Diabulimia: An Intersect of Physical and Mental Health

The world is in the middle of a revolution in the way it understands, treats, and values mental health. New efforts are made every day to help those affected achieve healthy, happy lives. Unfortunately, many people suffer from conditions that are not yet well understood or heavily studied for a variety of reasons. One such condition is an eating disorder called diabulimia.

You won’t find the term “diabulimia” in most diagnostic manuals, though insulin omission is listed as a purging behavior. If you ask a doctor, they may have heard the term, but they may not be able to link it to that behavior. While the average person has a general idea of eating disorders, most will respond to the mention of it with a blank stare.

Diabulimia is a media-coined term to describe the omission of insulin injections in diabetics in order to quickly drop weight. As such, it only affects Type 1 diabetics who rely on insulin injections. Refusing the body insulin prevents glucose from being processed for energy. The body is then forced to burn fat and muscle reserves to stay alive. This results in extreme weight loss, but also causes severe thirst, exhaustion, and can even be lethal. In addition to the complications that come with any eating disorder, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a condition called ketoacidosis. The rapid breakdown of fat cells over a long period of time causes the buildup of acids called ketones. The blood’s becomes damaging to the organs, slowly killing an individual as the body shuts down.

People suffering from diabulimia face a unique challenge when seeking treatment. Typically, the method for overcoming an eating disorder, like bulimia, is teaching someone to stop counting calories and carbs when eating. Diabetics can’t ignore these numbers because they are often on a strictly regulated diet, especially if they need to figure out exactly how much insulin to take based on the carbs they’re eating. Instead, treatment requires a focus on normalizing the use of insulin while simultaneously building coping skills and minimizing the physical damage caused by uncontrolled blood sugar.

Thankfully, there are options for people with diabulimia. The Eating Recovery Center website has extensive information about causes, symptoms and treatment, and even has options for seeking a professional consultation. As it becomes more well-known, discussing diabulimia with family doctors and therapists should become easier, and treatment options should become more accessible. As always, if you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms related to eating disorders, discuss it openly and honestly. Resources for aid can be found online through organizations like the Eating Recovery Center.