health

The eating disorder you've never heard of that is leaving women comatose.

Young women with this condition are risking their health to be thinner, thinner, thinner.

I have type 1 diabetes and part of my management is to give myself insulin. I do this with a small device that delivers insulin via a cannula that sits under the skin. Others use syringes loaded with insulin or pre-filled ‘pens’.

The amount of insulin I give myself varies depending on what and how much I eat, if I am exercising, hormones, stress levels and pretty much everything else in life! Basically, insulin is a drug that lowers the glucose levels in the blood by allowing the glucose to enter the body’s cells where it is used for energy.

But here’s the scary thing. If I wanted to, I could stop giving myself insulin. This would result in a few things:

I’d start to feel really thirsty and find myself peeing. A lot. When I say thirsty, I mean a never-able-to-be-quenched dryness that cannot be satisfied no matter how much water I guzzle down. I would start to feel nauseous and light headed. My limbs would get heavy and a fog of exhaustion would come over me.

If I did this for a few days, my vision would start to blur. I would start to get short of breath and if you got close enough, my breath would smell sweet. I would feel terrible and if I did this for long enough could wind up in a coma.

And I would lose weight.

This is what happens when blood sugar levels are too high. Without insulin, the ‘pathway’ for glucose to move into the cells is shut down. The omission or restriction of insulin for the purpose of weight loss is a very real disorder for many people living with type 1 diabetes.

Despite being warned (and aware) of terrible diabetes-related complications, (which include diabetic eye disease, kidney failure and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke to name just a few ), the lure of losing weight – quickly and easily – is incredibly strong for many. And long-term complications are a long way off, right? Plus, humans are hard-wired to feel invincible.

'I have type 1 diabetes. Have I ever stopped taking my insulin to lose weight? No. Have I been tempted? Absolutely.' (Image: YouTube)
ADVERTISEMENT

Many refer to this as ‘diabulimia’ and if you do a Google search you will see many references to this condition and its seriousness. You will also find studies which show that significant numbers of people living with type 1 diabetes – especially young women – employ this practise to lose weight. Diabulimia can be extremely dangerous in the short term and damaging in the long term.

So, have I ever stopped taking my insulin to lose weight? No.

I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 24 years old, and the week leading up to finding out exactly what was wrong with me was dreadful. I was incredibly unwell and lost over six kilos. The memory of the sudden and substantial weight loss has stayed with me in the intervening 16 years, yet I have never succumbed to the desire to ‘drop a few kilos’ by manipulating my insulin.

Have I been tempted? Yes. Absolutely and many times.

Can I say that I will never, ever try this as a way to lose weight? I’d like to say yes, but as someone who has (minor) body image issues, I know that I am definitely not immune to how tempting – and easy – it seems to be able to lose weight easily if I wanted to.

Over the last year or so, I have lost a significant amount of weight. This has all been due to stress (I’m one of those people who stops eating when stressed). But I know what some people are thinking. Thankfully, I’ve some really wonderful friends who understand diabetes and have asked me if any of my weight loss is the result of insulin manipulation. I also have a team of terrific healthcare professionals who have (gently) asked the same. I’ve been able to answer honestly – no.

LISTEN: Mamamia Out loud discuss the body positivity movement that might work for you (post continues after audio...)

But this is a difficult question to ask. Many people – including healthcare professionals – shy away from asking because they are afraid the answer will be ‘yes’. So much is misunderstood about eating disorders in general and something as specific as diabetes-related eating disorders are even more difficult to deal with.

This is a serious and widespread condition in people living with type 1 diabetes and one that needs a lot of attention.

Diabetes Australia has this information booklet on Type 1 Diabetes and Eating Disorders.

For further information on eating disorders go to Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria or the Butterfly Foundation.

00:00 / ???