Recovering from Diabulimia
A photo essay of one young woman’s struggles with the Type 1 diabetes eating disorder.
For several years prior to my Type 1 diagnosis, I had been fighting a battle with anorexia. I had secret blogs where I chronicled my caloric intake and exercise. I wrote out penalties for not reaching my goals, such as doing sets of hundreds of sit-ups at a time. Sometimes, I punished myself with insane exercise that only ended when I passed out from exhaustion.
I fueled my obsessive behavior by visiting “pro-ana” websites – sites that promote anorexia – where I looked at photos of thin girls and made it my goal to look like them. I was striving to meet the unrealistic and unhealthy standards that I believed I needed to reach to be pretty, popular, and perfect.
It was a difficult journey, but I got through it. My supportive husband Allen and many friends helped me find my way to the other side, and by 2010 I had defeated anorexia and was living a happy, healthy life. I was finally okay with my body, okay with what I was eating, okay with me.
Then in 2012 I started losing weight again, and this time it wasn’t because of my own efforts. I was diagnosed with diabetes, and my entire world changed. Practically overnight, I became skin and bones again.
Due to my age, I was initially diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I lost even more weight on a Metformin-and-broccoli diet before seeking a second opinion several months later.
My new doctor, after minting me with a fresh Type 1 diagnosis, informed me that I would immediately begin taking insulin and that the insulin would cause me to gain weight. That was when I experienced an eating disorder I’d never heard of before – one that seems to be prevalent in the diabetes world but is not yet officially recognized by the medical community: diabulimia.
Diabulimia is an eating disorder that occurs only in people with diabetes. Those who have it purposely give themselves less insulin than they need in order to lose weight.
Of course, this caused wild fluctuations in my blood sugar and caused me to run higher numbers than I or my doctor would have liked. However, it was easy to say that I was “still adjusting” and “in the honeymoon phase,” or that I had simply “forgotten” to give myself the injection.
After a year, I started using an insulin pump. It has done wonders for my A1C, but it has been a test of my strength and mental health. Every time I go to my doctor, he comments, “I see you’ve gained some weight.” My coworkers say, “You look so healthy now.” It’s hard for me to accept those as the positive compliments that they are, and not warp them into negative motivators.
My recovery is an ongoing process. One thing that has been a major game-changer for me is finding a creative outlet to replace my old self-destructive patterns. For me, that outlet is the photography business that my husband and I own together.
So this is my public declaration: I’ve put on a few pounds, and that is okay. I’m at a healthy weight for my size. I don’t exercise as a form of mental and physical punishment. I don’t withhold insulin, nor do I withhold food from myself. My A1C is very good, and I feel great about my overall health. Even so, it’s still a struggle every single day to choose life and health.
If you think you may be suffering from diabulimia, you aren’t alone. February is National Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and there are plenty of resources available to get the help and support you need. You can get started with more information on diabulimia and other eating disorders at these links:
The National Eating Disorders Association’s diabulimia resources: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/diabulimia-5
Diabulimia helpline: www.diabulimiahelpline.org
We Are Diabetes: www.wearediabetes.org
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