What is diabulimia?

Eating disorders and diabetes.

Eating disorders are three times more likely to occur in women who have diabetes.
Eating disorders are three times more likely to occur in women who have diabetes.

Diagnosing an eating disorder is difficult – even more so when diabetes comes into play. Symptoms of an eating disorder and insulin restriction can mimic poor diabetes control, making it hard for family, friends and even doctors to notice.

Over time and with supported diabetes education, individuals with diabetes can learn to identify correct food choices along with accurate insulin dosage to maintain good diabetic health. But, when insulin dosage along with inappropriate eating is used purposely to control weight, it may raise the propensity for an eating disorder to develop.

The eating disorder and diabetes link is real. According to the American Diabetes Association women with diabetes are nearly three times more likely to develop an eating disorder than women without diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes and “Diabulimia” - skipping insulin to lose weight

  • Diabulimia is an “eating” disorder that only strikes people with Type 1 diabetes, many of whom are young women. The practice of withholding insulin has been seen in girls as young as age 13 and in women as old as 60-years-old, in order to lose weight. Diabulimia and its associated behaviors can have both devastating and permanent effects on the body.
  • Purging – purging of sugar from the body results in rapid weight loss, and has been compared to the kind of purging done by bulimics, who vomit or use laxatives to rid their bodies of the food they consume, is also linked to the term “diabulimia.”
  • Anorexia – while anorexia can put women and men with diabetes at serious risk for lows, insulin restriction can lead to dangerously high blood glucose levels and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a condition in which the body severely lacs insulin and is therefore unable to use glucose for energy and breaks down fat instead, leading to a toxic buildup of ketones in the blood. Left unchecked, DKA can result in coma or death.

According to the Mayo Clinic, eating disorder treatment depends on your particular disorder and your symptoms. It typically includes a combination of psychological counseling (psychotherapy), nutrition education, medical monitoring and sometimes medications. Remember to always follow your health care provider’s advice.

For more information on diabetic health and nutrition visit http://msue.anr.msu.edu/topic/info/diabetes.

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