Diabulimia (ED-DMT1) Can Be Life-Threatening

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.

To speak confidentially with one of our Master's-level clinicians about your concerns, please call us at 877-825-8584 today.

The Definition of Diabulimia (ED-DMT1)

Diabulimia is not an official eating disorder diagnosis. Eating Recovery Center’s Dr. Ovidio Bermudez offers a clinical definition of diabulimia: “The dual diagnosis of an  eating disorder and type 1 diabetes is often referred to as ‘diabulimia,’ although this is not a medically recognized term and it is not an accurate description.”

The best and most accurate definition of this condition is to call it Dual Diagnosis of Eating Disorder and Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 (ED-DMT1). However, many people still refer to this illness as diabulimia.


Is it Safe to Use Insulin for Weight Loss?

Some people with type 1 diabetes rely on insulin manipulation as an easy and effective weight loss method. While it is extremely dangerous to manipulate insulin, some people with type 1 diabetes intentionally misuse insulin as a weight-loss tool by:

  • Decreasing  the prescribed dose of insulin
  • Omitting  insulin entirely
  • Delaying  the appropriate dose
  • Manipulating the insulin itself to render it inactive.

After one manipulates their insulin, sugar will be eliminated from the body via urination, instead of being stored as fat or used as fuel. The result? The individual loses weight, essentially “purging” themselves of calories.

The most concerning health complication that occurs with ED-DMT1 is an increased risk of death. Other health complications associated with ED-DMT1 are very serious, including nerve damage, retina damage, kidney and cardiac problems.

Warning Signs of Diabulimia

According to the National Center for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, up to one-third of patients with type 1 diabetes between the ages of 15 and 30 engage in insulin manipulation. At first, there may be few external signs of diabulimia, other than weight loss. However, watch for these common signs of eating disorders that may develop over time:

  • Dieting or restricting food
  • Binge eating or eating in secret
  • Rituals around food
  • Refusal to eat in the presence of others
  • Ongoing negative comments about one’s size, weight, or appearance

Additional signs of disordered eating like these should be red flags for loved ones and healthcare providers:

  • Growth failure in adolescents
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Ketonuria
  • Social withdrawal
  • Deterioration of school or work performance
  • Depression

A number of serious health risks are associated with diabulimia. At its most extreme, diabulimia can increase the risk of premature death.

Diabetes and Eating Disorders: What the Research Shows

Type 1 diabetes is a risk factor for eating disorders and diabulimia is associated with an increased mortality risk, as referenced in the studies below.

  • Having type 1 diabetes puts an individual at increased risk for developing an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors.1 Females with type 1 diabetes are twice as likely as their non-diabetic peers to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • ED-DMT1 (diabulimia) is also associated with a significantly increased mortality risk. In one study, the risk of death for ED-DMT1 was 17-fold compared to type 1 diabetes alone and seven-fold compared to anorexia nervosa alone.2
  • Another study found that as many as 35 percent of young adult women with type 1 diabetes met the criteria for a “sub-threshold” eating disorder (symptoms of an eating disorder that do not meet full diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder). As many as 11 percent of these young women met the criteria for a full syndrome eating disorder.3

When someone with type 1 diabetes constantly or frequently talks about their weight, has a negative body image, or is obsessed with exercise or food — pay attention — and encourage them to seek help.

Diabulimia is serious. Here’s how to get help.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with  type 1 diabetes and are manipulating insulin  in order to change or maintain weight, we can help. At Eating Recovery Center, we offer a multidisciplinary team  approach to treating diabulimia. Patients are  seen regularly by a medical doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, registered dietitian and nursing staff. In treatment, the goal will be medical stabilization. Insulin, blood glucose levels and patient weight will all be monitored. In more severe cases, inpatient hospitalization may be necessary. Once medically stabilized, patients can work therapeutically to effectively address eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.

Recovery is possible!

Acute and chronic diabulimia complications can be avoided when treatment is sought with experienced eating disorder professionals. To learn more, please  call us at 877-825-8584 today to speak confidentially with one of our  Master's-level clinicians. The call is free.

Discover More Eating Disorder Screening Tests

There are many different types of eating disorders. All are associated with many serious health complications and risks. See additional eating disorder screening tests below.

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