Diabulimia: A Dangerous Health Gamble

Type 1 diabetics must inject insulin to process glucose. Often diagnosed early in life, type 1 diabetics become used to their insulin regimen and adjust to monitoring their food intake. Without this vigilance, a diabetic’s health can decline quickly as the body struggles to regulate itself….and one side effect of this is weight loss despite regular food intake. In very recent years, a new disorder has popped up on the radar of clinicians who work both with diabetics and eating disorder clients. The disorder is called diabulimia, and although it is not recognized yet as a medical term it is quickly wreaking havoc on the lives of diabetics who want to prevent weight gain.

What is Diabulimia?

Diabulimia results from the intentional restriction of insulin in order to lose weight. This reduction of insulin results in the body’s inability to process glucose, and therefore the body must burn through fat and muscle stores. Calories consumed are discharged through the urine, which will show high levels of glucose.

According to Janice Dada, writing for Today’s Dietitian, diabulimia is characteristic of bulimia nervosa, in that clients are eating as much as they want of foods they enjoy and purging the calories out with the sugar in their urine. Current studies indicate that 30% of type 1 diabetic adolescents restrict or withhold insulin with the express intent to lose weight. The American Diabetes Association reports that women with type 1 diabetes are three times more likely to develop an eating disorder than their non-diabetic counterparts.

Diabetes Health lists warning signs that families and friends should watch for:

• Hemoglobin A1c levels that are consistently high
• Body image issues
• Changing eating patterns
• Loss of menses