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Diabulimia: Where Eating Disorders and Diabetes Cross Paths

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Many young women who develop Type 1 diabetes experience rapid weight loss as a result of the body’s inability to produce insulin and to use food for energy. With a diagnosis of diabetes and subsequent insulin injections, these women regain the weight lost, and sometimes a little more.

Diabulimia refers to the dangerous manipulation of insulin in order to lose weight and is quickly gaining attention in the media. This condition integrates an eating disorder—the most lethal psychiatric disorder—into the already compromised diabetic state.

How Does Diabulimia Work?

Restricting insulin injections manipulates the body into thinking it’s starving, so the body breaks down muscles and fat to gain a sufficient amount of fuel. Weight loss occurs because the body can’t process sugars without insulin, so sugars are excreted in the urine rather than stored by the body as fat. Purging behaviors include the loss of calories through excessive urination. Anything a diabulimic eats will be excreted through urination because the body can’t process it, so a diabulimic diet often doesn’t change drastically.

Who Has Diabulimia?

Diabulimia affects diabetic young women much more than young men, according to MSNBC, because diabetes is often diagnosed around the time that these young women experience puberty and the accompanying weight gain. Diabetics strictly monitor their food intake and regulate meals in order to maintain healthy glucose levels, but these healthy behaviors mirror obsessive-compulsive disordered eating behaviors. Teenagers with superhero complexes are more likely to embrace diabulimia because they don’t (or won’t) think of the future consequences. The threat of future dangers or death can’t overcome the psychological need to lose weight and the fear of insulin.

Dangers of Diabulimia

Diabulimics are at an increased mortality risk because of the interplay between their two disorders. Restricting insulin ultimately leads to diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening complication. Lack of insulin also increases the risk of falling into a diabetic coma, experiencing long-term eye damage and blindness, kidney failure, and foot ulcers resulting in amputation. Eating disorder patients also have an increased risk of committing suicide due to the accompanying mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Sources: Psychology Today, Diabetes Health