Psychology of Diabetes and Eating

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By: Katherine Marple

Diabetes is not a simple disease. It is an all-consuming disease as it affects hormones, emotional and mental wellbeing, and ticks in the back of the mind twenty-four hours per day. Maybe that’s just in my case, but I think I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I’m the type of person who wants to have the feeling of some control over situations in my life. The logical part of me knows that Control is an illusion, but the emotional part of me seeks the safety net of predictable outcomes. I’m a perfectionist, always believing things can be improved in some small way, so I get caught up in the details of things. I work diligently in every aspect of my life, but diabetes has a way of blindsiding me in more ways than I care to admit.

Is diabetes a precursor to an eating disorder? When I take into account the control we all desire over glucose numbers, then it seems natural to begin controlling food intake. This often times leads to restricting food groups altogether, such as carbohydrates and some fats, as these types of foods react with our blood sugars in erratic ways. We may be doing these dietary changes in the name of good diabetes control, but it can lead to more extremes as time goes on, becoming more dangerous than beneficial in the long term.

We are also often fighting fat stores created by insulin resistance, our bodies hiding unused insulin within fat cells. This leads to doctors asking us to maintain our weight: an elusive goal seeing as doctors don’t seem to take into account the insulin stores in our bodies. That’s added pressure on top of the day-to-day existing burden of manually doing what a pancreas should be doing naturally.

When I was diagnosed, I was a timid teenager and was spiraling in many areas of my life. But diabetes declared that I had to be rigid, and doctors said I had to be nearly perfect. So, I started restricting my food intake, trying to meet at least one of life’s demands. When my blood sugars stayed in range for the whole day, I felt stable and in control. The easiest way to maintain my glucose readings was to restrict my food. Eventually, I was living off of liquids only. Denying my body nourishment made me feel powerful, like I had somehow tricked the system into bending to my will. This lasted for two or three years before I realized I was doing more harm than good and struggled to find something of a healthy balance.

Recently, I told my doctor point-blank about what I was eating each day, with the very active amount of exercise and activity I’m doing on a consistent basis. Yet, I still had trouble managing my postprandial glucose numbers. He prescribed me Symlin, which is used to slow the digestion of food through the stomach and prevents spikes in blood sugars after eating.

But, isn’t using something like Symlin a prescribed way to actively nurture an eating disorder, if you’re prone to having one? With this drug, you can eat little and make it last longer without any hunger pangs. Even dosing the drug makes me incredibly nauseous and the mere thought of food is then very uncomfortable.

So, if someone like me is already prone to using anorexia or bulimia in order to soothe anxiety about issues out of my control, diabetes management is a major trigger to create the perfect scenario where an eating disorder and dietary restricting are not only accepted as “normal”, but encouraged by our doctors.

I’ve been in recovery from anorexia for over ten years, but I still get triggered when I’m stressed and have to rein myself back into mindful eating. What is healthy and how do I truly find that balance?

Katherine Marple was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14 in 1998. She is the mother of two small children, has battled insulin resistance, Pre Eclampsia, and pump failures, leading to insulin therapy via MDI using Levemir & Apidra, sometimes Metformin & CGM. She is the author of two diabetes related novels: “Wretched (this is my sorry)” and “Deathly Sweet.” She can be found at www.KatherineMarple.com and www.facebook.com/KatherineMarple

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