Eating Disorders: Q&A with the Doctors @ SGH

Psychologists weigh-in with their advice and expertise

Interview by Jolene Lim

Ms Tina George, Psychologist, Dept of Psychiatry and Ms Janet Phang, Psychologist, Behavioural Medicine Unit, SGH, shared with Campus Magazine their knowledge on the topic of eating disorders.

1. How can one embark on the journey to recovery?

The first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem and you need help. You may
need to tell someone, such as a family member or friend about the problem. As eating
disorders are complex and require professional help from a multi-disciplinary team,
please seek treatment as soon as possible.

2. What can one expect on the road to recovery e.g. setbacks, realisations etc.?

The recovery process takes time. It is a journey of self-discovery and a chance to re-
invent themselves and shed old insecurities. It is not smooth-sailing, and often
patients find their motivation to recover fluctuating. It is ok to have occasional slip-
ups, just learn from your mistakes and get back on the road. Recovery is not perfect.

3. What kind of long term mental and physical traumas can result from an eating

Consequences are dependent on the type of eating disorder. However, in general,
some of the physical consequences can include feeling tired and lethargic, disruption
of menstrual cycle in females, loss of teeth from vomiting, osteopaenia or
osteoporosis, gastrointestinal changes (e.g. constipation, abdominal pain), slowed
metabolism, kidney and liver damage, and in severe cases, death.

Psychological consequences include (but are not limited to) moodiness, irritability,
feelings of guilt and shame, inability to concentrate, preoccupation with food and
weight, social withdrawal and isolation, impaired interpersonal relationships, and
decreased occupational functioning (e.g. school, work). In the long term, individuals
develop a dependence on eating disorders to shield them from dealing with other
problems (e.g. interpersonal conflicts).

4. How is the media related in an eating disordered mindset?

Media images help create cultural definitions of beauty and physical attractiveness.
Currently, thin is considered the ideal body type/shape for females; whilst males are
encouraged to look muscular and athletic. Whilst media images do not cause eating
disorders, they play a role in shaping body image ideals in both females and males.

5. How can girls/boys cultivate positive body image from young?

At a young age, children are heavily influenced by significant adults in their lives.
Hence, it is important to provide them with positive messages about their bodies and
also to be positive role models for them. However, it is just as important to affirm your child’s inner qualities and develop her/his personality and character.

6. What can girls/boys do to reinforce positive body image?

Appearance is important. However, our bodies serve more than an aesthetic purpose.
Focus on what your body can do for you (e.g. being able to hug a loved one, playing
a musical instrument, going out with friends).

Dress appropriately. Every body is different. Learn what types of clothing suit you,
rather than conforming to fashion.

7. What advice can you give to girls/boys who struggle to see beyond their

Body image is only part of self-esteem. Turn away from an over-emphasis on
appearance and instead focus on intrinsic qualities that they possess, as self-worth is not based purely on appearance.

8. What can recovering patients do to help themselves on a bad day to prevent
slipping back to the familiar habits?

  • Seek professional support.
  • Distract themselves.
  • Remind themselves of the reasons for recovery.

9. What can friends and families help in the road of recovery?

  • Be supportive.
  • Be mindful that recovery is not always smooth-sailing.
  • Refrain from commenting on appearance and weight gain.
  • Keep a balanced perspective; don’t focus on the eating disorder all the time.
  • Be mindful of your own eating and exercise habits.
  • Taking care of patients can take a toll on you. Make sure you look after yourself as
  • well.

Please visit the Singapore General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry website for more information on eating disorders and to seek help if needed. Also, page 10 of our latest issue 17 – The Issues Issue – has more with a real-life story of how one student struggled with her body image, but was able to seek help which led to her recovery.

A very warm welcome to Ms Tina George, Psychologist, Dept of Psychiatry and Ms Janet Phang, Psychologist, Behavioural Medicine Unit, SGH, for taking time out of their busy schedules of helping patients to share with Campus Magazine readers their knowledge on eating disorders. And to Ms. Carol Ang from Communications for arranging everything. 

Eating disorders are a serious problem… the advertising and fashion industries need to be more responsible, and kids (especially girls) shouldn’t be taught that people value them only for their looks!