What is Diabulimia?

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.

Symptoms & Signs of Diabulimia

Diabulimia is not an official eating disorder diagnosis or a medically recognized term. It is a non-clinical term that used to describe an eating disorder affecting some people with type 1 diabetes. It is sometimes referred to as the Dual Diagnosis of Eating Disorder and Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 (ED-DMT1).

Signs and Symptoms

Weight loss

Growth failure in adolescents

Depressed mood

Social withdrawal and/or deterioration of school or work performance

Hyperglycemia

Ketonuria

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Serious Complications Are Associated With Diabulimia

There are a number of risks associated with diabulimia. At its most extreme, diabulimia can increase the risk of premature death. People with type 1 diabetes, that are also prone to eating disorder behaviors, may partake in this harmful method regularly, leading to severe consequences:

  • Diabetes complications (including onset and severity of microvascular disease and peripheral nerve damage) 
  • Hyperglycemia (elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream) resulting from insulin deficiency and leads to damage of small vessels (microvascular damage) and nerve cells, specifically peripheral nerves
  • 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
  • Ketonuria
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
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How is Diabulimia Treated?

At Eating Recovery Center, we offer a multidisciplinary team approach to treating diabulimia. Patients are seen by a medical doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, Registered Dietitian and nursing staff regularly.

The goal of diabulimia treatment is to normalize the use of insulin, blood glucose levels and patient weight, and to avoid acute and chronic diabulimia complications.

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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.

Self-Assessment for Diabulimia

Given the serious health risks associated with diabulimia, it is crucial that, rather than attempt a self-assessment quiz, you immediately seek a professional clinical assessment.

If you have been diagnosed with Type I Diabetes and you manipulate your insulin in order to change or maintain your body size, we can help.

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Organizations that earn the Gold Seal of Approval™ have met or exceeded The Joint Commission’s rigorous performance standards to obtain this distinctive and internationally recognized accreditation. Learn more about this accreditation here.

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