Most people have heard of anorexia and bulimia, but now a new type of eating disorder has been born. “Diabulimia" is a condition that strikes only those individuals who are type 1 diabetic, specifically teenage girls. Just a quick review, Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body’s own immune system attacks the cells (beta) that produce insulin. This requires those individuals to then inject themselves with insulin from a vial, pen or pump.
Type 1 diabetics need insulin to live therefore it is vitally important that they get insulin each day at specified times. When insulin is not injected as prescribed, glucose levels rise too high resulting in the increase in urination. This symptom causes the kidneys to work extra hard at removing the excess sugar from the bloodstream.
This is typically called “purging" of the excess sugar and is the reason for weight loss. Similar to the "purging" of food by way of laxatives, and vomiting, typically seen in those who are in fact bulimic. In teenage girls the focus is always on not gaining weight, and since insulin is associated with weight gain, that is a fear of most young women with type 1 diabetes. Unfortunately in these individuals, it is common practice for them to skip insulin doses in order to control their weight. Consequently putting them at a much higher risk of developing the complications associated with diabetes at a much younger age.
For the young woman who is already cognizant of her weight, the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes and having to take insulin can be the catalyst that sparks the development of an eating disorder. This is based upon the nature of diabetes management with the focus being on diet, exercise and strict management of blood sugars. It is very important that those closest to the individual are made aware of the symptoms of such a disorder. Symptoms such as any changes in eating habits (eating a substantial amount of food with weight loss, unexplained weight loss, high blood sugars without an explanation, energy levels that are low and again the frequent urination.
The best weapon against this type of eating disorder is to tackle it head on by teaching the importance of healthy eating without skipping insulin doses. Adopting balanced eating habits with some flexibility enforces that all foods can be eaten at various times without missing doses of insulin.
if you are a parent or loved one of an individual who has demonstrated any of these symptoms, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s physician to get the help you need. Remember skipping insulin doses for whatever reason is not a good idea unless it has been discussed with your healthcare provider.