Updated on 10/12/23
What Is Diabulimia?
Diabulimia is the term used to describe a diabetic deliberately reducing their intake of insulin to reduce their body weight. The reduction of insulin affects the body’s ability to process glucose, making the body burn through fat and muscle stores. The calories a person consumes are then discharged through their urine.
Individuals with type 1 diabetes need insulin to live, so diabulimia is a very dangerous gamble. Oftentimes, diabulimia is combined with other eating disorder behaviors such as food restriction, over-exercising, binging and using laxatives. When having type 1 diabetes collides with an eating disorder, the results can be fatal.
Diabetes and Eating Disorders
The intense focus on restricted diets that managing diabetes requires can easily contribute to disordered eating habits. Along with the serious health risks that eating disorders pose, the added dangers of improperly managed type 1 diabetes can be detrimental. Patients with diabulimia often suffer from retinopathy, neuropathy, metabolic imbalance, depression and other mood disorders, kidney disease and heart attacks.
What Is the Cause of Diabulimia?
Type 1 diabetics need regular insulin injections to process glucose. Often diagnosed early in childhood or early adulthood, individuals with type 1 become used to their insulin regimen and adjust it as needed while monitoring their food intake. Without proper vigilance, a diabetic’s health can decline rapidly as their body struggles to regulate itself. One side effect of improper treatment is weight loss despite regular food intake. This can be a great temptation for teens and adults experiencing certain pressures surrounding body image, leading to the development of eating disorders.
The Connection Between Diabulimia and Bulimia
The purging process that diabulimia permits often mirrors the cycles of bulimia. As Janice Dada explains in Today’s Dietician, “Diabulimia clients exhibit behaviors characteristic of the eating disorder bulimia nervosa by bingeing on large amounts of sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods and purging the excess sugar through urination. Individuals with bulimia nervosa who don’t have diabetes binge on large amounts of food but purge with the use of laxatives, self-induced vomiting, or excessive exercise to lose weight.”
Know the Red Flags of Diabulimia
It’s important for concerned parents to know that diabulimia could be an issue for an individual with type 1 diabetes with disordered eating. The following signs and symptoms of diabulimia provide significant clues:
- Hemoglobin A1c value much higher than would be expected, given recorded blood glucose values
- Changes in eating habits (eating more but still losing weight)
- Dramatic changes in weight
- Low energy
- Unusual food patterns
- Bingeing on carbohydrates and sweets
- Obsession with food and body image
- Anxiety about weight or avoidance of being weighed
- Delay in puberty or sexual maturation
- Irregular or no menses
- Severe family stress
- Frequent hospitalizations for diabetic ketoacidosis
- Preoccupation with label reading beyond typical diabetes care
- Excessive exercise
- Hiding food
- Smell of ketones on the breath and in urine
- Frequent urination
- Physical signs of malnutrition such as hair loss and dry skin
If you or someone you know might be struggling with diabulimia, Center for Discovery is here to help. Reach out to us today.
More from Center for Discovery
Psychology Today: The Danger of Diabulimia, by Carlin Flora. Retrieved November 11, 2016.