How the Asian-American experience impacts your relationship with food and your body

Registered Dietitian, Marie, shares the impacts of the Asian American experience on your relationship with food and your body.

TW: eating disorder

Growing up half Korean, my Korean Umma showed her love through food. No hugs, no ‘I love yous,’ but a plate of cut-up fruit.

I spoke Korean, but at a 5- year old level, so visiting my relatives in Korea consisted of lots of head nods and food as signs of affection.

Food was the way I connected with my Korean side. Food was the way my Korean family members communicated with me.

Food was also the way I could feel control. My parents did not talk about their emotions, so whenever I felt sad, angry, or frustrated, I turned to food. I couldn’t control my emotions, but I could control how much I ate.

The summer after 6th grade, I went to Korea and decided not to eat the food. I chose to drink lots of water and brushed my teeth whenever I got hungry. I watched the Korean variety shows that broadcasted the Korean actresses’ weight and compared my tall, sturdy body to the actresses tall, waiflike body.

At 12 years old, I didn’t know what or why I was doing it, but I knew that being skinny was the ideal.

Back home in Seattle, I saw all the girls in 7th and 8th grade skip lunch or just eat a bag of chips.

In High School, I saw girls sitting at lunch tables with nothing in front of them. Lunch conversation was about the magical 1,200 calorie maximum or the different ab workouts Britney Spears did.

And it didn’t matter which lunch table or what group of girls, the weight loss conversations were similar. But the expectations and treatment of the girls at the different tables were different. The expectations and treatment of Asian Americans with disordered eating is different.

Eating disorders have always been known as an upper-middle-class White problem. Doctors and Registered Dietitians are more likely to look for and identify disordered eating in the White demographic.

But more studies show that eating disorder rates are consistent amongst all racial groups, including Asian Americans.

I’m now a Registered Dietitian with my Masters in Nutritional Science. I see how Asian stereotypes prevent Asian Americans from getting proper treatment.

First of all, weight stigma is rampant in Asian culture. Comments from Asian family members such as ‘You’re so fat!’ or ‘Why can’t you be skinny like your cousin’ are considered normal and acceptable. Body shaming comments and the popularity of extreme K-Pop diets can make Asian-Americans susceptible to body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and have unhealthy relationships with food and their body.

Next, Asian American’s also face weight stigma in American culture. The fetishization of Asian American women stereotypes Asian women as ‘petite, thin and submissive.’ The model minority myth expects Asian women to be ‘smart, perfect and docile.’ The pressure to be thin, petite, and perfect easily translates to extreme dieting and overexercising amongst Asian American females.

Add in the Asian immigrant expectation to be grateful for what you have, for what your parents have sacrificed for you, and to be humble and not express your emotions.

Disordered eating habits are a way that many people cope with the pressure.

That’s why representation in the health care system matters. That’s why more research studies on eating disorders need to include Asian Americans. Criteria for identifying eating disorders in Asian Americans differ because family expectations, racism, and acculturation shape a person differently than the standard White experience.

I’m proud of my Korean roots and eager to spread awareness of the Asian American experience in the healthcare and nutrition world.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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