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Diabulimia: the Diabetic Eating Disorder

Feb 22, 2013
Diabetic patients are more than twice as likely to have an eating disorder….

Diabulimia is a combination of diabetes and bulimia. It is a condition in which diabetic patients deliberately withhold insulin from the body in order to lose weight. Sufferers from this disorder are usually young women (15- to 30-years old) diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

When diabetic patients choose to skip daily insulin injections, glucose is unable to be used for energy or stored as fat. This results in the excretion of glucose in the urine and dangerous blood sugar levels. In order to survive, the body begins the process of breaking down muscle and fat, resulting in a state of starvation and rapid weight loss.

Erin Akers, who runs the non-profit organization Diabulimia Helpline said to Philly.com in 2011 that she was able to lose 55 pounds over the course of a single summer, but not without a price. Akers’ suffers from permanent numbness in both feet and digestive problems.

Diabulimia often leads to diabetic ketoacidosis, which can cause vision loss, kidney damage and, left untreated, even death.

Researchers showed diabetic patients are more than twice as likely than non-diabetic patients to have an eating disorder (10% vs. 4%). It is important for type 1 diabetic patients to work closely with a nutritionist in order to lower the chances of developing an eating disorder. For patients with diabulimia, treatment can be difficult because many programs are unable to treat the dual diagnosis.

If diabulimia is recognized as a mental health problem, more treatment options will be available to sufferers.

NHS National Diabetic Information Service, Feb. 2013 

Submitted by Sara DAkroub, PharmD Candidate