There are lots of common eating disorders from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and they all play a dangerous part in an individuals life. However, there is one that is not talked about a lot, when in fact its the most dangerous eating disorder and that is diabulimia.
What is diabulimia?
It’s an eating disorder that only affects people with type 1 diabetes.
It takes place when the individual reduces or stops taking their insulin to loose weight. But the dangerous part is, when you have diabetes you need insulin to live. So with out taking it, there can be life-threatening consequences.
You may know that putting a stop to taking the insulin can make you loose weight. But its very common for people not to actually realise that its an eating disorder. But its serious and more common than you think.
It can only affect those with type 1 diabetes, not with type 2 or any other form can develop diabulimia.
How diabulimia develops:
- Having to read food labels carefully
- The focus on your weight when you go to the clinic
- Having to eat to treat hypos, which can cause weight gain and guilt
- Being constantly aware of carbohydrates and calories in your food
- Feeling shame over how you manage your diabetes
- A bad relationship with your healthcare team
- Difficulty keeping a healthy weight
How common is diabulimia?
It’s estimated that 4 out of 10 women, aged 15 to 30, take less insulin to loose weight and for young men, it’s around 1 out of 10.
Getting to grips with the meaning of insulin and weight loss:
When you’re diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you most likely have lost weight. Starting insulin can actually put your weight back on, which is why people who suffer with diabulimia find this hard and continue to skip doses of their insulin.
Without insulin, your blood sugar levels build up rapidly. This is known as ‘hyperglycaemia. This means your body can’t get the energy it needs from food and starts to break down body fat instead, which then leads to dramatic weight loss.
The consequences of diabulimia are not getting any or enough insulin, your blood sugar levels won’t come down. This is very dangerous and it can send you into a diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) constantly having high blood sugar levels and this can be fatal.
If you regularly stop taking insulin for a long period of time, it will harm your body. Potential threats are: Loosing your sight, damage to your kidneys, damage to nerves in your feet. These are commonly know as diabetic complications, they take place when high blood sugar levels are damaging your blood vessels.
Health consequences with diabulimia:
- Slow wound healing: High blood sugar causes poor circulation, decreases the function of red and white blood cells, and damages small blood vessels; all of which delay wound healing
- Staph and other bacterial infections: The body produces certain enzymes and hormones that negatively affect the immune system and reduce the bodies defence against infection.
- Yeast infections: Excess sugar allows the overgrowth of yeast.
- Muscle atrophy: Without insulin, the body cannot utilise food and cells begin to starve the body so it then begins to break down muscle for fuel.
- Menstrual disruption: Without sufficient nutrition, a women’s estrogen levels fall, which can put menstruation on hold, or cause irregular bleeding and when a women’s body senses starvation it will stop reproduction to conserve energy
- Severe dehydration: Insulin deficiency puts the body into a state of starvation
- Electrolyte imbalance: As the kidneys extract sugar to expel with urine, they also extract sodium and potassium which can lead to an imbalance, when combined with vomiting it occurs with high ketone levels.
- Diabetic Ketoacidosis: This will develop dangerous levels of ketones faster than others because the body needs insulin to transport ketones from the blood stream to the cells; without insulin, they build up in the blood stream faster then the kidneys can remove them causing the blood to become acidic. Acidic blood can damage your blood vessels, nerves and organs and it can cause organs to shut down.The goal of diabulmia treatment is to normalise the use of insulin, blood levels and weight.
Treatment for diabulimia
Like any eating disorder, it can be extremely hard to speak out and stop what you’re doing. With diabulimia it can be hard to break out of a harmful cycle of not taking your insulin. But with the right help and support you will recover!
Although its not very common, more and more professionals are becoming more aware.
It’s not always easy to manage diabetes and then having to cope with a eating disorder too, is hard. You may feel anxious about telling the people you care about. But the truth is, you’re battling a serious condition and no one should have to go through it alone.
It will require hospitalisation, during this they will work to interrupt insulin manipulation other disorder behaviours.
Once patients are stable, a curriculum of individual, group therapy and experimental therapy will help patients explore the function of the eating disorder as they build recovery skills like managing stress and anxiety.
Just remember that it will take time, but if you suffer with this illness or anything similar, reach out and get help, do not do it alone!
Check out this BBC documentary based on diabulmia to find out more about the disorder and what its like living with it.
Call Eating Recovery Centre on 877-711-1690
Call SEED on 01482 718130 or email