. For example, CBT and anti-depressants seem to have positive results in bulimic patients, but not so much in anorexics. What then, about those that crossover … Continue reading →