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Diabetes & Eating Disorders

Diabetes may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.

Eating Disorders and Diabetes: A Dangerous Connection

Because both disorders involve the control of food, Diabetes and eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating can run hand-in-hand. Diabetes is a disorder resulting from the pancreas not producing enough Insulin or the body not being able to effectively use the Insulin produced. The prevalence of eating disorders among Insulin dependent diabetics is estimated to be two to six times higher than in the general population. Up to 25% of females with Insulin dependent diabetes may have a diagnosable eating disorder. Although having diabetes has not been shown to cause eating disorders, the condition may increase the risk of developing them.

The connection between eating disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating and Diabetes may be a result of both disorders sharing some common traits and paths. To begin with, for many diabetics, the onset of diabetes is accompanied by an initial weight loss, which is often how the disorder is first recognized. This initial weight loss can be perceived as rewarding and become something the diabetic does not want to give up. Following diagnosis, the individual is started on Insulin treatment, which often causes weight gain for the diabetic. This resulting weight gain may exacerbate any concerns of body image and cause anxiety for the newly diagnosed diabetic.

Dietary Restraints

Also complicating the situation are the dietary constraints imposed on diabetics. Both eating disorders and diabetes encourage individuals to pay accentuated attention to what they eat and weigh. Foods for individuals with an eating disorder and diabetes are no longer viewed as just for nutrition, but often gain the monikers of "forbidden" or "dangerous." The obsessive pursuit of gaining control of food can become central for both diabetics and eating disordered individuals. This struggle to maintain control can become the introduction to developing an eating disorder for a diabetic. The issue of control is of special importance for adolescent diabetics. Like all teenagers, adolescent diabetics strive for independence but besides the regular teen issues, adolescent diabetics must also grapple with someone, or something else posing, control over their food intake. Through the practice of an eating disorder, eating disordered diabetics may feel they have regained some of the lost control.

Diabetes and Eating Disorders: Behavior

When diabetics suffer from eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia, they frequently engage in dangerous behaviors like restricting food, dieting and binge eating. But one of the most dangerous practices can be abusing insulin. To avoid weight gain, some diabetics with eating disorders under use their insulin, causing their blood sugar to rise and spill into their urine. The accompanied weight loss is the result of the body's tissues being literally dissolved. Diabetics with eating disorders often suffer from complications like kidney failure, blood circulation difficulties, heart disease and eyesight problems as a result of insulin abuse. When diabetics have a eating disorder they have a threefold risk of damaging the retina of their eye permanentaly (retinopathy). Diagnosing an eating disorder in a diabetic can be extremely difficult, even for professionals. The dietary concerns of diabetes can easily mask the eating disordered behavior. It is often hard to tell if the behaviors are symptoms of an eating disorder like anorexia, compulsive overeating or bulimia or just careful dietary management of the diabetes. When confronted, eating disordered diabetics often claim that they are just practicing good dietary control. One tell-tale sign of trouble is poorly controlled blood sugars for unexplained reasons.

Warning Signs for Insulin Abuse

  • Low energy
  • High blood sugar
  • Weight loss despite increased eating
  • Frequent urination

Get Help Today

Rader Programs understands the nuances and difficulties that arise when diabetes is complicated with an eating disorder and has put together a program that can address an eating disordered diabetic's specific needs. In the past, the course of treatment for a diabetic was one of a prescribed restrictive diet and a rigid approach to regulation and maagement.

Rader Programs understands this approach can be counterproductive and even lead a diabetic towards bingeing and misusing insulin. Instead, we work with the eating disordered, diabetic individual helping them towards normalizing their eating and tailoring their Insulin to their food plan. It is not uncommon for a diabetic individual to lower the amount of Insulin or move from injections to oral medication, once they are in recovery from their eating disorder.