Is Type 1 Diabetes a Factor in Eating Disorders?

Diabetes and eating disorders might have a closer relationship than you’d think.


Eating disorders plague this world. While they are more prevalent in young women, eating disorders can target anyone, regardless of age, gender, weight, or background, and can cause serious and irreversible harm. Unfortunately, diabetes may play a significant role in the development of eating disorders, and diabetics are at greater risk for complications.


Eating Disorders and Risk Factors

Eating disorders are often seen as young girls’ problems, forced upon them by unrealistic societal standards. Although this does hold some truth, young women are not the only ones affected, and the standards driving eating disorders are not only pushed by outside influences and propagated by advertising. Instead, eating disorders can come from other psychological and physical factors, including being overweight, experiencing depression or anxiety, and having obsessive tendencies surrounding food.

Eating Disorders and Type 1

Unfortunately, Type 1 can provide a perfect “breeding ground,” so to speak, for eating disorders. Type 1 patients are required to closely monitor food and activities which can lead to obsessive tendencies regarding both eating and movement. Given the right cocktail—fear of failure, the pressure to look a certain way, anxiety regarding the future—eating disorders can form quickly, and create disastrous results.

Disordered eating looks different for Type 1 patients; one of the primary symptoms of Type 1 diabetes is sudden and unexplained weight loss. This symptom can provide fuel for an eating disorder, leading patients to keep up both eating and exercise habits, but alter insulin dosages to stay alive while spurring rapid weight loss.

Women with Type 1 diabetes are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder as women who do not have any form of diabetes, leading researchers to coin the term “diabulimia” to describe the action of using insulin to spur disordered eating.


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Risks Involved in Diabulimia

It may initially seem harmless to lessen insulin doses to encourage losing weight, but prolonged failure to administer the correct amount of insulin can lead to severe diabetes complications, including nerve damage, kidney failure, ketoacidosis, and drastically diminished immunity. If patients can inject just enough insulin to stay ahead of any dramatic changes in blood sugar, this type of disordered eating can go on for years undetected.

Diabulimia Treatment Options

The first step in treatment would, of course, be to administer adequate doses of insulin. Aside from that, however, some psychological treatment would need to be used; this particular form of disordered eating is just as rooted in psychological distress as non-diabetic eating disorders, and should be treated as such when formulating treatment plans.


Joslin. Accessed 9/29/17.

BMJ. Accessed 9/29/17.


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Corrina Horne-Castro is a freelance writer, as well as a yoga instructor, wife, and mother, with a passion for helping others achieve optimal health and wellness.