Updated: 2014-09-30 07:21
By Cang Wei(China Daily)
Song Xue from Suzhou of Jiangsu province is pictured before losing weight and now, weighing only 39 kg. XUE MAYI/CHINA DAILY
More needed to help rising number of patients suffering from eating disorders, Cang Wei reports in Wuxi, Jiangsu
At 1.69 meters tall and weighing just 39 kilograms, Song Xue is grossly underweight.
SUGGESTED DAILY FOOD INTAKE
The Chinese Nutrition Society's "nutrition pyramid" recommends four main kinds of food that should make up daily meals.
The first layer of the pyramid combines grains and beans. It suggests 400 to 500 grams of these for each person and the proportion of grains to beans should be 10:1.
Vegetables and fruits form the second layer. The suggested amount of these foods are 300 to 400 grams and the proportion of vegetables to fruits should be 8:1.
The third layer is made up of milk and dairy products to provide quality protein and calcium. The society suggests taking 200 to 300 grams of these a day.
The fourth layer combines meat or other forms of foods from animals including eggs, fish and poultry. The suggested daily amount is 100 to 200 grams.
Oil, salt and sugar, which form the top of the pyramid, should be consumed in the least amounts.
"I didn't consider myself too fat at the time, but I wanted to do something together with the other girls," Song said.
She began to eat less for breakfast and dinner. She skipped lunch totally.
"Several months later, my weight dropped from 55 kilograms to 50 kilograms," Song said. "The dieting really worked, but the most amazing thing was that I didn't feel hungry frequently.
"Now I know I was really stupid to consider that amazing."
As she continued to diet, Song began to suffer from intestinal disorders－she had diarrhea when she took laxatives but was constipated when she did not. When she started suffering from missed menstrual periods, she told her parents about her dieting and sought help.
"I'm no more than a skeleton," Song said.
"I'm not even the walking dead because I can barely walk. Walking makes me feel exhausted."
The family sought treatment in Suzhou, Wuxi and Shanghai, but found that the medication given by doctors could work for only about a week.
"After consulting many hospitals, my daughter was finally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa," said Song Sheng, the girl's father, who is a taxi driver.
He said the family has spent nearly 400,000 yuan ($65,100) to treat his daughter's eating disorder.
"My wife quit her job to take care of the girl at home. I have to work day and night to support the family and pay for the medication. I often cry secretly at night when I feel hopeless."
Li Xueni, a mental health specialist with the Mental Health Institute of Peking University, one of China's most famous psychiatric hospitals, said that a growing number of people in the country are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
"Ten years ago, we had only about 10 cases of anorexia nervosa every year," Li said. "But now the figure has soared to more than 150."
According to the hospital, only 52 people were diagnosed with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia from 1983 to 2001.
Figures from the Shanghai Mental Health Center showed that the number of anorexia nervosa patients has quadrupled from a decade ago.
Anorexia nervosa usually haunts girls and young women. It is generally considered by medical experts as a type of mental illness. It also has the highest death rate among mental illnesses.
Its patients may have digestive tract, hormonal and metabolic disorders, which may further lead to dysfunction of the blood and immune system. Sufferers may die from organ failure and malnutrition eventually, or even commit suicide, due to the disorders that often accompany anorexia, including depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior and anxiety.
Many factors may have contributed to the incidence of anorexia nervosa, including biological, environmental and cultural ones, Li said.
"Studies have shown that some elements may influence the incidence of anorexia when the babies are in their mothers' wombs," Li said.
"The popular perceptions of beauty in China and various slimming product advertisements with their skinny models affect people's aesthetics."
Through much of China's history, barring certain periods like the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), women with slim figures were considered beautiful. Legend has it that many maids in the palace of Emperor Ling (540-529 BC) of Chu were willing to starve to death because the emperor liked women with slim waists.