Recent research revealed eating disorders are likely to be more common among women with diabetes than those who do not have it. Diabetes and eating disorders both involve attention to body, control of food and weight management. Learn more about binge eating, bulimia and anorexia with diabetes and what you can do about these conditions.

  • Binge eating does occur in men with diabetes but is more common in women with type 2 diabetes while bulimia and anorexia are most common in females with type 1 diabetes. Eating disorders and diabetes both focus on body states, weight management and controlling your food intake. As a result, some people develop a pattern and use diabetes to camouflage eating disorders. Healthy behavior is crucial because diabetes and eating disorders can lead to serious health complications.
  • Eating Disorder - AnorexiaEating disorders may be biologically based but are highly influenced by cultural and emotional factors. For years, little was known or understood about eating disorders. Now people realize the dangerous consequence of eating disorders. Help is available and recovery is possible. The first step is to recognize you have an eating disorder, and then consult with medical professionals to try to resolve it.
  • Anorexia, formally referred to as anorexia nervosa, involves an obsessive fear of gaining weight. The condition is focused on excessive weight loss and self-starvation. Anorexia is a psychological disorder with serious physical consequences. It is especially dangerous when you have diabetes type 1. Injecting insulin without eating can cause severe hypoglycemia.
  • Bulimia involves ongoing binge eating, which is the fast and controlled consumption of large amounts of food. Purging occurs with laxatives, self-induced vomiting, fasting, crash diets, vigorous exercise and/or the omission or reduction of insulin. People with diabetes should never adjust their medications, such as insulin, without the advice of a doctor. Excessive exercise, laxatives and other behaviors can cause dehydration, fluctuating blood sugar levels and additional complications with electrolytes.
  • Binge eating disorder is also called compulsive overeating. This occurs when a person has periods of impulsive, uncontrolled and continuous eating beyond the point of feeling full. No purging is involved, but the person might fast sporadically or diet repetitively. After a binge, the person may feel self-hatred or shame. Blood sugars will certainly be out of range after a binge.
  • There are also a range of EDNOS, or eating disorders not otherwise specified. These conditions still require intervention as they can cause fluctuating blood sugar levels and other detrimental symptoms in people with diabetes. These eating disorders may include excessive fad dieting, chewing food and spitting it out without swallowing and the urge to binge and purge during stressful or sad times.
  • Women with eating disorders could be underweight and may face risks during pregnancy, such as delivering a baby with an abnormally low birth weight. Those who are overweight can develop gestational diabetes and deliver large babies. These babies may be at increased risk for future diabetes. Overweight women are also more prone to developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Other complications of eating disorders include dehydration, cardiac irregularities and arrhythmias, acid reflux, Barrett’s esophagus, chemical imbalances and reduced calcium leading to teeth and bone disorders. These complications can exacerbate the symptoms of diabetes and lead to abnormally high and low blood sugar levels. Test your blood sugar levels regularly. Report any extreme highs or lows to your health care team right away.
  • The combination of eating disorders and diabetes is dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. It will involve more than adjusting your food intake to be healthy and avoid improper eating patterns in the future. Counseling may be recommended along with cognitive-behavioral therapy. The emotional, mental and physical aspects of eating disorders must be addressed. For example, portion control plates might be used to help people with eating disorders learn the proper amount of food to consume during meals. The process may take time and patience, but can help you get past eating disorders and develop healthier habits for the rest of your life.

For some, eating disorders and diabetes seem to go hand-in-hand. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you have an eating disorder to avoid serious health complications. Help is available and can significantly improve the quality of your life.