Bulimia (Mental Health illness) as Depicted in the movie, Pretty Little Liars

Bulimia (Mental Health illness) as Depicted in the movie, Pretty Little Liars

            For this assignment, Pretty Little Liars, a crime thriller that aired on ABC Family for seven years from June 2010 to June 2017 is chosen. One of the characters in this movie called Hanna is shown to have bulimia nervosa, a mental health illness characterized by binge eating and purging thereafter. It is worth evaluating whether the behaviors depicted by Hanna as one who has bulimia nervosa is consistent with a DSM-5 mental disorder.

Primary Diagnosis for Bulimia

            The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) sets out a clear diagnostic criterion for bulimia. Here are the recommended criteria;

            One is that an individual must have been binge-watching regularly and eaten a large amount of food than many people could eat. Additionally, it is worth checking if a person cannot control individual eating behaviors (Grilo, Ivezaj & White, 2015). For example, in this movie, Hanna is depicted as an individual who cannot stop eating and binge watches all the time. Secondly, people who have bulimia constantly indulge in compensatory practices such a purging to let out the excess amount of consumed food (Grilo, Ivezaj & White, 2015). Thirdly, both binge-watching and inappropriate practices such as purging should occur at least once a week for three months consecutively (Grilo, Ivezaj & White, 2015). Fourth, people who have bulimia are constantly over-focused on their body shapes and weight gains. Lastly, both binging and purging must occur concurrently.

Small Summary of Bulimia

            Bulimia is a serious mental health problem that is characterized by too much binge-watching, overeating, and purging to remove most of the overeaten food. Individuals who have this disorder often binge-watch alone and concurrently consume excess food (Mehler & Rylander, 2015). The main reason that they spend most time alone is that they fear criticism from friends and relatives who might notice their overeating and sedentary lifestyles. Individuals who have this disorder are often over-concerned about gaining weight and the size of their bodies. They, therefore, feel obese and lonely even in circumstances when they have not experienced any weight gain (Mehler & Rylander, 2015). Such individuals would, therefore, go to the extent of hoarding food in strange places due to the fear of eating in public.

            People with the above-noted symptoms should seek urgent medical attention because if untreated, the disorder can adversely ravage an individual’s normal life. It is, therefore, recommended to inform a medical professional about the symptoms and ask for assistance in the early stages (Grilo, Ivezaj & White, 2015). It is also recommended for a person to talk to a close friend or anyone he/she trusts with personal secretive behavior such as experiencing bulimia if a person finds difficulty in directly seeking professional medical help (Grilo, Ivezaj & White, 2015). Friends and families would, therefore, help by taking the first step towards getting the required treatment.

Does the Movie, Pretty Little Liars portray bulimia properly?

  • Part A.

First, there are several specific examples in the movie where Hanna, one of the characters in the movie, accurately does things consistent with the diagnosis. For example, Hanna binge-watches most of the time, eats large amounts of food, and vomits to get rid of the excess food she eats when watching movies. She is additionally, fond of eating alone and does not like socializing with other people in public. Hanna additionally displays guilt and does not want most of her friends to know about her disorder. She is also worried about gaining weight. These behaviors are consistent with the guidelines of the diagnosis of bulimia nervosa.

  • Part B.

Despite Hanna showing signs of having bulimia nervosa, in some scenes, the behaviors she portrays do not show an accurate description of the disorder. One of these instances is a situation when Hanna’s friend helps her vomit. People who have bulimia do not require help from anyone to vomit. They often feel ashamed of themselves when vomiting, and do not want anyone to know about their compensatory practices such as vomiting to get rid of the food consumed in excess. I would have re-written this scene by letting Hanna vomit by herself and making the practice more confidential as is often displayed by people who have a mental disorder. Additionally, I would rewrite the part of the movie that shows that the compensatory practice of vomiting miraculously disappeared. I would have shown the audience that Hanna received immediate medical attention that helped her recover from bulimia nervosa.

The comorbid disorders that the characters might have

The main comorbid disorders include depression and anxiety disorders. Individuals who have bulimia often suffer from depression. They are always not happy with their eating habits and the amount of food they eat (Ulfvebrand et al., 2015). Additionally, they are always anxious about what influences their sedentary lifestyles would have on their overall health (Olguin et al., 2017). Additionally, the person might have experienced obsessive-compulsive disorder (Ulfvebrand et al., 2015). This is a disorder where an individual enjoys repeating the same practices even though he/she knows that such practices are unhealthy.


Grilo, C. M., Ivezaj, V., & White, M. A. (2015). Evaluation of the DSM-5 severity indicator for bulimia nervosa. BehaviourResearch and Therapy67, 41-44.

Mehler, P. S., & Rylander, M. (2015). Bulimia Nervosa–medical complications. Journal of Eating Disorders3(1), 12.

Olguin, P., Fuentes, M., Gabler, G., Guerdjikova, A. I., Keck, P. E., & McElroy, S. L. (2017). Medical comorbidity of binge eating disorder. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity22(1), 13-26.

Ulfvebrand, S., Birgegård, A., Norring, C., Högdahl, L., & von Hausswolff-Juhlin, Y. (2015). Psychiatric comorbidity in women and men with eating disorders results from a large clinical database. Psychiatry Research230(2), 294-299.

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