The frightening world of eating disorders and distorted body images among young women has a new and potentially fatal entry, a condition known as diabulimia. Diabulimia is an extreme weight loss method which combines the natural side effects of juvenile diabetes with the unnatural compulsion known as bulimia or purging.
Some young women diagnosed with Type 1 or "juvenile" diabetes are deliberately withholding their daily shots of insulin in order to induce more rapid weight loss. Combined with other extreme eating practices such as binging and purging, the practice can become a life-threatening eating disorder.
Diabulimia is not recognized as an official eating disorder as of mid-2007, but many experts on juvenile diabetes have been aware of this dangerous practice for years. Those who practice diabulimia as a means of weight control are often able to disguise their habit from others by blaming it all on the natural side effects of the disease. Many Type 1 diabetics are naturally thin as a result of their restrictive diets and regular injections of insulin. Family members and friends may not even be aware of a juvenile diabetic's practice of diabulimia.
There are a number of dangerous side effects connected with the practice of diabulimia, but perhaps the most worrisome is the effect of high blood sugar levels on the body. Ordinarily, a Type 1 diabetic would monitor his or her blood sugar levels several times a day and inject a prescribed amount of insulin according to that reading. The insulin would break down the excess blood sugar and return the diabetic to a fairly normal range between meals. Someone who practices diabulimia, however, might only inject enough insulin to prevent total insulin shock. A young girl suffering from diabulimia may have an extremely high blood sugar reading all day, seven days a week.
The pressure some young women feel to maintain a thinner body can lead directly to the formation of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. When this pressure is combined with the social aspects of juvenile diabetes, the result can be some degree of diabulimia. The cumulative effects of long-term diabulimia are often permanently disabling or even life-threatening. The damage caused by insulin shock and unchecked high blood sugar levels can include nerve damage, hemorrhaging of the eyes and serious circulatory problems. Some women who practiced diabulimia in their teens and early twenties face these complications decades before other Type 1 diabetics.
Diabulimia can be treated through professional counseling, but many eating disorder specialists may not be fully aware of the specific complications faced by Type 1 diabetics. Sometimes diabulimics do recognize the error of their ways and stop the behavior voluntarily, but there could still be serious diabetic complications which require medical intervention.