Photo Courtesy: Danielle Helm
Diabetes is a condition where insulin is no longer produced, or produced in insufficient quantities to convert glucose from food into energy. With a lack of insulin, glucose from food is not turned into energy but remains in the blood stream, increasing the blood sugar levels to dangerously high levels.
Diabetes commencing in childhood, and which is insulin dependent, is known as Type I Diabetes. Type II Diabetes, which requires diet and medications other than insulin to be controlled, is usually diagnosed in adults, although more and younger people are being affected. The majority of people with Diabetes have type II (85-90%).
Diabetes and eating disorders
There are two types of eating disorders:
- Anorexia nervosa – which involves restricting food intake to dangerous levels,
- Bulimia nervosa – which involves over-eating to binge levels and unhealthy measures to remove the food via laxatives or vomiting.
Adolescents and young women are recognized as being at a higher risk of suffering from eating disorders than the general population. This risk is increased in those with diabetes because of the following reasons:
- Food restriction is a major component of managing diabetes.
- Anxiety and depression, which are factors in eating disorders, can also be prevalent in individuals with a long-term, chronic illness such as diabetes.
- Unstable diabetics who suffer from low blood sugar levels need to increase their sugar intake to raise their levels quickly; the increase in sugary and high carbohydrate foods can cause weight gain and so stimulate anxiety about body image which may lead to an eating disorder.
- To carry oxygen around your body, haemoglobin links with sugars such as glucose. The more glucose in the blood, the more haemoglobin can be linked. The percentage of linked haemoglobin can be measured – and unexplained elevated levels can indicate an eating disorder.
- Unstable diabetes resulting in repeated episodes of high blood sugar levels.
- Change in eating patterns and extreme concerns about body image.
- Intense exercise.
- Absence or reduction in menstruation in women.
Signs of an eating disorder in a diabetic
As you can see, many of these signs are not limited to individuals with diabetes – but in a person with diabetes, their presence complicates the management of their condition.
Effects of an eating disorder on a diabetic
The effects of an eating disorder on an individual with diabetes are related to both high and low blood sugar levels:
- High glucose levels caused by missing or a reduction of insulin dosages, leading to diabetic ketoacidosis – a potentially life-threatening condition if left untreated.
- Low glucose levels caused by food restriction or vomiting can lead to fainting, sweating, headaches, anxiety, blurred vision and weakness.
Ultimately, an eating disorder in a diabetic causes an instability in both the insulin and glucose levels leading to an exacerbation of complications such as kidney disease, blindness and impaired circulation.
If you want to learn more about eating disorders and their treatment – contact one of the leaders in the field – The Ellern Mede Service for Eating Disorders in London.
Susan Glover is an independent writer specializing on health issues and based in Barcelona, Spain. In her free time, Susan is a hiker, swimmer and semi-professional salsa dancer.