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Eating Disorders and Diabetes

Diabetes and food are closely linked. Having diabetes can mean a bigger focus on diet, weight and body image. So, it’s not surprising that you may start to feel negatively about food.

Disordered eating isn’t the same as having a diagnosed eating disorder. But the signs and behaviors are similar, like skipping insulin for weight loss, or binge eating and making yourself sick. But one can lead to the other, so it’s really important you get help before things get worse.

These eating problems are more common than you think – you’re not alone in this. And they can happen to anyone, not just because you have diabetes.

How to recognize an eating disorder with diabetes?

Disordered eating behaviors are often well hidden and denied. Patients decrease their frequency of glucose monitoring, “forget” to bring blood glucose records to medical appointments, and also find ways to influence blood glucose meters so that they record in-range blood sugars. More sophisticated meter technology, such as larger memory capacity and data down-loading, represent treatment advances that could assist with early detection.1

Eating disorders are illnesses with a biological basis modified and influenced by emotional and cultural factors. While eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses, there is help available for you and recovery is possible.2

Diabulimia

Diabulimia is an “eating” disorder that only strikes people with Type 1 diabetes, many of whom are young women. The practice of withholding insulin has been seen in girls as young as age 13 and in women as old as 60-years-old, in order to lose weight.3

Binge eating and diabetes

Binge eating is when you eat a lot of food in a short space of time. Some people make themselves sick afterwards, but not everyone. This is a serious eating problem and you need to be aware of the damage it can cause to your body.

This behavior doesn’t always develop into an eating disorder, but if it does it’s a very serious mental health condition.

It’s really important you talk to your healthcare team if you’re binge eating. They can help you start to look at food differently and change how you feel about it.4

How eating disorders can affect your body?

  • Short-term effects:

Eating too much will make your blood sugar levels go too high which can make you feel really tired and cause headaches.
If you’re making yourself sick to try and avoid putting on weight, you’re affecting your mouth health too. There’s a lot of acid in vomit and this can damage your teeth and gums.4

  • Long-term effects

If you have high blood sugar levels over a long period of time, it can seriously damage your blood vessels. Which can lead to complications in places like your feet, eyes and heart.

Now, what should you do?

This isn’t going to be easy. Eating problems are serious and complicated. But reading this information and finding out more about eating problems is a good first step to overcoming them. We can help you take the next one.

  1. Talk to other people with diabetes
  2. Talk to your diabetes healthcare team
  3. Write a food and feelings diary
  4. In very severe cases, hospitalization may be needed

References:
1 Goebel-Fabbri AE. Diabetes and eating disorders. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. 2008 May;2(3):530-2.
2 Types of Eating Disorders | ADA [Internet]. Diabetes.org. 2020 [cited 25 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/mental-health/eating-disorders
3 What is diabulimia? [Internet]. MSU Extension. 2020 [cited 25 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/what_is_diabulimia
4 Eating disorders and diabetes [Internet]. Diabetes UK. 2020 [cited 25 November 2020]. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/emotions/eating-disorders

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