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What is diabulimia?

And how a unique partnership within our organization treats this disorder


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May 23, 2017

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Someone is said to have diabulimia if they have both an eating disorder and type 1 diabetes. It is when a person takes less insulin than they need because they want to lose weight.

Diabulimia is not an official medical diagnosis. But it is still a very real disorder. It can have an extreme impact on a person’s physical health. And it strains their mental health, too.

Some of the signs are the same as those linked to other eating disorders, like:

  • feeling unhappy with body size and shape
  • thinking about food and calories constantly
  • feeling out of control with eating

Yet other signs show up because of the additional complication of having type 1 diabetes, like:

  • losing weight while blood sugar is rising
  • dehydration and thirst
  • exhaustion

How common is diabulimia? Is it treated differently than other eating disorders?

Eating disorders and diabetes both involve the control of food. Because of this, people with diabetes are more prone to eating disorders. We have treated more than 350 patients with diabulimia.

The bulk of treatment happens at Melrose Center. The experts here specialize in healing all types of eating disorders. But as a dual diagnosis, diabulimia is more complex. So Melrose stays in touch with clinicians who specialize in diabetes. And this close collaboration is what leads to treatment that works.

Patients with diabulimia get the same support as those with other eating disorders. And they meet regularly with a certified diabetes educator (CDE), too. These CDEs are staff at our International Diabetes Center. They join groups of patients at mealtime to practice counting carbs, portions and proper insulin doses. Melrose is also closely connected with Park Nicollet endocrinology, where patients continue to have regular appointments with clinicians.

How long does recovery take?

Patients can and will get better. But they need steady and proper support. Speed of recovery depends on many factors. How long a person has had their eating disorder is a big one. So is the number of complications they have with their diabetes. Making a full recovery also depends on the patient’s motivation.

Asha’s story of recovery

“I had been struggling with an eating disorder and with managing my type 1 diabetes for almost 10 years and I was so exhausted and ashamed. By the time I got to Melrose I felt that I had no other choice; change my life or lose everything. I had to find a new way to live or I knew I would die. I had lost every part of me that cared about things and I knew that there had been a time where I had felt peace inside; there were photos of me as a little girl and at age 11 and 12 where I was really truly happy. I wanted to feel that way again.

The amount of life-changing realizations I had on a daily basis during treatment at the Melrose Center could fill a novel. I never thought I could be free from my eating disorder and I have never worked so hard in my life to find that freedom, but it was worth it! Every single day of my recovery journey has been a blessing and has given me the strength and courage to face any obstacle in my life.”

Read Asha’s full story

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