Millions of girls are estimated to be suffering from eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. Another dangerous trend to stay thin, however, has gained wide attention and a new term – diabulimia.
"Diabulimia" is not a recognized medical condition, but it's a term that has cropped up recently labeling those with diabetes who skip their insulin to lose weight.
Ann Goebel-Fabbri, a clinical psychologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, estimates that 450,000 type 1 diabetic women (juvenile diabetes) in the United States have skipped or shortchanged their insulin to shed pounds, according to The Associated Press. That constitutes one third of the total female population who have type 1 diabetes in the states.
Remuda Programs for Eating Disorders, a biblically-based eating disorder treatment center, cites a recent study that reveals the death rate of a person who has both diabetes and an eating disorder and who hasn't received treatment is nearly 35 percent.
Manipulating insulin disorders can cause severe diabetic complications and can be lethal. When type 1 diabetics skip or reduce their insulin, they risk falling into a coma. Blindness, amputations and kidney failure are some of the long-term complications that can develop. A diabetic woman may accelerate medical damage to five or seven years as opposed to the typical 30 years such complications are expected.
"We're seeing far too many adolescents use insulin manipulation as a form of weight control," said Brenda Woods, MD, medical director at Remuda Programs for Eating Disorders, in a statement. "While most young women with bulimia purge through vomiting or excessive exercise, a diabetic purges by under-dosing insulin, which causes sugar to be eliminated from her body via urine."
Woods says type 1 diabetes and an eating disorder is the worst possible combination.
"If a Type I diabetic begins insulin manipulation at the age of 17, she could be totally blind, suffering from extreme nerve pain or on a kidney transplant list by her mid 20s. The ability to have children may be permanently compromised as well."
Gwen Malnassy, 21, of Santa Monica warns people suffering from diabulimia to get help.
"If you don't think it will happen to you, don't fool yourself," wrote Malnassy, who was diagnosed with diabetes at 9, in her final online diary entry 11 months ago, according to AP. "I believed the same."
"Reach out; get help. Do not fall; do not let the disorder consume you. It's a miserable way to exist."
Some warning signs Goebel-Fabbri gives for diabulimia include a change in eating habits – typically someone who eats more but still loses weight – low energy and high blood-sugar levels, and frequent urination.
Remuda advises parents of a diabetic child to take action once they suspect diabulimia even if the child denies having the disorder.
"[D]on't expect your child to be honest when questioned. Deception is a part of eating disorders."
"It's important to remember that the earlier you get help, the greater the possibility for a positive outcome," said Woods.
Remuda Programs for Eating Disorders offers Christian inpatient and residential treatment for women and girls of all faiths suffering from an eating disorder.