Addiction is a mental health problem that affects many millions of people around the world. As well as the more typical addictions to substances such as drugs and alcohol or activities such as gambling and sex that you may be familiar with, many individuals struggle with another type of addiction – eating disorders.
Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most well-known types, but other disorders are emerging that most people are unaware of but that are causing untold damage to those affected. Take diabulimia, for example.
Lisa Daly was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of fourteen. Her sister Katie Edwards has spoken about Lisa’s illness and the fact that her sibling developed anorexia at the same time. Katie said, “The two basically came hand-in-hand. Lisa lost a lot of weight. As a diabetic, she had to look really closely at what she ate, but because of her eating disorder, she looked way too much – and became obsessed.”
Katie says that Lisa would severely restrict her calorie intake, and once she realised that restricting her insulin would also result in dramatic weight loss, she began to do that too. She added, “She knew different techniques to do it and would drop several dress sizes in a matter of days.”
Katie said that Lisa was referred to an eating disorder clinic but that the staff there did not have experience with her particular condition and instead focused solely on the unhealthy relationship she had with food. This meant that her unhealthy relationship with insulin was left untreated, and for another ten years or so her problems continued.
Lisa’s family believe that she stopped restricting her insulin doses at the age of twenty-seven, but sadly it was too late. Her body was already severely damaged by the low levels of insulin she was taking and she suffered from severe eye disease, bilateral cataracts, and kidney damage. She died in September 2015.
Katie said, “Her condition ruined her life. When my mum and I were clearing through her things, we found numerous notebooks of diet plans. She was unhealthily obsessed with food and couldn’t talk to anyone about it. If she’d had the proper care, maybe it would have turned out differently.”
Lisa’s family believe she was suffering from diabulimia, which is a condition that affects those with type 1 diabetes. Diabetes sufferers with diabulimia deliberately administer lower levels of the insulin that they need just so that they can lose weight.
Although diabulimia has not been recognised as a medical condition yet, experts believe it affects many young women, with some research showing that around forty per cent of females between the ages of fifteen and forty with diabetes have restricted their insulin at some point in a bid to lose weight. Research also shows that women with type 1 diabetes are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia.
Those with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin and so must inject it in order to keep their blood sugars stable. However, those with diabulimia deliberately do not take the levels of insulin they need and, as a result, their body begins to attack itself.
Jacqueline Allan, who is the founder of Diabetics with Eating Disorders, said, “It’s very different to anorexia or bulimia or being on a diet. This is literally your body eating itself. Most people [with diabulimia] chronically under-dose in the same way an anorexic chronically under-eats. It’s an eating disorder and a mental illness. People just take enough insulin to get by, but it means they’re constantly on a knife’s edge.”
Ms Allan is now campaigning with Lisa’s family to have the condition recognised by the NHS so that other sufferers can get the help they need.
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