Diabetes and eating disorders – overcoming the dangerous beast

I have spoken with lots of people living with diabetes, as well as body image problems and eating disorders over the years – both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Many people with type 2 diabetes struggle with binge eating and body image issues; people with type 1 diabetes have double the rates of eating disorders and find that the issues of weight management and control of their diabetes get intertwined – a dangerous mix.

Below is a story from one of our community members about her journey with diabetes and eating disorders and we have more info here.

“I have had diabetes for 19 years now, since the age of 8. When I was 14, I trialled the newest insulin pen which allowed the injection of short acting insulin just prior to each meal, thus mimicking a normal bodies response to food intake. Because of the flexibility this gave me, I gained a lot of weight eating the things I had never before been allowed to eat. When year 12 rolled around, and I had lost the weight that I had gained two years earlier, I was unable to stop dieting. My weight reached 28 kilos and I made my way through university at that level, interspersed by lots of hospitalisations.

I suffered severe anorexia for 5 years. Life was hell. I was always freezing cold, had a fine coat of downy hair on my body, stopped menstruating (not that it was something I missed!!), my hair fell out and my skin and fingernails were dry and brittle. When I was admitted to the Children’s Hospital at 17, I hadn’t eaten properly for nearly 6 months. I was taking no short acting insulin and was surviving on less than half my “normal” dose of long acting. I was also constantly hypo, hovering around 2, 24 hours a day.

The doctor decided to put me onto a dextrose drip and this caused me no end of trauma thinking they were force-feeding me. It took quite a lot to calm me down. After 5 years, something made me turn around and I began eating again but this time I would purge after bingeing: bulimia . My weight ballooned to 90 kilos and with it came depression. Bulimia was much harder to cure because no one knew you had a problem. I began stil life modelling.

Although my weight had dropped to 80 kilos, I still felt pretty uncomfortable with myself but my friend assured me that artists enjoyed curvy figures, not stick thin people whose ribs were showing. And thus started a beautiful thing. My self esteem rose as I realised it didn’t matter what size you were, you are still beautiful. Those artists made me look like the Reubens models – curvaceous, glowing and happy. At times it was confronting to see how different people saw me, and men always painted me larger than what the women did, but it also allowed me to become strong in the knowledge that what they saw was neither judgmental nor critical.

While I was anorexic, although my HbA1c was very low at around 5, I suffered some of the problems that are more often associated with higher HbA1cs. I experienced some retinopathy, which was frightening for someone only 22 years of age. This didn’t repair during my bulimia either. But since I have been fully recovered, the ophthalmologist can see absolutely no evidence of it left. It is pretty amazing what the human body can suffer and still come good again.

The only problems that remained were my reflux, which had to be fixed with surgery to create an artificial valve to prevent the stomach acids rising; some tooth decay, because the stomach acids eroded the teeth when I was vomiting; and my hair is not as thick as it used to be. My weight has dropped to 68 kilos – spot on the recommended weight range – and I still get plenty of work modelling. It allows me to meditate and I thoroughly enjoy the classes. And do you know, men are easier to model for than women!!!

I now consider myself fully recovered and enjoy a healthy diet and exercise regime. The women who counselled me through the difficult time were my GP and Friend, Dr Jenny Thomas (thanks Jenny) and Vonnie Coopman who runs a very successful clinic at the Blackwood Hospital in Adelaide . Vonnie has suffered with both anorexia and bulimia also and her own experiences have helped many sufferers. Even with the knowledge of what can happen to the body, I am not sure it would have stopped me from going through these eating disorders. Anorexia was my way of asserting my authority and control over a life that I felt I had no control over – my life was being run by well-meaning parents who controlled my food intake and insulin as best they could.

Our relationship between food and the human body and its psyche is amazing. The amount of research going into this is mind boggling.”

If you are struggling with an eating disorder there are organisations that provide support for people affected by eating disorders throughout Australia.

Eating Disorders Australia has a website at http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au