HONG KONG –Bonnie Cheung was eating an apple pie bit by bit, occasionally taking a sip of her mocha. It was hard to imagine that just three months ago, she was a binge eater.

“When I say I ate a lot, I am serious. Not like those annoying women who eat two oranges one day, feeling like the sky is falling because they usually eat one,” she said, with a sneer to them or possibly herself. “I weighed almost 70 kg.”

For a 24-year-old, 152-centimetre woman, this is border on obese, but adding that to a binge-eating disorder, Cheung ‘s mental health could be in danger.

Bing eating is an eating disorder, which makes the patient depressed and guilty when eating but still takes in great amount of food. In many cases, it will lead to obesity, high blood pressure, sleeping problems and a series of psychological diseases like Mood Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Substance Abuse and Dependence Disorders.

It’s now three months since her binge-eating disorder was diagnosed, but in fact, the problem plagued her for five years. Cheung is currently a postgraduate at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Cheung was overweight since she had a minor surgery in senior high school. She was only 48kg but gained over 11kg after minor surgery. She gained even more when she entered university.

“A fatty body made me self-loathing,” Cheung said. When roomies went outside, dating, travelling, joining in club, holding parties, participating in contest, Cheung preferred stay in bed companioned with a computer and innumerable snacks. She was always eating.

“I told them I’m not a social person. A person would only find himself when he was alone,” but the fact went to reverse, “I totally lost myself. When I’m eating, immersed in the virtual world, I could not even feel my existence. This made me feel secure, relaxed but painful and ashamed in my deep heart.”

The problem followed Cheung through university days like a ghost and the situation did not turn around when she came to Hong Kong. When roomies went outside, she would slip back into the old ways-binge eating, at least twice every week.

Cheung did not realize it might be a mental illness since she was occasionally told in class that nearly one in six adults in Hong Kong suffer from depression or have other psychological illnesses.

There were 32 students in the class, which meant there were at least 5 people who might be suffering from mental problems now. She was shocked and could not help thinking about herself.

After class, Cheung hurried to home, kick off shoes, rushed to the computer on bed and searched “bulimia” on the Internet.

“I was afraid because I met almost all the symptoms of bulimia only except self-induced vomiting.”

Cheung tossed and turned all night. Early the next day, she took the train, went to Shenzhen to ask for help of her aunt, a psychological counselor.

Cheung was transferred to one colleague of her aunt and eventually, she was diagnosed with binge-eating disorder (BED).

“When I know that I really have a certain mental problem, I was a little afraid and nervous but still felt lucky because I asked for help before things got worse,” she said.

According to a report from Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong, until 2009, 86 600 persons were diagnosed mentally ill or having mood disorder under medical assessment tests (prevalence rate of 1.3%) in Hong Kong, excluding many sufferers who have not sought treatment.H

“Many people do not know they have mental troubles and need psychotherapy,” Yu Hao, an experienced psychological consulting trainer who opened her own psychological office in Shenzhen said, “but more people are unwilling to see a mental doctor because they think it’s humiliating.”

According to Mental Health Service Plan for Adults 2010-2015 claimed by Hospital Authority of Hong Kong, with a population of 6.9m in Hong Kong, extrapolation from worldwide data would indicate that between 1m – 1.7m people have a mental disorder and between 70,000 – 200,000 people have severe mental illness, which means 14.49% to 24.64% of Hong Kong people were in at least one mental problem.

Yu Hao provided more statistics. 0.5%-3% of Chinese people has eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa while bulimia nervosa sufferers are twice the number of anorexia nervosa. People who binge eating are more than those in anorexia.

“People could be ill. That doesn’t mean you’re a loser,” Yu Hao said, “causes are complicated and we can tell that patients should not take the whole responsibility.”

Binge-eating disorder is a chronic mental problem. Cheung was ill in an early stage. On the night before she went to a consultant, she found some related videos and movies. Most patients who were binge eating could be over 100kg. And one psychopath in a movie even killed her mother as her mother didn’t give her food at midnight.

“I don’t want to develop into a psychopath. I don’t want to hurt my family. I want to save myself.” Said Cheung, scared by the movie as she found something in common with the crazy character like always staying at home, opening the refrigerator and bored of everything.

“They usually binge eating when alone because they are ashamed of eating. They care too much about the shape. When getting a little fatter, they will feel depressed and rely on binging eating to relieve the pressure. When binge eating, they don’t feel happy or a sense of satisfaction, instead they are awfully miserable and feel extremely humiliated. They know what they’re doing but cannot stop stuffing the body up.” Yu Hao said,

“And at the moment when my stomach was crammed with food, I felt self-hatred and depressed.” Cheung said, smiled ruefully, “it’s look like crazy right? If I hadn’t get help from a consultant, I wouldn’t know it’s a behavior disorder needing treatment.”

Correcting a behavior disorder would need family and friends’ aid. According to Hong Kong Eating Disorders Association, binging eating can be induced by any depressive mood such as anger, frustration, boredom, depression and anxiety. Obviously, the three-month endeavor of self-redemption was not a hill but a high mountain which could not be simply climbed over.

Every day after supper, Cheung would send her mother a message of what she ate all day. She started outdoor activities, avoiding staying alone. When thirsting for snacks, she called her friends, keep chatting about positive things to distract attention. Followed her consultant’s advice, she went to gym as a way of relieving pressure instead of binge eating.

“I’m proud of her because she’s so brave,” Cheung’s mother said, “the consultant told us to keep encouraging and showing our confidence in her. Her father and I should be partly responsible for the situation. We used to say ‘if you keep getting fat, no one wants to dating you’, but the consultant told us saying like that would worsen her trouble. Now we know how to avoid the problem. I’m glad I can strive with my daughter and help her indeed.”

Three months ago, Cheung was 69kg but now she got back to 57kg, not because of going on a diet, but of facing up to the real problem.

She was like awakening from a long-lasting nightmare. “I’m still striving fine-tuning my mentality,” Cheung said, “I don’t want to relapse.” Taking a last sip of coffee, picking up her Nike knapsack, Cheung set out to the university gym.

Edited by SHU DIAN


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