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Our dangerous obsession with food (diabulemia)

Today, I want to discuss something that although incredibly important, isn’t often talked about… As PWD, we are taught to be obsessed with our food; what we eat, how much we eat, how many carbs, etc. This obsession is essential for BG control, but can also carry a huge emotional burden. Moreover, outside of diabetes, women face a constant societal pressure to be thin. The pressure is everywhere and for someone who is already obsessed their with food, this combination can be dangerous.

Because of this, PWD are at an especially increased risk for eating disorders and body image issues. Self-awareness is key. When does our obsession with food cross the line into an eating disorder?

Everyone is familiar with anorexia and bulimia, but what I want to talk about today is an especially dangerous disease referred to as diabulimia. Although it is not officially recognized as a diagnosis, the term diabulimia is often used to describe a PWD who purposely withholds insulin (to lose weight) to the point of a diagnosable eating disorder. This health situation is dire and often leaves diabetes dangerously mistreated.

Although some may be shocked by this concept, it is fairly common. It has been documented that 30% of all women with diabetes have withheld insulin at some point for weight loss. Men are not innocent of this either!

When did the willingness to be thin outweigh the willingness to prevent limb loss or blindness? It’s a slippery slope.

The hardest part is, that once someone is in the grips of an eating disorder, they are typically not fazed by the consequences of uncontrolled blood glucose levels and intensive therapy is needed (often like the therapy for anorexia and bulimia). Most people have never heard of diabulimia, but it is a serious mental illness and I would like all of you to be aware of the signs both for yourselves and for your loved ones. These signs include, but are not limited to; continuously high HbA1c levels; weight loss that cannot be explained; fixation on body image; secrecy regarding food, BG readings, or injections; BG logs that don’t match HbA1c results; depression and mood swings; recurrent yeast or bladder infections; and frequent hunger and thirst.

Please remember that withholding insulin can result in serious health risks! If you or a loved one are displaying any of these signs, speak up! Therapy is an excellent tool that can not only help treat an eating disorder, but can also help prevent one! Keep in mind that our mental health is just as important as our physical health.

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