I’ve been meaning for a couple days to write about “diabulimia,” an eating disorder that’s apparently frighteningly common among female diabetics, wherein they don’t take their prescribed doses of insulin in order to lose weight. An AP article about it came out the other day, and The F-Word and Junkfood Science have covered pretty much everything I wanted to say. Check out the latter for a horrifying story of an “18-year-old living in a 90-year-old’s body” — as in, knowing she’s going to die very soon — because she wanted to be thin so badly.

As always, Sandy nails it in one paragraph:

The take home lesson for anyone who knows a young person, whether or not they’re diabetic, is to first recognize the harm of today’s diet and thin-obsessed environment and understand these complications, according to doctors Ira M. Sacker, M.D. and Marc A. Zimmer, Ph.D. in Dying to be Thin. Most often, the early signs of anorexia or other eating disorders are missed because everyone is happy for the person involved in “successful” dieting or “taking more responsibility for managing his/her food intake. That generally positive feeling can prevail to the point where it is very difficult to see that the person’s eating habits are really not appropriate at all.”

The only other thing I’ll add is that I find this especially horrifying because I have two little diabetic cousins, 12 and 13 — just the right age to start developing eating disorders. They’re both beautiful — and thin — girls, but anyone who’s ever been a teenaged girl knows that being thin has very little to do with thinking you’re fat. Of necessity, these girls have been obsessively counting calories and avoiding sugar — i.e., chronically dieting — for pretty much their entire lives, and now they’re about to be thrown into the snakepit of high school. Diabetes already substantially increases the risk of developing eating disorders, and for these girls, taking the dieting a step further would mean inviting blindness, loss of limb, kidney failure and heart failure — not somewhere way down the line (which is already looming out there for them), but like, in their twenties.

And a lot of girls are already making that choice. Sandy mentions a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that found 34% of diabetic young women skipped or cut down on their insulin to lose weight.

If you don’t agree with any of the other reasons I ramble about for why this culture needs to quit being so goddamned fatphobic, think of that. Teenaged girls would rather go blind at best and die extraordinarily young at worst than be fat. Something’s gotta give.

(Cross-posted to Shapely Prose)



Filed under 09_kate_harding

11 responses to “Diabulimia

  1. trygve

    Just earlier today I saw an article on PhysOrg about a dramatic rise in female diabetic deaths. The brief synopsis of the study about to be published shows that since 1971, male diabetic deaths appear to have decreased by 43%, while female diabetic deaths have actually increased by 41%.

    These are “all-cause” mortality rates, though, and diabulimia is not mentioned, but I couldn’t help wonder how big of an impact it’s having on these numbers.

  2. Teenage girls would rather go blind than be fat.

    Wow. Just wow.

    You know, after Liss commented on one of your other posts that she couldn’t find any good fat folk silhouettes for the header, I thought, “Piece of cake. Go to south German web sites. They genuinely like fat people there.” (Thin people are culturally assumed to be more or less dried chips.)

    So I give it a go. Type “bratwurst festival site:.de” into the Google search bar. (There’s usually pictures of convivial folks at beer and bratwurst festivals.)

    After going through about five screens of results: nothing. A few pictures of (thin) kids. Lots of pictures of good-looking bratwursts. Pictures of festivals.

    I guess the disease has spread further than I imagined.

  3. Melissa McEwan

    since 1971, male diabetic deaths appear to have decreased by 43%, while female diabetic deaths have actually increased by 41%

    That made me…gasp. I’m having a hard time imagining what else could possibly account for such an enormous disparity.

    I’m also having a hard time just dealing with the disparity generally.

  4. Meowser

    Trygve, thanks for that link. I’m a little perturbed by what they give as the possible cause, women “not seeking or receiving appropriate treatment.” We all know women see doctors more often than men, so I find it hard to believe women blow off their symptomatology and don’t get it evaluated. It’s more like the treatments given to diabetic women maybe don’t work so hot, for whatever reason. And I’m very tempted to point to yo-yo dieting and weight cycling as a potential cause.

  5. Pingback: Diabulimia « Shapely Prose

  6. As a diabetic myself (TypeII) I read everything I come across on the subject but when I saw this article yesterday I was aghast! But a friend of mine has just been here and he has just been diagnosed with Diabetes II and no matter what I tried to tell him, or another woman who was along who is a nurse and works in a special clinic in a Copenhagen hospital for diabetics with leg sores, (The first step on the road to amputation for those of you who don’t know.) helped and he kept right on as if nothing had changed in his life. Drinking beer, which is in reality pure poison to us, eating all sorts of sugary sweets, (And believe me, here in Spain they are loaded with sugar.) etc. etc. How he could do all this is in fact beyond my comprehension but there you have it. It’s like a narco I suppose. You can tell them all you want that sniffing glue is going to kill them and they just go out and buy another tube. The same with this weight loss craze apparently.

  7. Thanks again, Kate for another powerful post, even though it brought me to tears, (literally, and not in an exultant way).

  8. a little night musing

    “Teenaged girls would rather go blind at best and die extraordinarily young at worst than be fat. ”

    Because teenaged girls (and boys) are spectacularly bad at imagining the future.

    But the price for the girls falls primariy on themselves.

  9. Pingback: Just Amazing « CHAOTIC FAT

  10. Kate Harding

    Because teenaged girls (and boys) are spectacularly bad at imagining the future.

    As someone who’s still addicted to cigarettes after starting as a teenager — not to mention the tattoo I got at 17 that, uh, I probably wouldn’t get now — hell yes to that.

    But it does seem like if we lived in a body-accepting Utopia, at least there would be no reason for them to take this risk.

  11. Els

    I thought I would just write to say that Diabulimia is not just a teenage thing I am 27 and have been a type i diabetic for 4 years I can relay all of the side effects complications bad things that happen if you don’t take your insluin. I can tell you how crap you feel if you don;t take your insluin and I can even tell you how to be a good diabetic but what I cant do is follow the regime that I know so well i follow it gor a week maybe a month and see the wieght going on and then all logic just fails me the insulin gets missed and there i am again feeling like shit but 14 pounds lighter within a week ! its addictive and I wish that I could stop and be normal but i just cant see a way through this it is a highly emotive issue but most diabetic females that I have spoken too have done this to some extent to themselves over the years many are lucky and grow out of it unharmed others are not so.

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