Diabulimia is an eating disorder in which people with Type 1 diabetes deliberately take less insulin than their bodies need in order to control their weight. The disorder, according to research, is very a dangerous way to get thin. Research has found that diabulimia raises the risk of serious diabetes complications.
What is Type 1 diabetes?
In people with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops making insulin. Without insulin, the body can no longer use food for energy. Instead, glucose from food ends up in the blood stream, causing blood sugar levels to spike. Left untreated, high blood sugar damaged blood vessels that supply organs, leading to vision problems, kidney failure and nerve damage. Type 1 diabetes often strikes in the pre-teen or early teen years, a time when many young people become increasingly concerned about their weight and appearance.
What are the signs of Type 1 diabetes?
Lethargy, thirst, blurred vision, excessive urination, and weight loss. Before diagnosis, people with Type 1 diabetes have often gotten very thin, because their cells are literally starved for glucose.
People with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin daily to allow the body to use the glucose in food and to keep their blood sugar at healthy levels. A side effect of insulin is weight gain. When the weight gain is unwelcome, it may prompt some with Type 1 diabetes to take less insulin than they should or skip taking it altogether.
How common are eating disorders in people with Type 1 diabetes?
According to studies girls and women with Type 1 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder than in women and girls in the general population. Girls with diabetes have to pay a lot of attention to food, at all times – carefully calibrating every snack and meal so they don’t eat too much or too little, which can cause blood sugar to drop dangerously low. These habits, which are needed to manage the disease and maintain health, can have the unwanted side effect of triggering anxiety related to food or other eating-related issues.
What happens when people with Type 1 diabetes stop taking insulin or don’t take enough?
They can eat lots of high calorie foods and not gain weight. That’s why diabulimia (diabetes and bulimia) is more akin to a binge/purge cycle that often marks bulimia, rather than anorexia, which is marked by food restriction. The problem is that eating without taking sufficient insulin leads blood sugar levels to skyrocket, putting their health and life at risk.
What are the signs of diabulimia?
Many signs of diabulimia are the same as the symptoms for diabetes – thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, and high hemoglobin A1C levels (a measure of long-term blood glucose). Other signs include secrecy about insulin shots or eating, or hospitalizations because of not taking enough insulin.
If you suspect someone with Type 1 diabetes is not taking their insulin or struggling with issues around eating, please contact us for a confidential consultation. Our team is experienced in treating patients with diabetes and eating disorders.