KOCHI: Sadhana, a 10-year-old from Kochi was taken to a psychologist after her parents gave in to the continuous advice from doctors to do so. She had stopped eating food and in two years became a skeletal
figure with sunken eyes and protruding bones. She was diagnosed with the eating disorder bulimia. She was worried about gaining weight. However, even after diagnosis, it took a lot to convince her parents about the same.
"Two in 100 students have bulimia nervosa (purging the food consumed before it can take effect). Five per cent of school-going students have one or another form of eating disorder, mostly caused by psychological factors. In most of the cases, alarmingly, parents do not recognise that their child has an eating disorder. They simply believe it is due to his/her stubbornness. Recognising and accepting that there are psychological factors attached to most of the eating disorders is very difficult for the generation that still stigmatises mental health issues," says Prakash Chandra, psychologist.
The obsession with size zero and a lithe body affects girls as they grow up. The 'slim is beauty' concept is gaining momentum in the state through films and other social mediums. Even parents and teachers unconsciously give the same message when they tell their kids/students that they will look more beautiful if they are slim.
"Especially seen among girl students, eating disorders often go unidentified. Very often, after I speak to students of various schools, a few of them talk to me in confidence. They eat in front of their peers and later vomit what they ate," says Dr Mumtaz Ismail, consultant clinical nutritionist.
In the Kerala context, ' anorexia nervosa' (over eating) is not a big presence. However, there are people who eat more due to depression and other distresses they face. This leads to obesity and other disorders.
Riya was a beauty-conscious school girl. She was in Class 11 when her parents took her to a psychologist after a suicide attempt. Weighing 89 kg, she was overweight though she eats nothing from her house. On further enquiry it was found that she eats a lot of food from outside and with her peers. This started when
depression hit her after she was bullied by her peers. As the weight gain invited further issues, she resorted to suicide. Her case again went unnoticed by parents mainly due to the lack of awareness among adults about the far-fetching complications and fatality of eating disorders, not just psychologically, but physically too.
Malnutrition, obesity-led health issues and complications will also manifest in these patients. While these are the two major issues, there are various types of eating disorders that go undetected, but which are slowly rearing their heads.