Women engaging in extreme dieting

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Women engaging in extreme dieting

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When a JoongAng Ilbo reporter walked into a random classroom at Sookmyung Women’s University (SWU) in Yongsan District, central Seoul, late last month, and asked whether the students had ever gone on a diet, 80 percent raised their hands.

“I lost 10 kilograms [22 pounds] two years ago,” said Kim Yun-hee, 22, one of the few SWU females who gave her full name. Her method, she said, was to binge and purge.

An online survey conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo on Oct. 30 and 31 suggested that SWU is only a small part of an obsessive diet craze that has spread nationwide.

Of the 500 females in their 20s from six metropolitan cities, including Seoul and Busan, 82.2 percent said they’ve tried to shed weight before and 58.8 percent they’re currently in the process.

But the real problem lies in that fact that many of the dieting survey respondents aren’t even overweight.

More than half of the underweight respondents (56.1 percent) said they had previously attempted to lose weight, while 86.6 percent of women in the normal weight range said the same.

In the survey results, a woman was considered underweight if her body mass index (BMI) was below 18.5, and a BMI of between 18.5 and 25 was considered normal.

In terms of eating habits, only one out of five females said they eat three meals a day and 60 percent said they eat two meals, which means that many are cutting back on eating to get rid of body fat.

“The first thing females in their 20s should change about their awful diets is the nutritional imbalance,” said Ahn Myeong-ok, a health and welfare professor at Cha University in Seongnam, Gyeonggi.

“They must realize that a woman with a strong sense of self-identity is someone who cares about her physical condition,” Ahn continued.

But in a society where women are often judged by their looks, most young females interviewed for this story said they manage to live with the risks of hard-core dieting, all for a successful social status.

“I usually eat only once a day,” said Song Ji-hyun, 22, a university student. “In the job market, there’s this sort of fad for being skinny. I don’t eat after 7 p.m.”

She added that her menstrual cycle gets off track three to four times a year, but the abnormality still doesn’t mean she’ll consider eating more.

“I say to myself: ‘Let’s hold on just until I find a professional job. Let’s overcome this hurdle.’”

Song’s issues don’t apply to all young women, but a 28-year-old female surnamed Jeon who works for a state-owned company said she knows exactly where Song is coming from.

A week before her job interview, Jeon said she drank one multigrain shake each day and did not eat or drink anything else.

“I had no other choice but to go on a diet,” she said. “You have to look pretty in your formal dress during an interview.”


BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM [selee@joongang.co.kr]

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