Diabetes and Eating Disorders

The combination of diabetes and an eating disorder can have severe consequences. Diabetes does not cause an eating disorder, but often proceeds or contributes to the creation and maintenance of an eating disorder. However, this is a dangerous and potentially fatal combination. Some clinicians and researchers believe that those with diabetes may be a greater risk of developing an eating disorder than those in the general population. In addition, diabetics with an eating disorder may not be identified for many years due to symptoms of diabetes management and bodily symptoms that can mirror those of an eating disorder. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the risks that combining the two can have.

Specific medical risks can include:

  1. Diabetic Retinopathy, which is a condition in which blood vessels break in the eye
  2. Blindness (a progression for many that develop diabetic retinopathy)
  3. Kidney disease
  4. Liver failure
  5. Circulation and breathing issues
  6. Heart disease
  7. Ulcers
  8. Malnutrition
  9. Electrolyte and fluid imbalances
  10. Extreme fluctuations in blood sugar
  11. Low or high blood pressure depending on the type of eating disorder
  12. Iron deficiencies
  13. Amenorrhea and infertility
  14. Easily bruising skin
  15. Dental issues
  16. Depression
  17. Amputation of limbs
  18. Death

With children or teenagers with both diabetes and an eating disorder, there can be additional acting out or rebellious behavior because of what the child/teen may perceive as over-controlling or over-protective behavior by their parents that are constantly watching and commenting about eating behaviors and sugar levels.

Development of the Eating Disorder

For a diabetic person, their focus and that of their medical team, is on weight management, monitoring the level of insulin, and tight control over eating habits. A person can very easily take these areas and go overboard with them, which can lead to strictly controlling the amount of calories consumed or the use of compensatory behaviors, such as binging, purging, excessive exercise or laxative use to control weight gain that are seen in an eating disorder. The person with diabetes may also be feeling out of control and like his/her body has failed him/her, which can lead to obsessive control and monitoring, as well as emotional feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety that can contribute to the beginnings of an eating disorder.

Diabetics that are taking insulin can use it to reduce weight gain by taking less insulin than the doctor prescribed, which causes their blood sugar to increase and spill over into the urine. Once the urine is released from the body, the person will see weight reduction and may even see improvement in their diabetic symptoms, but is also destroying tissues in the body through this dangerous practice and can lead to organ failure that can be life-threatening or cause death.

Both those with an eating disorder and diabetes are asked to pay close attention to the state of their body at different points throughout the day, and to control the types and amounts of food that they eat. With diabetes, certain foods are considered "bad," such as those with a great deal of sugar and diabetics are often asked to maintain food diaries or use exchange programs that track the amount and type of food eaten each day. They are also told that weight gain in bad for their health. This is very similar in many ways to a person with an eating disorder that is watching and evaluating everything that they eat and labeling certain foods as "good" or "bad" and that any weight gain is dangerous for them. When you combine diabetes with an eating disorder in the same person, you often find a person that is focused on controlling their body and closely monitoring and trying to change their blood sugar level and their weight.

For the person that is suffering from diabetes and an eating disorder, it is important to seek out and begin treatment as early as possible. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chance there is to reduce the long-term effects on the body and to create healthy eating and diabetic management behaviors that the person can utilize throughout their lifetime.

Please visit Avalon Hills Eating Disorder Treatment Center for more information about eating disorders and how it can affect diabetes.