Trigger warning: This article includes mentions of eating disorders which may be triggering to some readers. Please proceed with caution if this is sensitive for you. If you need support, please contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) hotline: Toll-Free: 1-866-NEDIC-20
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For many of us growing up in South Asian communities and other diverse cultures, we have often been fed food that contains high amounts of ghee (a modified form of oil that contains excess amounts of butter) and have been told to eat larger portions when visiting a relative’s house. These cultural elements can make it harder for those of us who are South Asian and reside in North America (Canada and the United States) and have eating disorders. Most treatment options and “diet culture” revolves around Western diets – the traditional veggies that cover half a plate, meat one-fourth, and carbohydrates another one-fourth. This makes it harder for us to adjust to healthy portion sizes and also incorporate our cuisines while in the recovery phase. Many dieticians and healthcare professionals might not be aware of diverse diets which can further cause South Asians to feel isolated, guilty, and make them more likely to struggle than White patients.
An article published by Shruti Shankar Ram, from the EAT LAB (Eating Anxiety Treatment Laboratory and Clinic), states that South Asian patients are typically diagnosed with a biological cause for mental illness, such as linking mental illness to a thyroid function, rather than examining sociocultural factors, such as cultural cuisine and body standards. Minority population eating disorders are a research area that remains unexplored. As such, how can we determine that our foods are “unhealthy” (based on Western standards) when we lack the knowledge about South Asian cuisine? Many women and men in these societies grow up hearing advice about the “ideal” cultural body type which can also contribute to body dysmorphia, and thus eating disorders. As such, it is crucial that researchers explore South Asian cuisine, lifestyle, and ways to treat and help South Asian patients that coincide with South Asian culture rather than working from a Western recovery model. Clinicians should also be trained to provide professional medical advice to South Asian patients and be trained to look at other factors besides the biological origins of a disease. In order to help South Asian peoples suffering from eating disorders, we need to understand the sociocultural factors that contribute to it, and that starts with research.