Living with diabetes blog

Diabulimia: Recognize this eating disorder

By Nancy Klobassa Davidson, R.N. and Peggy Moreland, R.N. June 11, 2011

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders — such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder — include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation reports that a new type of eating disorder has surfaced. Unofficially coined "diabulimia," the condition occurs when those with type 1 diabetes skip or restrict insulin use to lose weight. Type 1 diabetes is a dangerous disease if untreated. Failing to take insulin raises your blood sugar and results in frequent urination — the body's attempt to rid itself of excess sugar in the bloodstream — resulting in rapid weight loss.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), researchers estimate that 10 to 20 percent of females with diabetes in their mid-teens and 30 to 40 percent of those in their late teens or young adult years skip or alter insulin doses to control their weight. Uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to long-term complications, such as heart attacks, strokes, eye problems or blindness, nerve damage in the hands and feet, kidney damage, and gum disease.

The ADA suggests that early warning signs of an eating disorder such as diabulimia in someone with diabetes include:

  • Very high A1C test results
  • Frequent hospitalizations for diabetes ketoacidosis
  • Frequent severe low blood sugar
  • Anxiety or avoidance of being weighed
  • Widely fluctuating blood sugar levels without obvious reason
  • Delay in puberty or sexual maturation or irregular or no menses
  • Binging with food or alcohol at least twice a week for 3 months
  • Exercising more than is necessary to stay fit
  • Severe family stress

If you think that you or a loved one might have diabulimia or another eating disorder, please talk to your healthcare provider. It is important that you seek evaluation and treatment. Your provider can recommend a health counselor who will help you or your loved one with this problem.


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Jun. 11, 2011