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Eating Disorders in Korea

April 29, 2015

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So, we’re back to handling serious topics for TL;DRs! We felt the need to address this topic in response to the conversations from our Mukbang video. Now, this is a very complicated topic, I think, so the best we could really do is try to give as many stats as we could find and talk a bit about our experiences. Hopefully we can keep the conversation going here, and see how comparisons with our own experiences can shed light on Eating Disorders, not just in Korea but elsewhere.

For starters, we have difficulty understanding common Korean perceptions of weight management and weight loss. We talked about diets and eating disorders, but we notice a bit of it with fitness as well, particularly at all of the gyms we’ve been to. Maybe we’re just at the wrong gyms, but we’ve been to four different ones, and the experiences are all the same: we haven’t really seen a lot of Korean women busting arse at a gym. All of the weights that are used are the lightest possible, and all of the cardio is really, really slow. I’ve seen only one girl run on a treadmill, while everyone else we’ve seen just walks on them. Most of the Korean girls we’ve spoken with (except for Soo Zee) have the fear is that if they pick up a weight that’s a bit heavy they’ll instantly bulk up Hulk-size. Since they don’t want to get too muscular, it’s best to not over exert themselves with challenging weights. We’re not saying all Korean girls are like this, but if you’ve ever been to a gym in Korea you will know exactly what we’re talking about. Martina looks like the She-Hulk when she goes to our gym in Korea and a tiny sissy baby when she goes to the gym in Canada.

Now, I’m not trying to get into a big discussion about weightlifting and the science behind it, but it seems like most of the discussions about health and weight loss in Korea are more rooted in concepts of just not eating rather than in the science of how bodies work. When we hear someone say, “I’m trying to lose weight so I’m eating only three sweet potato a day because it burns fat” it makes us feel very upset. Yes of course you will lose weight but you’re also starving your body of an important range of vitamins and minerals. There is a way to limit your food intake in a healthy manner as well as pair it with exercise, but it doesn’t seem like tons of Korean people talk about it. It seems like the discussion about losing weight comes up very frequently in Korea, but the discussion on how to do so in a healthy manner does not.

A discussion we had in the studio was about how Eating Disorders in Korea are probably under diagnosed. The criteria for diagnosing an Eating Disorder is both behavioral and psychological, but it seems like in Korea, the focus is more on dieting and losing weight, not on the physical and mental harm their diets may have. Food restriction diets seem to be talked about in more pragmatic and straightforward terms, like “oh! Seems like I have to lose some weight. Time to eat less!” Diets in Korea, and the language used for them, doesn’t seem like an anxiety about food, you know? And, let me be clear: I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist. It’s just talked about with a different attitude than we’re used to.

Again, this is difficult for us to classify, because we know that there’s huge pressure that goes with dieting in Korea, which we talked about before in another video, but it feels like that pressure is received differently in Korea than it is received in North America. Our personal concern is that the pressure to lose weight in Korea is very real and affects many people, but perhaps because dieting is such a common and seemingly innocuous topic of conversation it hasn’t been acknowledged as problematic.

So, let us know what you think. Do our experiences in Korea match up with yours? Both Martina and I have been told to “go on a diet” or “to lose weight” by Korean friends, has this ever happened to you? How different it is where you’re from?

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  1. What really grinds my gears is how people believe that not eating food is considered as some sort of diet, even though your diet revolves around actually eating food. So, not eating eating food is the absence of a diet, not the following of an actual diet.

    All those celebs talking about their “diet” where they only eat 1 meal a day etc. THAT’S NOT DIETING FOLKS! That’s not having a diet at all! Which is usually very unhealthy and I think should fall under the category of self-harm, and should absolutely not be promoted for that reason.

    5 years ago
    • That’s actually a great way to put it. I’ll remember that for conversations. Thank you!

      5 years ago
    • This. Yes. Good grief. It makes my skin crawl when I see those articles and I think about the young girls reading about how their favorite celebrity eats half a piece of celery a day. It sets a very bad precedent for young people when they are already in a difficult stage in life.

      5 years ago
  2. TLDR Question: When I was in Hong Kong, at 7:00pm people started to set up booths of questionable novelty items. I asked my professor if this was common and he said it happened every night at the same time. When I went to Japan, entire buildings(huge ones with 7+ floors in Akihabara), would be dedicated to just this. I was wondering if these shops are also in S.Korea, and if so, is it an open-to-the-world-to-see-party? “COVER YOUR EYES KIDS!” How do people view this? And what’s your opinion on it? The windows are blacked out here in America and you have to be over 18 with ID to go in.

    5 years ago
  3. Nia

    I’ve never had any big issues with my body weight, there have been times when I was unappy about thies or that, but I learned to accept it. I watch my weight to make sure I stay in the healthy parameters for my height, try to eat more fruit and vegetables and since I don’t like exercising, I walk to places as much as I can or go for walks and swim in the summer.
    I’m from Spain and here eating disorders are acknowledged and in general, people try to help people who suffer them. The problem is that at the same time, you can easily find in magazines all sorts of crazy diets, like when I was in high school and a couple of girls said that for 3 days they only drank pineapple juice. Another issue is that people affected by eating disorders have created a support system using the internet using the codename of Princess Ana and Princess Mia where they give each other tips on how to fake eating, lie to parents, etc… and I think they wear some sorts of bracelets to identify others.

    5 years ago
  4. I can totally relate to your sister Martina. My mom and I are both petite and most of the other women on her side are also. When I went to Korea to visit my fiancee’s family his mother constantly told me to eat more food because she thought I was too skinny. She would buy me extra food and even give me more rice even when I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want to be rude so most of the time I would have to force myself to eat even though I explained to her that I was a smaller person genetically. In contrast, when I met my fiancee’s brother-in-law, he told me I looked like I’d gotten fat over my stay and I needed to lose weight. I think it’s difficult for foreigners to deal with such blunt expressions of weight and it can take a toll on your self esteem.

    5 years ago
  5. I had an eating disorder when I was in my early teens. It was such a secretive time of my life. No one ever knew about it, but I was obsessed with counting calories and exercise. No one ever even mentioned to me “hey, you need to lose weight.” It was my own perfectionistic self that said this. Definitely the pressure in the US to be thin in order to be beautiful must have contributed. We don’t say it out loud to people, but behind their backs or on the media…those who are overweight get made fun of.

    I basically went through recovery by myself…secretively…I sadly didn’t even seek professional help with it. I gained all the weight back rapidly and more and it was then that I had relatives asking me “what was wrong”? I was for the first time NOT caring about what I ate and trying to break out of my obsessive thoughts of food and it was then that people were telling me I was “getting fat”. So it was hard to go through. But I made it eventually. It evolved into a full out existential depression, now unrelated to food, where I did need to seek professional counseling…but I made it though.

    It has been many years since then and for the first time, I am trying to diet (but more like a lifestyle change). I was scared of trying to change my diet in any way because I knew how easy it can be for me to fall into a disorder, but my parents were getting sick due to their eating habits, so I wanted to change for them, to help them change too. With the most logical nutritional research I have ever read, I have begun trying to cut out all sugary drinks and trying to cut back on refined carbs. I am approaching this less sugary/less carb diet “cautiously” because I know I can go overboard, but I actually feel like I am not starving, that I am eating healthier (lots of veggies/fruits) and am slowly seeing better results than when I was a teen trying to count calories/starve/excessively exercise.

    I think the key is to know the most healthiest way to lose weight for oneself, so that it isn’t such a huge struggle and therefore, you don’t end up obsessing over it. Turns out I may have been “carb sensitive” and so too much sugar and refined carbs made me gain weight rapidly. Once I knew that, I think weight loss became less of a brick wall kind of challenge. I think the harder it is to lose weight, the more I am likely to get “obsessed”…so finding a way that makes it easier and healthier, I think will help protect me from getting another disorder in the future. That is my hope and resolve, to do this in a way that is right for me.

    5 years ago
  6. I’m from Finland and because I’m from a very small town I’ve always had amazing school lunches but I know that’s not the case all over Finland. I’ve been told (not sure how accurate this is) that the lunches are planned so that students could get a lot of the daily nutrients at lunch to make sure that every student gets at least one warm good meal a day. Some kids aren’t as fortunate as others and there are some students that only get their warm meals at school and have to survive the weekend on something like bread etc.
    I also think that there was a story on the news resently about schol lunches and that school should have one day a week when they serve food that is fit for vegeterians. How cool is that?

    So about eating disorders…I have no experience personally but students in Finland are taught about eating disorders in like 7th-9th grade and in high school so you know a lot about the disorders and we are encouraged to turn to someone like a teacher, close friends or our parents if we need help.

    I also have a story for you. We were discussing about bulimia in class when our teacher asked that “Which doctor is most likely to notice that a person has bulimia?”. A dentist. Then she told us that another teacher at our school went to the dentist once. The teacher loves lingon berries which are sour and she eats them almost everyday so when the dentist was examining her he started to ask questions like “what have you been eating lately” to “are you eating regularly”. Our teacher was a bit confused and then she realised that the dentist thought she had bulimia. So she explained to him that she didn’t have it and that the shape of her teeth was because of the berries. But I found this fact to be quite interesting so I thought I’d share it with you.

    5 years ago
  7. First I would like to say thank you for bringing up this topic!
    Second I think it is very important to not forget that illnesses like BED and EDNOS are eating disordes as well, and that a lot of people that might look normale or are a healthy weight do struggle with eating disorders.

    I live in sweden where people on social media talk a lot right now about what is called the “fitness hype” or “fitness bustle” (Fitness-hetsen in swedish). Which is a lot about what different people think you should eat, not eat, how to exercise and so on.
    I find it rather difficult to talk about my eating disorder both because of misunderstanding about the disease and what can cause it, but also because here a lot of people who don’t have eating disorders hype (in a bad way) about food, eating and fitness.

    Again thank you for talking about this, and it made me relieved to hear there are treatment for ed’s in South Korea :)

    5 years ago
  8. I think Swedish schools have very different quality, i’m at my 2nd year of high school(gymansiet) and it differs a lot from my middle school(7-9 grade). Now the food is actually not that bad(it was worse before, since it was a small school that didn’t have a kitchen) and our cafeteria have sweets but also more “health” food.

    I’ve always been quite small and skinny (currently 157cm 42 kg) and have once(in 8th grade) been asked if i had anorexia. though by someone who when i said i didn’t ask how i got so skinny and was impressed..(she was not a nice person)
    Now at my high school it’s a quite talked about topic in classrooms(like in nature science and some in social science as well) but outside the classroom, not so much.

    5 years ago
    • I’m not anorextic(is this how you spell it? sorry my english is really bad) I eat until i’m full and try to eat often because i can’t eat that much in one meal. My big brother is also quite skinny. but both of us feel healthy. Also something i got to know from my parent is that none of us ever really complained about being hungry when we were smaller. while i know some of my friends told me that they always did that. so it differs a lot.
      PS: i don’t really know anyone who has a eating disorder

      5 years ago
  9. Hello to everyone!!
    Well, I know many people with eating disorders and because of that my friends and I don’t speak about gaining or losing weight. But, in general in my home-country (Spain) is very common that people tells you about you need to lose weight.
    I’m chubby and I think I’ve never been thin and since I was small I’ve heared all kind of advices about how I could lose weight and I remember many times coming home crying thinking “Please, don’t give me advices if I didn’t ask you beforehand!!” because many of them don’t know if I have any health problem like a thyroid problem or something else (last year, I was diagnosed with a gyn problem and since then, only taking the treatment I’ve started losing weight naturally).
    I can say that that is changing, because sadly we know many cases of people with eating disorders and I think our health system is doing a good job treating this kind of disorders (I, sadly, can say I know 7 cases that are of very close people).

    5 years ago
  10. I’ve been overweight pretty much my entire life. I’ve had a couple of bouts of anorexia via depression, but otherwise, yeah, overweight. I accept it. I mean, I go to the gym and work out a home to stay healthy, but I’m not purposely avoiding certain foods/drinks in order to lose weight. When I used to do that, I felt pretty miserable and felt judged. But when I started weightlifting again, the weight came back both in muscle and fat, but I’m happy. Could I stand to be a little smaller? Sure. But again, it’s not a life goal anymore.
    I often think about how I see my fat-ness as happiness since I was always unbearably sad during my smallest weights as a teen/adult. And I remember being told that I looked better for being so small during those times, but I didn’t think it was worth the sadness to “look better” in other people’s eyes.
    I took that attitude back with me to Korea, which is interesting when you have a Korean mother, but no matter how many times she brought up my weight, it didn’t stir me. She finally “settled,” for lack of a better word, with my size-happiness when I wouldn’t budge. But I was glad to be told a couple of times that the “healthy” way I ate was considered beautiful. It was weird, but… interesting. LoL.

    5 years ago
  11. I’m in the same chategory as Martina’s sister… On my first day of my high school life my classmates asked me if I have an eating disorder it made me really sad. I always been a skinny girl and I can’t gain weight easily… I lost 3 kg half year ago and I still can’t gain it back and I quite tall too. It’s geneteics… Every one in my workplace and even my own family (they are skinny too) tell me the I should eat more, or gain more weight, but they never asked me if I am happy with my current self, they just say I’m too skinny… I want to gain a little more weight but It’s really hard for me…

    5 years ago
  12. Hey ~ I have a eating disorder since I’m 14 and I suffer of bulimia. This is really hard to tell if you are or not suffering of any disorder. My mom and my sisters were all very thin when they were young but I’m the big one, since my childhood people compared me to my sisters saying “You’re not like the others..there’s a problem! ” or even “You might be adopted who knows!”. I talked about it with my doctor who said “Maybe it’s genetic” and I passed many tests after school. I was only a child ! I was 55kg for 1m64…

    Now I’m 18, 4 years passed. Since a year I started a new diet. I eat healthier and I grow up mentally, I failed in many ways during those 4 years. I’ve lost friends because I stated to be depressed and a guy rejected me because I was too fat..but I was alright ! I’m alright ! Now I know that people can say what ever they want I’ll not care about it ! I just have to care about myself even if I have no friends, I have my hobbies and my family with me ! And of course my cat (sounds cheesy >0<")

    Anyway I really hopes that people who suffers of eating disorder could heal it and be more healthy in their lifestyle and in their mind because that's important!
    I want to thanks you guys because you helped be when I was struggling by making me laugh and smile (even if I was alone !) I love you and stay as you are !! <3

    5 years ago
  13. This is Martina here but I saw a great comment on YouTube that I wanted to share on our blog post as well!

    ——

    Simon and Martina- Thank you for making this video.

    I am a foreign English teacher living in Korea who has dealt with an eating disorder for 17 years (first anorexia, then anorexia + bulimia, and then just bulimia). Although I am now technically in “advanced recovery”, it is still something that I deal with on a daily basis. I wanted to tell you guys about a few doctors in Korea that may be able to help English speakers here that are dealing with eating disorders.

    Seoul:
    -Dr. Kim (Mike) at the Itaewon International Clinic. Dr. Kim provides GP services, along with counselling, and can write you a prescription for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication if needed. The clinic also has a nutritionist on staff and is very foreigner-friendly.
    -Eunice Ra at Adaption Human Solutions (AHS). AHS is a counseling center that has several English-speaking therapists. Eunice and a few of the others have experience working with eating disorder patients.

    Daegu:
    -Dongsan Medical Center International Clinic. The clinic has several English-speaking doctors and the staff there can help direct you to the right doctor. This clinic works with U.S. military personnel, so they are very foreigner-friendly.

    I hope this can help!

    5 years ago
  14. I’ve been asked if I eat food in first year university. It was only because we had a point system for the dorm food, and I always had more points than everyone else. I eat food, just not that much. I just dont eat breakfast…
    I also had an aunt tell me I’m fat and proceeded to poke at me. Jokes on her I lost body fat and weight after that. Also, she’s just a bitch in general.

    My mom is from HK and she still has some ideas on weight. She has told me that if I get fat, she will disown me. Maybe it’s just HK, but it is normal to be skinny and being “overweight” is considered bad. It is also normal to tell people (subtley or not) that they are fat. She’s been told that she shouldn’t shop in a store because the clothes won’t fit her. But, she told the shop owner that she was shopping for me and that I was a lot smaller. Only then did the shop owner let her shop there. Especially in family, the first thing said when I came back was “you lost weight”. I was a little chubby before university, but lost body fat during university. I don’t like being told I lost weight because, I cant tell if I lose weight or not. Also, I dont like being told that a lot. It get’s annoying.

    My bf is from northern China, and women there are seen as muscular and strongly built. Might be the reason why my bf’s mom has said that I should eat more. However, she hasn’t said that in a long time. Most likely because she sees that my bf is the one needing to lose body fat…

    I guess being in an Asian background for weight doesn’t phase me anymore. I’ve been told that I’m fat and I’m skinny and it’s just kinda accepted. It’s like those free size clothes. You know that all forms of self-confidence are destroyed, but you learn to ignore it and go ahead.

    5 years ago
  15. I’m studying in the US right now but I’m from Indonesia. I’ve been chubby for my whole life. My family did not teach me to have a healthy relationship with food, “Finish everything on your plate!”, “Do not throw away your food!”, ” Quick! Eat your food before other people take it from you!” My parents constantly try to get me to lose weight but keeps on shoving food at me at the same time. Finally, I got away from them and I started a healthy(-ier) lifestyle. I exercised, lift weights, but I also under eat. Lost a lot of weight and I came back home they told me that I’m ugly. I was not an anorexia but I still under eat with the amount of activities I was doing. I went back to the US with binge eating disorder and gain lots and lots of weight. Came back home and they told me that I am fat and need to lose weight. So, I’m not good enough either way, I’ll just take my own sweet time to make my self HEALTHIER, weight will come off eventually when I’m active and eat enough for my body to function.

    My parents do not know that I have binge eating disorder. I did not tell them at all. None of my family knew about this, only some of my american friends. When my american friends saw me with lots of extra pounds in me after summer, they did not say anything but my family’s first reaction when they saw me for the first time after a long time is, “you need to lose weight”.

    Mental disorder is still a taboo thing in Indonesia and is not heavily addressed as it is in America. In terms of working out, I saw a lot of women are now shifting their focus to become stronger although they don’t necessarily lift heavy weights. they will enroll in martial arts classes, etc instead of walking on treadmills for hours and hours.

    5 years ago
  16. I’ve wondered about just saying one needs to lose weight. I worked on renovating 2 Superstores a few years ago and i was able to keep my weight down because of the physical labour and the fact that it was night shifts. About 2 years later a coworker from that time came to fix up my store and the first thing he said, verbatim, was ‘Megan, you got fat!’. He’s an older Filipino guy and was just an acquaintance so it really threw me for a loop. I knew i got bigger but no one had ever just come out and said it. He didnt even ask how i was or anything, just straight out pointed that out. I felt like shit the rest of the day.

    5 years ago
  17. I think that teaching nutrition is important. I wanted to lose weight but I didn’t where to start. I had some people tell me to lose weight, and I wanted to, but they never told me how to. I learned about a calorie counting app, started counting calories and realized that I was eating too much calories! Even when I was eating healthy food, I had too much of it. I lost weight at a steady pace while eating the right amount of food and feel so much better.

    You mentioned anorexia and bulimia a lot, but you forgot about binge-eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is “characterized by compulsive overeating in which people consume huge amounts of food while feeling out of control and powerless to stop.”

    You also talked about the pro-ana cafes. I noticed a trend online that’s the opposite called feederism. It’s where people intentionally gain a lot of weight or where “one partner (the feeder) feeding the other, both to obtain sexual arousal and to encourage weight gain in the feedee,” even to the point where the feedee becomes immobile. They share their progress online with others.

    And our perception of who is over/underweight in the U.S. is different than from South Korea. I had people tell me I look average, even though I’m actually overweight while someone else who is at a healthy weight is told that they’re too skinny or anorexic.

    To my understanding, the BMI for Asians is different than to everyone else. Theirs is lower because they are more prone to diabetes.

    Sorry for my rambling.

    5 years ago
  18. In Sweden the school lunches aren’t that great either, pretty much everything of it was factory food (is it called that in English? The food you just need to warm up in an oven and then it’s ready to eat) and it wasn’t filling at all. I remember eating three to fives PLATES of half cooked rice and still being hungry. But then my school was ranked with the worst food in the county, and like in the top 10 for the country. It didn’t help that we had a grocery store literally 20 meters across the school, so there was a lot of chocolate and other crap eaten with the crappy school lunch.

    But then high school came with its wonderfully all cooked lunches and snack breaks and fresh milk and pork directly from their own cows and pigs and I’m drooling thinking back on it.

    However, we did have a classmate who in the third year went on one of these starve diets. She would have breakfast (or so I hope) at 6 in the morning, go to school (8am) and not eat anything there, despite our entire class always trying to coax her to go with us to lunch and offer to bring food to her (sandwhiches from snack break, a lunch box or whatever fruit they had for afternoon snack. Accomondation school = 5 meals/day) but she always refused. Once she got home she would directly go to the stable to tend her horse and then have dinner at around 8 or 9pm and repeat the next day.

    The entire class was always worried for her, and we often discussed about going to the school nurse and tell her and ask if she could reach out to our friend since our friend wasn’t listening to us (we also begged her to go to the nurse for a health check up, but in vain). We also talked about telling her parents, but they were (and most likely still are) very controlling and we knew that if we told them, they would yell at her, and then monitor her every move to make sure she ate maybe even forcing her to eat by restricting her freedom (such as take away her horse whom she loves dearly) and we didn’t want to put her under that pressure and have her isolating herself from us (since it would be obvious that it was us who told her parents) especially since we were the only ones at school who she hang out with.

    It never got resolved in school, but I hope that she now is living healthier.

    Another weight thing I saw was in the school stable when a girl said “oh I weigh around 78 kilo, I want to lose some weight.” She is 1.87 centimeters tall, skinny and with great leg muscles from riding. She was at a perfect weight for her height but society still seems to think that less weight = better.

    5 years ago
  19. I work at a gym on my university campus and I always find it confusing how things like dieting and body image are talked about. Many of the people that I work with who promoting weight lose in a healthy way actually don’t follow their own advice or are taking extreme circumstances to obtain a fit body. For example something that many of the people that work out want to have competition ready bodies all the time and people think that those people are incredibly healthy and it’s not true. Even though competitions say they are promoting “fit bodies” in reality body builders and physique competitors are almost killing themselves to get to what they look like. They are eating less than 1000 calories a day, work out for 3 hours two times a day and many are taking anabolic steroids. I find this is causing many people to go to extreme measures like anorexia and bulimia to look “fit”. Even many of the personal trainers will talk about people that are working out in a way that they are shaming them, saying their butts are too big, the person is too thin or they are “fat-skinny”, but, like most places in North America, they would never say that to someones face. Many people who haven’t had high level health education (past high school) don’t realize that it is actually quite damaging on the body in a physiological way, especially for females, to have a six pack.

    5 years ago
  20. I know this might be out of topic but it has to do with women, social media and how women see themselves in some sort of way. How is feminism in Korea? How is it viewed? Are there any feminists in Korea? Are there woman’s right if a women get raped etc? Because I see a lot in Korean media that they are always pointing out the girls and how girls should be and that women are not that valued in Korea they are just some type of trophy etc. Can you please make a TLDR about this because I’m really curious. Because here in Sweden we are very gender equal and many people are feminists. And i want to know how it is in Korea

    5 years ago
    • I think they already did a TL;DR on that called sexism in Korea or something like that.

      5 years ago
      • Yeah I know about that one but I was thinking more of a deeper look into feminism in Korea and women’s rights and if there are any changes etc you know?:) My english isn’t that good so its kinda hard for me to explain. But things they didn’t talk about so much in that video maybe.

        5 years ago
      • Yeah I know about that one but I was thinking more of a deeper look into feminism in Korea and women’s rights and if there are any changes etc you know?:) My english isn’t that good so its kinda hard for me to explain.

        5 years ago
  21. I’m from Singapore, and I’m about 60kg or so, and I get pressurised by family members to ‘lose weight’. It’s difficult to not let it get to you sometimes, especially when everyone around you is slim and petite, especially my younger brother who can eat 5 bowls of rice a meal, still be hungry and NOT gain ANY weight, even LOSING weight, (dang you, recessive metabolism genes!!!) while I gain weight even when I eat way less.

    It’s also pretty hard and quite damaging to your self esteem to be chubbier or heavier as a student in school because there’s a ‘height-and-weight’ session the first PE lesson of each term to check fitness levels. In most schools in the past, if you were overweight, you had to participate in a programme called F.I.T. which stands for ‘Fit and Trim’. There’s a very strong sense of shame, therefore, that’s linked to being overweight, even if it’s done with good intentions. Most students would have to participate during their recess, and they’re only given 10 minutes for recess to change out of their PE uniform, queue, eat and assemble with the rest of class in the school hall after the sessions. Although, if I’m not mistaken, most schools have now adopted an improved programme, where you only have to participate in F.I.T. if you’ve failed NAPFA (National Physical Fitness Award), so there’s a stronger sense of fitness being more important rather than just weight.

    I also find it harder to get clothes that fit me as compared to most of my friends, especially when we’re shopping at local street shops or locally-based stores that cater to Asians as I’m a bigger size than most of them. It’s harder for me to get a mini skirt that won’t show off most of my butt cheeks at Bugis Street, and I usually have to get shorts/shirts/skirts from stores such as Forever 21, Pull and Bear, etc. which is considerably more expensive than street stalls, which suck. :(

    Then there’s also the relatives who complain about my weight every time they see me, to my face and are pretty blatant about it. I don’t usually mind this until they point out other cousins and compare us, either with “look she’s so skinny isn’t she pretty you should diet so you can be as pretty as her” or “look at her do you want to end up as chubby as her???” which really divides relationships because there’s a constant comparison. It’s something I always dread at family gatherings because I know I’m going to end up hearing my Great-Aunt or something tell me, at a 7-course wedding dinner, that “Oh, darling, I think you gained weight! Need to go on diet already yeah?” then tell me, ironically to “eat more, eat more!” xD

    5 years ago
  22. Here in Sweden our school lunches are healthy. The only thing that unhealthy is some of the stuff sold in the cafeteria. In my school they educated us a lot about eating disorders and how you plan a healthy diet combined with excercise if you want to loose weight. Included in that education was a lot of information of who you should contact if you hade an eating disorder etc.

    5 years ago
    • This is interesting, because my school lunches up until high school sucked and the only thing which was “cooked” was the salad.

      Are you still in school, or already graduated? Because I graduated 2 years ago, so in the 5 years gone since I left middle school, the lunches may have improved. And I was never taught healthy eating (förutom på hemkunskapen) or dieting, but then the last high school year we had a reeeeally bad PE teacher.

      Do agree with you on the snack things though. Our uni cafeteria has a lot more chocolate bars than fruits, and even though the sugar is great for a quick-me-up during studying, there should be more healthy options.

      5 years ago
    • So to sim it up: as a result we are aware of eating disorders and if you want help there is a lot of options available. But I’ve never heard someone explicitly tell another that they are fat or that they should loose weight in the same manner like you guys explained.

      5 years ago
  23. There is little mention about touchy subjects like mental illnesses, specifically eating disorders, in my school even though we have our own counsellor and mandatory counselling sessions. There are 4-5 people with EDs in my level alone, and many others who have body dimorphism — one of my friends was diagnosed and admitted into a hospital due to the eating disorder and another had attempted suicide, only to be mocked online by the popular crowd for being a “fake bulimic” (she just wasn’t skinny enough, they said) and get reprimanded for posting the picture of her slashed wrist on her social media. Despite this, there has been little to no talk on eating disorders or mental health in general, and it is quite disappointing to see that the school does not provide support for students who are struggling. The counsellor also left midyear, leaving many distraught — they had, after all, shared their woes with someone they thought could be trusted.

    Being a closet sufferer myself, I feel that there is a need for people to better understand EDs so that those who have EDs can be more willing to share their woes and perhaps seek help. However, people should also understand that seeking help is very different from telling or forcing someone to “eat a burger”. Also, mental health alone is quite a touchy topic in Asian societies, and despite Singapore’s experienced mental health industry, many would rather prefer to think of mental illnesses as just a phase than to seek help.

    5 years ago
  24. Van

    Alright, so this is going to be a doozy.
    In the video, you guys mentioned North American high school lunches, and how they’re unhealthy. And I just want to say, I was a student council member, so we (somehow) got a major say in what happens to school lunches. Well, a few years ago, my school got a new lunch menu. Things started to get healthier compared to the extremely unhealthy foods and snacks we got the year prior. I mean, rather than the “snack bar” that had hot cheese over cheetos, we got a salad bar. Not only that, but the lunch was so much healthier also, adding on vegetables to the menu. However, the year we got the new lunch thing implemented, EVERY STUDENT (that wasn’t on STUCO) COMPLAINED. I can remember vividly what they said which annoyed the heck out of me because they didn’t understand how hard the school worked to get them healthier foods.
    “Why are they doing this?”
    “This is so stupid!”
    “They should’ve left it with the old system!”
    I remember, a year after we got the healthy lunches, the main guy in charge of what to do for lunch was sitting there, asking what the students wanted. And so, he added more vegetables. I was friends with a girl at that time, and she wouldn’t stop complaining about it. Like, seriously? I am soooooo sorry that the school is trying to take care of your health, and although there is AN UNLIMITED SALAD BAR WITH SEVERAL TYPES OF VEGGIES that there’s “less” food.
    But anyways, that was my rant on the school system lunches. I think the problem with North American lunches is that it’s been unhealthy for so long, that any changes for it to be healthy will result in nothing but endless streams of complaints by students and maybe parents.

    So, on to diets. I’m asian, and in asian families, it’s always “You’re too fat” and “You should loose weight”. This year, I’m at my first year of university, and my first semester, I rapidly lost weight by accident. I mean, I spent all my money on school projects, and for rent, so I had very little money left over for food. Yes, I could have gotten more hours, but my job led me to my situational depression, so I really did not want to, even if that meant starving myself. Everyday, I would eat just a bag of edamame and chips because that’s all I could really afford. Like, I visibly, to myself, got thinner, and I was scaring myself because I knew that it just wasn’t healthy. But whenever I would go home to visit my family, they would just compliment me. And then, I lightly said that I lost weight because I didn’t have enough money for food. My aunt, oh I cannot forget this, she said, “Maybe you should keep this up! You’re looking so skinny, you’ll find a husband soon.”
    Like, I get it. I’m not the skinniest of all asians, but I’m not overweight. I’m the right weight for my height, but I’m overweight for my family, and since I’m a girl, it’s even worse since I “have to find a husband” (Even though I’m far from interested in marriage)

    IT was the same thing in high school, where my friend’s mom (She was asian) would tell me that I was fat, and that I should lose weight, and she occasionally came into my room (she was also a family friend) and give me dieting advice on what to do. I mean, I was 14 at the time when she was telling me all this, I was still growing, what do you expect?

    And during high school/middle school, I was entirely obsessed with kpop and korean singers and their weight where I wish I looked like them. I was still in my adolescent years, and so I kept on researching the SNSD diet where it was like a watermelon all day everyday (I can’t remember) and I remember being willing to starve myself to look like them just to stop all the comments that I was getting for my weight (And also for the hopes that if I ever went to South Korea and meet Kyuhyun, he would think I was pretty. But hey, I was a kid at that time that didn’t know better)

    Argh, this got a bit of my teenage frustrations off of my chest. But seriously. I’m absolutely tired of the Asian thinking that skinny is beautiful. I have overweight friends, and they extrude confidence, and that makes me wish that I was them. I sometimes think, “Maybe if I grew up in their homes, I wouldn’t be this timid about my weight”

    And to be completely honest, I would have been a wreck if it wasn’t for my American friends. I guess it’s a good thing to be born in two different cultures, because despite one culture telling me that I was fat, the other one told me that I was “okay” and so on and so forth. Although I’m more asian then I am American (As in, I wasn’t afraid of being Vietnamese growing up in America, unlike a lot of kids), I’m so thankful for the American ideals that were installed in me at a young age–and that school was my sanctuary from all the harsh comments I got from home. I mean, I wasn’t just at school for 7 hours, I was there for 8, maybe 9 hours because of extracurricular activities just to get away from my family who would judge me.

    5 years ago
  25. I had the dubious pleasure of staying for a week in a mental health ward in a seoul-central korean hospital. I was put in an open ward room with I guess the “younger girls”. 6 beds, all women between 13-25 or so. All of them had severe anorexia. It was heartbreaking. One 14 year old girl had to be force-fed in the evening through a tube in her nose, and she fought the doctors every step of the way. Her father and mother switched shifts lying in a cot by her bedside all day and all night. The mental health ward had lots of programs to generally manage depression and do activities like dancing and painting, and each person had one on one counseling once every couple of days. it seemed like there could have been more group therapy sessions or something to support the women with these disorders. They seemed to bond with each other during the day, but the result was they were strategizing how to hide food/refuse food/vomit without the nurses or doctors finding out

    Out of the hospital, my family gym down bundang way is full of incredibly fit and seriously heavy-weightlifting women. They are typically in their 40s to 50s, and really into it. There’s even a trainer in her 70’s who does personal training with many of them, and she is some kind of ahjumma bruce lee. They are way into spinning, cross fit, body pump, and heavy circuit training with heavy weights. But I also noticed it’s definitely not popular with the younger women at the gym in their teens/twenties. They seem more half hearted/self conscious and kind of do a walkie jog for a bit then wander around looking self conscious. I’m not sure if this is related but I do not see many middle/high school age girls enjoying team sports, and one of my students said that no students really have time for team sports. That’s a real shame, especially for the girls as it can provide a foundation for enjoying exercise for the rest of your life, as well as the confidence to pursue it. I’m wondering how the women in their 40s and 50s developed that confidence, or is the stigma against exercise and serious fitness (i.e. training and fitness knowledge) only recent?

    5 years ago
  26. The most common type of eating disorder i remember learning is binge eating disorder. Its when you eat large amount of foods in short amount of time.

    5 years ago
  27. There also a lot of thick skinned people from where I’m from that aren’t afraid to bite back against negative comments. Like if someone were to say “hey you really need to lose/gain weight” the person might come back with “oh I need to lose weight?? How about worrying less about me and more about that snaggletooth of yours. Whens the last time you saw a dentist” So basically even if you have good intetions, unless you are a close family member or friend it’s best to keep your comments to yourself.

    5 years ago
  28. When I was studying in China, I noticed that I was considered “big” (even though in the US I am not considered overweight, with a BMI around 21). At first, there was just some off handed comments about it from my Chinese friends. But once I started my summer internship, my coworkers (who many had never interacted with a foreigner before) would straight up tell me “you need to go on a diet” or “you are fat”, etc. I was a bit shocked but as they continued to mention it over and over, I got pissed off and told them I was the perfect size and they could shut it. Unfortunately, even after my internship was over and I moved to Japan to continue my studies for another year, those words stayed with me and even in Japan started to pop up again. Even telling myself that they have different body shapes and ideas than me could not help me shake the feeling maybe I had gained some weight. I ended up drinking vegetable powder and limiting my food and started an intense at-home workout – which all helped me lose some weight but now I was in a cycle where I was still unhappy with my body. Thankfully, I had many good international friends that reassured me I wasn’t overweight and I eventually I returned to the States. It was as if a huge pressure had been taken off my chest when I saw the girls at my university, at the local Walmart, etc. – I no longer felt like I wasn’t skinny enough. I am happy with my body once again, but that is one of the main reasons I don’t think I can live in Asia – I would never feel as comfortable in my own skin as I do in the US, were all different shapes and sizes are accepted.

    5 years ago
  29. I myself have never had any issue with my own body weight but I’ve known way too many people who struggle with theirs. The thing is, most of them have got the wrong idea about diet, probably similar to that in Korea. For most of them, dieting means to cut back the big meals, especially rice. And of course most of them stay fat, if not get even fatter. Some people tend to avoid eating big at all cost for a few days, but when the body starts protesting for the nutrition it’s deprived of, they fling back to pigging out. Some other people reduce the portion of their meals or skip few meals, but they keep snacking (unhealthily) throughout the day. They would say that even water would make them fat. But truth is, they forget all the chips and cakes they have been indulging the whole day. And all that is not accompanied by regular exercise. Worst of all, most of them want an instant result. They wish they could lose up to 20 kg in a few days. So in the end it’s just a vicious cycle. My close friends often joke about how I hate fat people. I don’t, but I do raise an eyebrow at those who whine about their weights but they keep doing the wrong thing about it.

    5 years ago
  30. From where I’m from in the US there is a large amount of people in poverty which means a large amount of peolple on food stamps. Since people only get a small amount of money a month they have to try and make it stretch. Unfortunately, the unhealthiest foods are typically the cheapest so we have a huge amount of obese people in this state. Because of that I believe there is a lot more accptamce towards bigger bodies. Unfortunately that means that skinny peolple are the ones that always “looks”. I think if more people just worried about themselves and not other people then there would be less eating disorders. And yes, if you come around here telling people “they would look prettier if they gained/lossed weight” they would be getting a karate chop to the throat.

    5 years ago
    • Also, many of the poorest areas, both rural and inner city, are classified as “food deserts”, areas with very poor access to supermarkets and fresh produce. Supermarkets are disproportionately found in the wealthy areas, so low income residents have to depend on shopping at smaller convenience stores with higher markup on goods, poorer selection, and less fresh produce options. Getting a small weekly check means that you have less money to buy food with, so even if it would ultimately be cheaper per meal to buy the healthy option, the small, cheap packaged food is what can be purchased with that they have. Fast food restaurants are also more frequently found in poorer neighborhoods. Ultimately, it is cheaper, per calorie, to eat high fat junk food than healthy options in this setting.

      5 years ago
    • actually the perception that unhealthy foods are the cheapest is a trick played on the american public by food manufactureres. study after study in city after city has proven that it is actually much cheaper to eat healthy food. the trick comes when they mark up the price on “healthy”version of inheriantly unhealth foods. a cup of yoplait has the same amount of sugar in it as three oreo cookies for example. the yoplait isn’t good for you either since sugar is actually more addictive and just as poisonous as cocaine and your body turns it directly into fat. in my house we steer clear of almost all processed foods and for a family of five we average about $6 a meal, not per person, but for an ENTIRE MEAL. the processed manufactured foods are what’s expensive, “healthy” or unhealty. over the last 20 years the food industry in america has worked very hard to change american’s perception of what food is. they have worked hard to make sure people think cooking is difficult and time consuming, which is a completel falacy.

      5 years ago
      • Ok but when you’re living on 100$ a moth for food for a family a four that’s about 83 cents a day per person. You’re certaintly not getting three square meals a day and people are going for the heaviest food to keep them full.

        5 years ago
        • the amount of money a family gets for food stamps depends on a variety of factors, family size is only one of them. my sister gets $200 a month for just herself and her daughter. no matter how much you have to spend you still get more food for your money when you buy real food over processed foods. boneless skinless chicken can be found for 1.99 per pound. a pound of chicken nuggets is more than double that, they tyson nuggests that calim to be “healthy” are often triple that. same amount of food.

          5 years ago
  31. i just wanted to let you guys know that in the video you linked this page wrong. you linked it korean-eating-disorders rather than eating-disorders-in-korea
    also, in the Arab world generally, eating disorders exist but ways to treat them don’t because its not really recognized as a “disorder” more like a “good diet”. girls are encouraged to lose weight and moms and grandmas constantly tell the girls to do so as fast as they could. I had an eating disorder once and i was actually praised for it. one of my sisters is going through something like this as well and when i tell my mom, she just says “just let her.” its really messed up :/

    5 years ago
  32. I’ve had a friend who was anorexic. It really was heartbreaking to see it happen.
    I was just as overweight as her, but she didn’t feel comfortable.
    First she just lost weight, but she ate a slice of cucumber and the rest went into the bin. (that was her lunch)
    I noticed her lips started to turn blue.Still at school some of my classmates complimented her losing the weight.Afterwards heard that, that is not the right thing to say. I epxressed my concern, but only when she went into the hospital, it became worse. In the hospital she was mostly alone. They only checked if she ate. Limited visiting times and the school only came by ONCE! I went there as much as I could. (15 y.o. cycling for 1 hour just to get there)
    When after a couple more hospitalizations, she went to some sort of clinic only to get anti depressives later on. (don’t think that helps to change a way of thinking)
    I found it ridiculous. To me it felt like she wasn’t getting the right treatment.
    I tried to keep as much in touch with her as I could. I made new friends and she became part of the group. (eventhough she couldn’t go to school much)
    After several years I lost touch, switching schools, place and such. I feel so quilty now.
    She was only 20 years old. (don’t know if it was the aftereffect or from something else though)

    5 years ago
    • I think the US is getting better with eating disorders, but there are some doctors who don’t really get it (or people). We have such a fatphobia and associate skinniness with healthiness. Which is semi true, I think most people would loos weight if they just simply at healthier and got proper exercise, but weight loss can mean poor health. I hear lots of people who have cancer say they get compliments on weight loss.

      I’ve heard some people say they get diagnosed with anorexia and they just are told to eat more. So then they get force fed pedisure (which I don’t like because that keeps distant associations with healthful foods) or parents sneaking in more calories in foods, which to me will only jeopardizes the trust between people.

      5 years ago
      • That forced feeding also happened to her. She just pulled it out straight from her nose a couple of times while in hospital.
        (which can damage a lot on the way out btw!!)
        I think talking with some one trustworthy is the most important thing.

        5 years ago
  33. Yep, this was exactly my experience in Korea. My first day there, I got to my school at like 6PM and met my new boss, who greeted me with, “You’ll be much cuter once you lose weight.” I constantly had students (older man students, I taught adults) telling me to go on diets and eat less because I’d be “prettier if I lost weight.” I considered myself healthy, I’m just 6′ tall and curvy – big chest, curvy butt and hips, all that. But since I wasn’t skinny, I was constantly told I needed to lose weight. I mostly didn’t take offense to it, though, because I knew I was big by Korean standards, and because my Korean friends in college had told me people in Korea made a lot of those comments to everyone.

    5 years ago
    • It’s weird how used we are to it though, don’t you think? I mean, imagine if someone said that to you in the US? “AYY GURL YOU’D BE AIGHT IF YOU LOST SOME WEIGHT.” It’s just…so insensitive. AH!

      5 years ago
    • To a certain degree this is unheard of in the US, at least with older people. I had a very overweight co-worker who wasn’t ashamed of her body, was very pretty, and dressed nicely. So I think a lot of 65+ men and women would always say “You would look so pretty if you lost some weight” like STRANGERS guys.

      5 years ago
  34. I’ve had kind of a mixed experience with this. My mother is Hmong, a first generation Hmong woman in America. So she has no problem saying “you need to lose weight” and “stop eating so much.” But I, as a very Americanized Asian, didn’t see my friends’ parents saying the same thing to them. I would see my friends’ parents encouraging them and accepting them for who they are, and that made me really bitter and sad towards my own mother because she didn’t treat me this way. Over time, as I’ve grown, I’ve realized that it’s not my mother being hateful towards me, but she cared about me, even though it’s a pretty sick way of expressing it. I’m sure in Asia, these comments are perceived as such.

    5 years ago
    • I watched my friend struggle with that, as well. Her mom came from the Philippines, and would always tell her she needed to loose weight, and I always saw how it affected her attitude and how she perceived herself. Now she is very thin, and I can only hope she did it in a healthy way (we lost contact for a couple years). It’s a bit upsetting to see it finally got the best of her though.

      5 years ago
  35. As a person who is struggling with eating disorder, it makes me really sad to hear that kind of statistic. It really is a horrible experience – it leaves you unhealty in mind and body. I wish we could educate people that it is way much more important to be healthy (eat “normal” and do active things you love) than fit beauty standarts. Some people are naturally super skinny, others have a more athletic build – it is not right to promote just being super skinny as the only beauty option. Seriously we should have a massive international day “beauty is being healthy” (or something like that). I would definitely participate :D

    5 years ago
  36. Well, the other day I was having a parent-teacher conference with one of my student’s mom and she just casually asked me “you look like you’ve lost some weight, have you?”. I don’t know her, we’ve met a handful of times in the last month. Seemed inappropriate to me. I know that would never fly in Canada. I agree that weight loss is not seen the same here. I have one close Korean friend who recently got married and for months before her wedding she talked a lot about how she should loose weight so she would diet and do pilates classes. In my eyes she definitely did not need to loose weight but when I asked her why she just said she was a bit fat and she said she should for her wedding. I suppose brides at home do that too at times. Though with her it was more “matter of fact” and not a self esteem thing. Surprisingly though, I feel less self conscious about my weight since I’ve moved to Korea than any other time in my life in Canada. I wonder if not having a television and not being able to relate very much to K-pop artists’ look has anything to do with it. Also, my friends here don’t walk about weight as much as my Canadian friends seemed to.

    5 years ago
  37. I remember doing a school project about eating disorder for psychology class when I was 17. I distinctly remember quite a few pieces of research that showed how eating disorders were very much a western concept. In collectivist societies like China, India and other eastern countries, eating disorders were far less prevalent. Which ultimately suggested that the illness is cultural. In the 7 short years since I completed my project I can imagine there has been a huge cultural shift in eastern countries. Particularly towards western ideals and cultural norms. Perhaps this could account for the increase in eating disorders?

    5 years ago
    • I think it’s really interesting that mental illnesses can be cultural, and I can definitely understand how.

      I don’t really agree with the westernization of Korea concept, but culture is definitely one of the fastest changing aspects of civilization (just look at fashion) and I can see how over time Koreans’ values and reaction to those values may have inadvertently created eating disorders.

      5 years ago
  38. I think the way koreans sees dieting is a bit… well, not good. I do have korean friends and they tell me how they have diets like 3 fruits per day. :[ I’m from Finland and in here the diets isn’t so popular. I think it’s because we have free school food here and the food is always healthy so I think kids realize pretty quickly what is healthy. But if people diets here they still focus more on exercising. And right now fitness is really popular in here. But I have no idea about the eating disorders o.o

    5 years ago
  39. Having survived an eating disorder (but sometimes still strugggling with it) this makes me really happy that this is touched upon. I think in my country people know about eating disorders but they don’t KNOW about eating disorders. It’s all really just on an extremely subversive level. People don’t tell you in the face that your body is “weird” the let you read between the lines. They don’t know that just like people, eating disorders come in all different sizes. We’ve got counselors for this and anonymous hotlines and a really good system, but most people don’t care or don’t know about it. When I went to school I only realized after graduating that there actually was somebody to talk to about body image issues and EDs. Nobody informed us. Nobody teached us about how to spot an eating disorder or what an eating disorder was. So consequently all we ever knew was from the mass media that hypocritcally make reports about skinny models being anorexic while plastering their entire program with extremely skinny good looking people. I wish that would change completely in Germany.

    Also I read some translated Korean news stories a week ago with the name of “The 10 quirkiest idol diets” and one had Dasom from Sistar describe her “1kg diet”. Being worried so much that every kilogram that she might eat, is going to show up immediately on her body as extra fat, Dasom explained how she only chews food and then spits it out without swallowing. That was not quirky, that is not a diet. That is clearly the decription of an eating disorder and somebody having an extremely poor image of their body. I was really upset reading that.

    5 years ago
    • “eating disorders come in all different sizes” I love this summary. I’ve known many girls who have eating disorders, and they are all very different. One girl was borderline OCD and had nothing with social standards of beauty. She would only take a bite of food every x amount of seconds, or when the hand on a timer was on a certain number. One friend was a ballerina and is still in denial about her eating disorder (and no she isn’t just “skinny”, she is a size 00 and 5 foot 8, and probably weighs less than 100lbs) She has so many control issues with her eating and food, and worse was that she worked in a restaurant, and it would drive me nuts that people would ask her dieting advice, when she literally ate once a day, in private. The most we’ve seen her eat was a bloody mary, I worked with her for 3 years.

      In the US I think we are coming a long way with eating disorders, but I am still not very happy with how they are taught in schools. We were kind-of taught that anorexia stems from dieting gone wrong, which it can. But it isn’t always the case. So I always figured just make sure I diet okay, and the more I learn about eating disorders, I found out that I use to not have the healthiest relationship with food. I am trying to get better with it, but I had never been in “danger” with my health (or rather I didn’t have any odd food behaviors compared to other females).

      I am loving this summary from Crash Course on eating disorders, because they kind-of hit them all. And they present them to include problems that men have as well. I know they only have 10 minutes to give a lesson, but they did leave out a bunch of other eating disorders. Like pica, when you eat unusual items, like dirt, paper, etc, this is usually common in kids and pregnant women. Orthrexia is a newer disorder where people obsess over certain foods being healthy. this is an important one since there so many self proclaimed health experts on the internet, this is when you restrict your diet so much because you think certain foods are making you sick. This is of coarse is on a scale where your life is dominated by food choices, and can control your life and decisions.
      https://youtu.be/eMVyZ6Ax-74

      5 years ago
  40. Interesting topic. I don’t know much about eating disorders in France. Of course they exist, but I think we have a cultural habit of eating ealthily. When people diet they usually do it intelligently.
    However I do think that we, and probably a lot of other countries, are lacking information about what to eat to be healthy. The benefits of each category of food and nutrients should be taught in schools, along with sex ed and this kind of things.

    5 years ago
    • That’s interesting what you say because In English schools we are taught about how many calories we should be consuming in a day and the percentages of the different food types that we should be consuming within a day. We actually get taught throughout Primary School and the earliest I remember being taught this was when I was 6/7. Although this could be just limited to the schools that I went to but I’m pretty sure that this is the same throughout Britain.

      5 years ago