Diabulimia: The Unknown eating disorder

Charlotte Jiggins sensitively discusses diabulimia, the unknown eating disorder. Have you heard of it? No, we hadn't either; but it's important we all learn more about eating disorders and how they effect people's lives. 

Generally, I would consider myself someone who is knowledgeable on the subject of eating disorders, and well aware of those around me. This is why I was pretty shocked to read, on the BBC, about the tragic story of Lisa Day, who passed away on the 15th December 2015 from an eating disorder that no one seems to know about. This eating disorder affects around 40% of all women between the ages of 15-30 with Type 1 Diabetes. It is fatal and it is not yet a medically recognised condition. This is diabulimia and this is what I want to write about today.

Your first question might be: what is diabulimia? Well here are five things you should know:

1. Diabulimia is the merge of the words diabetes and bulimia.

2. Type 1 Diabetes is when the body cannot make its own insulin and, as a result, cannot control how much sugar is in the blood. According to JDRF – Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund - there are an estimated 400,000 sufferers of type 1 diabetes in the UK.

3. Diabulimia is when a diabetic person deliberately and regularly reduces the amount of insulin they take in order to lose weight. Not taking insulin is serious for diabetics, as, without it, glucose levels build up in the blood (hyperglycaemia), which leads to calories taken in being passed straight through the system (polyuria).  If left untreated it is incredibly dangerous and can be fatal. When the body reaches polyuria it starts to break itself down in order to find energy. This leads to side effects such as infertility, blindness and eventually heart and organ failure.

4. Why is this happening? There are countless reasons but often diabetics become diabulimic due to shame over management, as people have to regularly check blood glucose levels, inject insulin into their system and keep track of their diet and exercise. Diabetic people find it difficult to lose weight naturally, causing them to be twice as likely to develop some form of eating disorder over their lifetime.

5. It is important to note that it does not just affect women. Men with type 1 diabetes have a higher drive for thinness and are much more likely to develop eating disorders in comparison to men who don’t have diabetes. However, sadly there is currently much less recorded information about diabulimia among men than in women.

Diabulimia is not yet a medically recognised condition, which is pretty scary considering it is fatal. However, because it is not yet a medically recognised condition there are very few recorded statistics about the condition and general awareness of the illness is very low.

The charity DWED (Diabetics with Eating Disorders) has been actively campaigning to have the reduction of insulin for weight loss officially recognised as a mental health condition.  This has caused some change as in 2017 NICE (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) are expected to publish new guidelines on how best to treat eating disorders including those that coincide with diabetes. Although things seem to be heading in the right direction we are still a long way off where we should be. There is still very little awareness of diabulimia, which is why we really, really need to get talking about it and spread awareness.

I hope this article has made you more aware of what diabulimia is and why we need to spread awareness of it. So please get talking, spread the word and, also, please know that if you need help with it, that it is not embarrassing, there is support out there and you are not alone.