EXPLAINER: What is diabulimia?

Clare Allison, husband Ben, and children (from left) Alethea, Amos, and baby Edna at Greenbelt festival in August. Credit: Catherine Allison

Clare Allison, husband Ben, and children (from left) Alethea, Amos, and baby Edna at Greenbelt festival in August. Credit: Catherine Allison

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Diabetes affects more people in Sheffield than any other medical condition.

Although one in three young women with Type 1 diabetes have concerns about their weight or problems with their food, one diabetes-related eating disorder remains medically ‘unrecognised’.

What is diabulimia?

Diabetes affects more people in Sheffield than any other medical condition.

Although one in three young women with Type 1 diabetes have concerns about their weight or problems with their food, one diabetes-related eating disorder remains medically ‘unrecognised’.

Diabulimia, also known as ED-DMT1, is when a person with diabetes purposefully skips insulin doses in order to lose weight.

Sixty per cent of women with Type 1 diabetes will experience a clinically significant eating disorder by the age of 25.

Men with Type 1 also have a ‘higher drive for thinness’ than their non-diabetic counterparts.

Jacq Allan, director of the charity Diabetics With Eating Disorders, said the lack of solid statistics means there is limited awareness of diabulimia.

In an interview with Diabetes UK, she said: “The evidence is conflicting, fraught with methodological issues and lacks consensus.”

“Concrete statistics for the UK are scarce as diabetes-related eating disorders are not an official cause of death.”

READ MORE: Sheffield diabetes group say hoping for specialist treatment for ‘diabulimia’ is “too much to ask”

Signs and symptoms of diabulimia as put together by the charity include:

• Frequent hospitalisations for poor blood sugar control

• Delay in puberty or sexual maturation or irregular menses / amenorrhea

• Frequent episodes of thrush/ urine infections

• Nausea and stomach cramps

• Hair loss

• Delayed healing from infections/ bruises

• Easy bruising

• Dehydration – dry skin

• Dental problems

• Blurred vision

• Severe fluctuations in weight

• Anaemia and other deficiencies

• Co – occurrence of depression, anxiety or other psychological disturbance

• Anxiety/ distress over being weighed at appointments

• Fear of injecting

• Injecting in private

• Avoidance of diabetes-related health appointments

• An encyclopaedic knowledge of the carbohydrate content of foods

• Persistent requests for weight loss medications

• A fundamental belief that insulin makes you fat

What about other eating disorders?

Type 1 diabetic women are twice as likely to develop anorexia or bulimia than other women.

What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 occurs when the pancreas does not produce any insulin because the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. What causes the immune system to do this is not yet completely understood.

In Type 2 diabetes the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin. Type 2 can usually be managed through diet, exercise, and self-monitoring blood glucose, at least in the first few years following diagnosis.

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