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Dieting so close to death

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012
The New Paper

The interview takes place at a dessert store that sells sinfully thick milk shakes and scoops of creamy ice-cream -a place she would have taken pains to avoid six years ago.

Miss Heather Chi today seems the perfect picture of health. She is round-faced and rosy-cheeked. The 23-year-old seems calm, collected and completely at home in her own skin.

But in her first year of junior college, she was wasting away, a victim of anorexia. She broke out of it eventually, and is now a campaigner who reminds people of the dangers of this disorder.

International studies have reported that 0.5 to 1 per cent of females suffer from anorexia.

Dr Lee Huei Yen, the director of the eating disorders programme at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) said that eating disorders are becoming more common here too.

The SGH Life Centre, which treats lifestyle-related medical conditions, now sees an average of 120 new cases of anorexia each year, up from 2003, when the Centre reported only 34 such cases.

Dr Lee also told TNPS that in a prevalence study in 2006, where over 4,000 Singaporean women between the ages of 12 and 26 were surveyed, 7.4 per cent of them were at risk of developing eating disorders.

Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, explains that the need for control can drive people into the clutches of anorexia.

"Eldest daughters are especially at risk.They are expected to be more successful, so they face more pressures. When they can't meet their parents' expectations, they may look for other ways to succeed," he explains.

Ms Chi was motivated by control, she recalls. "I was overweight at that time, and the transition to junior college was stressful," she recalls.

"I started looking for success in other aspects of my life. So I turned to dieting and exercise to gain a sense of control."

Ms Chi is indeed the eldest daughter, but she says her family has never been a factor in her obsessive need to lose weight.

Instead, her parents were constantly trying to get her to stop dieting. She would lash out at them when they suggested that she eat more.

Sometimes, instead of having dinner with her family, she would stay cooped up in her room to play computer games.

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