Diabulimia – how eating disorders and diabetes are crossing paths
A worrying hybrid of physical and mental illness is causing concern for young diabetics.
When men and women develop type 1 diabetes they usually experience severe weight loss. This occurs due to the body’s inability to create insulin and its inability to use food for energy. When the disease has been diagnosed, insulin injections are supplied which often leads to the sufferer to regain any lost weight, and sometimes a little extra.
Diabulimia occurs when a diabetic manipulates their insulin injections in an attempt to lose weight. By restricting their insulin injections, the body is tricked into thinking it’s starving and causes it to break down fat and muscle to gain enough fuel.
The body is unable to process sugar without insulin, so any sugars eaten are excreted in the urine rather than stored in the body as fat. This kind of purging means a diabetic’s diet rarely changes, making diabulimia incredibly hard to diagnose.
As diabetes is often diagnosed during puberty, the accompanyed weight gain can cause the sufferer to feel out of place and desperate to be at their prepubescent weight. Many teenagers also have what is known as a ‘superhero’ complex, believing that nothing will hurt them and refusing to think about future consequences. Because of this, the thrill of weight loss associated with diabulimia often outweighs the physical risks.
Restricting insulin will ultimately lead to diabetic ketoacidosis and increases the risk of falling into a diabetic coma. Other risks of untreated diabetes include long-term eye damage, blindness and kidney failure. Combine this with the increased risk of suicide associated with eating disorders and you have a lethal combination.
Those trying to deal with diabetes and/or eating disorders should seek help from their GP.
If you are struggling to cope with either Diabetes or Eating Disorders it may be worth speaking to an experienced nutritionist to help you devise a healthy eating plan. For more information, please see our relevant pages.