Potentially Fatal Eating Disorder Affects People with Type 1 Diabetes

Surprising new research shows that approximately 40 percent of women and young girls with type 1 diabetes may develop eating disorders, according to U.S. News & World Report. Patients suffering from diabulimia, one of the most dangerous eating disorders, either underdose their insulin or don’t take it at all, both of which can be fatal.

We Are Diabetes points out that Type 1 diabetics may develop unhealthy perceptions about eating, which results from a lifetime of focusing on food. As a result, people living with Type 1 diabetes — women in particular — may avoid taking insulin, or may take only enough to avoid hospitalization, to control the weight gain associated with taking insulin on a regular basis. The obsessive desire to control weight or to binge on sugary foods usually starts during a person’s teenage years.

Sad Woman

Signs that a person living with Type 1 diabetes may have an eating disorder include chronic fatigue, extreme thirst, depression, and anxiety. In some cases, he or she may avoid medical appointments to conceal the eating disorder. Additional symptoms include:

  • Poor glucose control
  • Weight loss
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Behavioral changes, including secrecy, social withdraw, and poor performance in school and/or work
  • Rituals around food and insulin dosing
  • Obsession with weight and body image
  • Recurring episodes of diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Abnormally high A1c levels

Sadly, untreated diabulimia can cause complications that may lead to early death, according to Erin Sterenson, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Other diabulimia complications include body weakness and numbness, a condition known as neuropathy, long-term muscle pain, kidney failure, and retinopathy.

Article continues below

Our Featured Programs

See how we’re making a difference for People, Pets, and the Planet and how you can get involved!

The good news is that there’s hope for people with type 1 diabetes who may be suffering from eating disorders such as diabulimia. Specialized treatment helps patients develop the positive attitudes about food necessary to regain control and improve their health, according to the Atlantic. Since sufferers often don’t look like there’s anything wrong, learning more about the connection between type 1 diabetes and eating disorders could help you or someone you love.

Support Research

Fund Diabetes research and care at The Diabetes Site for free!