NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A new study uncovered that Asian American women have a tough time seeking help for eating disorders, according to new research led by Yuying Tsong, a California State University, Fullerton associate professor in human services.
“There is a stereotype that Asian American women don’t have as many eating disorders as white women do,” Tsong said.
The study is one of few to examine Asian Americans in particular, Tsong said — most focus on white Americans. But what research there is indicates that while Asian Americans are at equal risk for eating disorders, they are often misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed.
Young Asian American women tend to have cultural and family influences that discourage them from seeking help.
One participant said she avoided treatment “because my mom thought I looked nicer when I ate less. She doesn’t even know what eating disorders are.”
Another was told that a large weight loss “was just a phase … something that I could easily change if I prayed more.”
A stigma over seeking therapy contributed: “I knew it wasn’t healthy and have tried to stop on my own. I didn’t like the idea of being seen as the ‘broken’ Asian girl with problems.”
Lack of time or money played a part for some, while others said they didn’t know their disordered eating was a problem or that a therapist could help.
Tsong and her fellow researchers are also looking at data that identify “facilitators” that encourage Asian Americans to seek treatment for eating disorders, such as having easy access to counseling.
“An example could be that a friend or a family member can recognize that they are stressed and recommend that they seek counseling,” said Tsong.
Several study participants mentioned they sought help because their university provided free counseling sessions on campus.
The primary reason they stopped counseling was because they graduated and no longer had easy access to therapy (having to drive too far or not knowing where to find a therapist) and their insurance didn’t cover it.