If you’ve watched the popular teen show, Insatiable, on Netflix then you’d be aware about its plot. A formerly obese teenager who loved to eat lost weight over the summer break, owing to an incident that left her with her jaw shut. Post this transformation, she became the talk of the town, and went on to participate and win beauty pageants, until things took a drastic turn (that’s all the spoilers you get!). On paper, it might look like any other teen show, however, it does highlight a major eating disorder that teens and youngsters face, which is bulimia.
In fact, Insatiable is one of the many shows that talk about this disorder, and not necessarily in an informative way. You may have come across many articles and programs talking about bulimia, but sometimes, the facts do get lost in translation. If you’re wondering what’s fact and what’s fiction, we’ve got that covered for you. We talked to Dr Mehezabin Dordi, clinical psychologist, rehabilitation, and sports medicine department, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai, and here’s what she had to say.
What is Bulimia?
Bulimia nervosa is a form of eating disorder that is more commonly known as bulimia. It's a dangerous condition that can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Binge-eating followed by purging is the most common symptom. Forced vomiting, strenuous activity, or the use of laxatives or diuretics can all cause purging. “Bulimia sufferers purge or exhibit purge behaviours, and they engage in a binge-and-purge cycle. Other stringent techniques of weight maintenance, such as fasting, exercise, or excessive diets, are also included in purge behaviours. Bulimics frequently have an unrealistic body image. They are concerned with their weight and are quite critical of themselves. Bulimia affects a large number of persons who are normal weight or even overweight. Bulimia can be difficult to detect and diagnose as a result of this,” says Dr Dordi..
The cause of bulimia is unknown. There are, however, a few things that can influence its progress. “People with mental illnesses or a distorted perception of reality are more vulnerable. People who have a strong need to conform to social standards and conventions are in the same boat. Those who are heavily impacted by the media may also be vulnerable,” Dr Dordi shares. Bulimia may be genetic or induced by a serotonin shortage in the brain, according to some research.
Other factors, according to Dr Dordi include:
• Anger management issues
• History of depression
• A past traumatic incident
Signs And Symptoms
Some of the most common signs and symptoms to watch out for, as shared by Dr Dordi, are as follows:
• A long-standing dread of gaining weight
• Comments about being obese
• Obsession with weight and body
• A deeply poor self-image
• Binge-eating and violent vomiting
• Abuse of laxatives or diuretics
• Use of weight-loss supplements or herbs
• Excessive exercise
• Discoloured teeth (from stomach acid)
• Calluses on the backs of hands
• Running to the restroom right after meals
• Not eating in front of others
• Withdrawal from usual social activities
Bulimia sufferers are more likely to experience anxiety, sadness, and drug or alcohol abuse. Dr Dordi elaborates, “Kidney failure, cardiac problems, oral disease, tooth decay, gastric and intestinal disorders or constipation, dehydration, vitamin shortages, and/or electrolyte or chemical imbalances are all possible complications of bulimia. It is possible for women to go without a menstrual cycle.”
To diagnose bulimia, a competent medical expert will perform a range of tests. This includes a physical examination as well as a psychological assessment. “The frequency with which you binge, purge, or exhibit purging behaviours on a regular basis determines the severity of your bulimia. If a person has had bulimia for a long time, they may need additional tests. These tests can detect difficulties, such as issues with the heart or other organs,” Dr Dordi expounds.
Bulimia can be fatal if left untreated, or if therapy is unsuccessful. Bulimia is a physical and psychological disorder that can be difficult to manage for the rest of one's life. However, it can be overcome with effective treatment. The earlier bulimia is identified, the more effective the treatment. Dr Dordi points out, “Treatment includes not only nutrition and dietary instruction, but also mental health treatment. It necessitates the development of a positive self-image and a positive connection with food. Medication, therapy, and dietician support are all alternatives for treatment. An antidepressant, psychotherapy, and a collaborative approach between a doctor, mental healthcare provider, and family and friends are frequently required for successful treatment. Yoga meditation and support groups can also be beneficial.”