What is Diabulimia?
Diabulimia is a non-clinical term that is used to describe an eating disorder that affects some individuals with type 1 diabetes. Among healthcare professionals, this diagnosis is sometimes referred to as the Dual Diagnosis of Eating Disorder and Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 (ED-DMT1).
People with type 1 diabetes may, at times, intentionally misuse insulin as a weight-loss tool. They may:
Decrease the prescribed dose of insulin
Omit insulin entirely
Delay the appropriate dose
Manipulate the insulin itself to render it inactive.
Misusing insulin in these ways is a form of "purging" calories consumed. Thus, it is considered an eating disorder behavior. The purging aspect of this is similar to purging done by people with bulimia, which is why this condition is referred to as "diabulimia" (diabetes + bulimia).
Health risks of diabulimia are serious and can include:
Hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels)
Glucose excretion in the urine
Damage to the retina of the eye, kidneys and heart (related to microvascular disease)
Small nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy, pain, tingling, and even numbness of hands and feet
An increased mortality risk
Diabulimia: making the diagnosis
A person with diabetes who is misusing insulin may or may not have other symptoms of bulimia like binge eating, self-induced vomiting, etc. Some may only withhold insulin after they have binged — as a method of purging. They may or may not have normal eating patterns and body image issues.
Diabulimia is not an official eating disorder diagnosis nor is it a medically recognized term. It is a descriptive term for an observed behavior and is used widely in popular culture. While the term itself is inaccurate, it underscores a real and very serious pattern of disordered eating.
Get a more in-depth look at diabulimia on the ERC blog.
You can get help for diabulimia
It's important to note that there are serious and potentially lethal consequences if someone with type 1 diabetes is manipulating insulin as a method of weight control.
If you or you someone you know is exhibiting diabulimia symptoms, please contact us immediately at 877-825-8584. We are the nation's only health care system dedicated to the treatment of diabulimia at all levels of care, including inpatient treatment, residential treatment, partial hospitalization treatment and intensive outpatient treatment. Call today to speak confidentially with one of our Master's level clinicians at no cost to you.