Anorexia nervosa. Bulimia. Purging. Every teenage girl has heard these terms at one time or another growing up. However, diabulimia is an eating disorder that affects specifically diabetics. It only strikes people with type 1 diabetes, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
The majority of those who suffer diabulimia are young women. In fact, diabetic women are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder as comparable women without diabetes, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center. Diabulimia is a growing problem.
Limiting their insulin sent over 8,000 people to hospitals in England and Wales, between April 2010 and March 2011, according to a BBC article earlier this month.
Essentially the type 1 diabetic is trying to loose weight. In an effort to do so, the person skips her required insulin dose. By not taking their insulin, their blood sugar rises. This results in a need to urinate frequenting. In essence, the body is purging the sugar from the body through the urine, resulting in a rapid weight loss. It is a similar process a bulimic uses when he vomits to loose weight, like a wrestler before a weigh-in.
The outward warning signs of diabulimia can include:
- changes in eating habits (eating more but still losing weight)
- unexplained weight loss
- low energy levels
- frequent urination
- dehydrated, always thirsty
- preoccupation with body image
- depression or mood swings
- eating alone or an obvious discomfort eating in front of people
- easy bruising
Other warning signs include:
- a consistently high A1C (9.0 or higher)
- unexplained hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- a secrecy about blood sugars and shots
- recurring bladder and yeast infections
- low potassium or sodium
- missed periods
- blurred vision
- dental problems
- recurring diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
Breaking the cycle is hard. Weight and self image are important to teens, especially females. Add in a bought of depression and there is a decrease in energy and even more of a decrease in self esteem which of course leads to more depression and often even social awkwardness. Depression often leads one to feel guilty or eat in secret. Depression also smothers an individual in a heavy blanket of feeling helpless and often even useless or feeling like an outsider. From a teen age perspective, to be “in” often a teenager will try to fit in by loosing weight and attempting to look like others physically.
Managing diabetes and understanding all the risks and effects is a key prevention tool.
Diabulimia – like any eating disorder – has physical and medical ramifications. It also has emotional and mental ramifications. The Joslin Diabetes Center suggests the individual seek guidance from both an eating disorder specialist and a diabetes management team in order to be truly effective.
One recognized charity in Britain – Diabetes with Eating Disorders (DWED) – is working to have diabulimia recognized as a mental illness. Diabulimia is not a “new” concern. MSNBC ran a segment on the subject in 2007.
This article is not intended to replace the medical advice of your physician. If you or someone you love are experiencing any of the symptoms of diabulima, make an appointment with a diabetes management team.
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