Diabetes Health Type 1: The Stress of Type 1 Often Leads to Diabulimia

Living with type 1 diabetes means that you have a different relationship with food than other people. You live your life in between the demanding rituals that happen multiple times a day; before and after a meal or any type of snack.

When I look down at my plate I don’t just see the food itself, I see numbers. After living with type 1 diabetes for over 23 years, I have calculated the nutritional components of thousands of meals while also considering time of day, activity level, stress, and many other necessary factors before deciding how much insulin I need to inject.

Although I am now at peace with this routine, there were 10 years of my life where I lived in a fog. I grew tired of the unyielding routines that type 1 diabetes demands on a daily basis. I was afraid that others would see me as broken and fragile if I had a low blood sugar at an inconvenient time (and let’s face it, it’s always an inconvenient time to be low).

What started out as an attempt to just keep my blood sugars a little higher than normal to avoid any possibility of a hypoglycemic attack during a performance or out on a date, quickly manifested into a dangerous eating disorder. I became lost inside a cycle of coping behaviors that soon became my entire life. Diabetes felt like an unfair burden to me and to my life’s goals, and I rebelled forcefully against it. I didn’t know how to ask for help and for years I didn’t know if I even wanted help; I had forgotten how to take care of myself and my eating disorder became my world.

My life changed in many ways the day I finally shared my secrets to my family and my husband. I was lucky enough to receive treatment at one of the most qualified eating disorder treatment facilities in the country that has a fully developed treatment track for diabetics with eating disorders.

Recovering from any eating disorder is extremely difficult; it challenges a person both physically and emotionally. The process of learning how to cope with life and its unexpected challenges without the protection and safety of an all-consuming obsession leaves you raw and exposed to all of the emotional and physical feelings humans are capable of experiencing.

Diabetes healthcare professionals put a lot of emphasis on healthy eating, weight management, and good control over your blood sugars in terms of good diabetes care. These are without question important factors to consider and to be mindful of. The problem is that with the large emphasis on food, weight, numbers and control, the fine line between taking great care of your diabetes and obsession can become increasingly blurry.

The opposite reaction can also happen; it can become incredibly overwhelming to constantly calculate and consider so many factors on a daily basis to stay healthy. Some diabetics feel an overwhelming desire to just press “mute” in an attempt to think about something other than their diabetes.

Both reactions are understandable and both have physical and emotional consequences. The more that the diabetic community can come forward and be honest about what they are struggling with to their family, friends and doctors, the better chance we have at establishing solid sources of support.

I never thought that I would be on the other side of this deadly disorder and I know that if I can find the strength and the bravery to ask for help, others who struggle with this dual-diagnosis can, too! I have been lucky enough to view the awe-inspiring determination of many others who struggled with diabetes and an eating disorder through the organization that I started two years ago with my co-founder Erin Williams: We Are Diabetes has supported and guided the recovery of many brave type 1 diabetics who have struggled with diabetes burnout, isolation and eating disordered behaviors.

There is growing awareness among diabetes healthcare professionals about the risks of those living with type 1 diabetes developing an eating disorder. However there is a substantial disconnect between the knowledge and understanding of type 1 diabetes at most eating disorder facilities. The dual-diagnosis of a chronic illness like type 1 diabetes and an eating disorder is extremely complicated and demands the proper type of professional care; both for the emotional and the physical aspects being treated.

We Are Diabetes has networked with specific treatment centers across the United States that have the experience and the expertise necessary to help those who are suffering from diabulimia. There are many options available for someone who is seeking help. For more information about what kind of support may be available in your area, please visit our website at www.wearediabetes.org or email us at info@wearediabetes.org.

Asha Brown is the founder of We Are Diabetes, an organization devoted to providing support for type 1 diabetics who struggle with an eating disorder. She is a member of both The ADA Woman and Diabetes Subcommittee, as well as Diabetes Advocates, and has devoted the last four years of her life to spreading the awareness of the deadly eating disorder diabulimia that has become prevalent in the type 1 diabetic community.

  • Hi,
    I enjoyed your article. I have been a type one diabetic for over 42 years. I agree with much of what you say. I do have a little trouble with the statement, “Diabetes healthcare professionals put a lot of emphasis on healthy eating, …..”. I have seen many, many doctors who seem to know nothing and say nothing about healthy eating, only how much insulin I should take, or not take. I have always wondered why doctors never consider the ‘food factor’ in balancing blood sugars.
    I am having more difficulty controlling my sugars the older I get. I describe my life as a 24 hour math problem. Testing my blood sugars, calculating how much insulin to take, adding carbs and proteins at each meal, factoring in things like what type of energy I will need, for how long, when I might be able to stop and check my sugar and eat, etc. doctors treat me like a number. I don’t like being grouped in and treated like a type 2 (mostly self induced) diabetic and my weight has not changed more than a couple of pounds since high school.
    I don’t really know if I have an eating disorder, because I have eaten the way I do to stay conscience and avoid any more of the dozens of paramedic rescues I have experienced in my diabetic career.

  • Great article. Ion a chiropractic clinic, and am always recommending to patients with or without the burden of diabetes that they need a good source of nutrition to help with regulating their blood sugar. It can be tough for people to do, and I have been trying to create a support system not only within the office, but also outside the clinic with those who will participate. This has helped immensely with everyone. I appreciate this article, and will look to utilize some of the things that are written in here. I appreciate you putting this down, and am glad I bumped into it!