Text Link

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Diabetes and eating disorders

Diabetes and eating disorders are both serious conditions that can negatively affect a person’s physical and mental health. A diagnosis of type 1 or type 2 diabetes may increase a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. This is due to a number of risk factors and overlapping traits between diabetes and eating disorders.

Last updated on 
October 24, 2023
Diabetes and eating disorders
In this article

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a serious mental health condition characterized by a significant disturbance in eating, as well as related emotions and thought patterns. Common eating disorders include: (1)

  • Anorexia nervosa (AN): A common eating disorder that involves severe food restriction, a compulsive pursuit of weight loss, distorted body image, and self-esteem that’s dependent upon body shape and weight.
  • Bulimia nervosa (BN): Involves binging episodes characterized by eating a significant amount of food and a loss of control, followed by compensatory behaviors, such as laxative use, fasting, forced vomiting, or excessive exercise.
  • Binge eating disorder (BED): Involves binging episodes without engaging in purging behaviors afterward, feeling out of control during a binge and unable to stop eating, and experiencing feelings of guilt and shame afterward

Eating disorders can affect people of all sizes, weights, genders, races, ages, and sexualities. They are caused by a complex interplay between biological, sociological, and psychological risk factors. One of those risk factors may include diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes, which occurs when your blood sugar is too high, is a medical condition that impacts your body’s ability to metabolize food and turn it into energy. Typically, food is broken down into glucose, or sugar, which is then released into your bloodstream. When your glucose levels are high, your pancreas releases insulin, signaling to your body’s cells to use glucose as energy. (2)

When someone has diabetes, their body either can’t effectively use the insulin or their body doesn’t make a sufficient amount of insulin. When this happens, too much glucose remains in their bloodstream, which can lead to many health complications, such as kidney disease, vision loss, and heart disease. (2)

Type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes

When someone has type 1 diabetes, their body stops producing insulin. It typically occurs in children, adolescents, and young adults. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to compensate for the body’s inability to make it. (2)

Conversely, when a person has type 2 diabetes, their body isn’t able to use insulin effectively. It’s typically diagnosed in adults and develops over the course of several years, though more young people are being diagnosed as of late. (2)

What is the prevalence of co-occurring diabetes and eating disorders?

Eating disorders are common in people with diabetes, although the exact prevalence is unknown. Many studies only focus on young women who have type 1 diabetes, and they have estimated that between 30% and 40% of this population have an eating disorder. Accounting for other genders and ages, approximately 20% of people with type 1 diabetes are affected by an eating disorder. (3)

One literature review found that binge eating disorder is found in about 1.2% to 8% of individuals with type 2 diabetes, though some other studies estimate that 20% of people with type 2 diabetes have this condition. (3)

Type 1 diabetes and eating disorders

The connection between eating disorders and diabetes depends on the type of diabetes. 

Having a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes may predispose someone to develop an eating disorder, especially anorexia or bulimia. This is because a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes causes a person to monitor their eating, weight, and food intake in a way that they previously were not. (3)

What starts as a healthy form of attention and monitoring could progress to preoccupation with thoughts of food and weight gain or obsessive behaviors related to eating. This may be of particular risk to someone with high perfectionism, as they may pressure themself to manage their diabetes flawlessly. (3)

Blood sugar levels

Additionally, people with type 1 diabetes may begin to view food as “good” or “bad” due to how these foods affect their blood sugar levels. Similarly, people with eating disorders typically tend to place food in these categories, often related to how they affect weight, appearance, or body shape. This overlap could cause someone with type 1 diabetes to develop disordered eating behaviors. (3)

Control is also an overlapping feature between type 1 diabetes and eating disorders, such as anorexia. Someone with diabetes may expect they can always control their glucose levels despite the fact that blood sugar is affected by several factors, including stress. When this person’s blood sugar is too high, they may view it as a failure on their part to effectively control their condition. This false belief about failure could cause them to attempt to gain control in unhealthy ways, such as by restricting food altogether. (3)

Lastly, individuals with type 1 diabetes may not trust their hunger or satiety cues because of experiences in which they’ve listened to their body’s cues and experienced hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. This distrust of their body’s signals could be a risk factor for disordered eating behaviors. (3)

Diabulimia: A dangerous consequence of type 1 diabetes and eating disorders

Diabulimia is the term used to describe the behaviors of a person with type 1 diabetes and an eating disorder in which they purposely take an insufficient amount of insulin in order to lose weight—also known as insulin restriction. This isn’t a risk factor for eating disorder development. Rather, it is a potentially life-threatening consequence of having both an eating disorder and type 1 diabetes, and it requires immediate medical attention. (4)

Treatment for diabetes and eating disorders

Treatment for diabetes and an eating disorder aims to develop a multi-modal treatment plan that works to address underlying factors and establish a better relationship with food and eating that encourages intuitive eating to effectively manage the person’s diabetes and ultimately eliminate eating disorder behaviors. (4)

Another goal of treatment is to rectify the judgmental language related to categorizing food as “good” or “bad”—for both diabetes management and eating patterns. Patients learn to view food through a descriptive lens, understanding how various foods affect their health, energy, and functioning, as opposed to assigning moral value to food. The treatment team may teach patients to view their blood sugar levels as data instead of a failure on their part. Viewing it this way can allow them to be compassionate with themselves. (3)

Inpatient treatment for eating disorders and diabetes

Patients with an eating disorder and diabetes should seek out specialized care from treatment providers who have in-depth experience treating both conditions. The most intensive form of care involves an inpatient program, which involves living at the treatment facility throughout the duration of the program. But understandably, not everyone can commit to an inpatient treatment program. 

Remote eating disorder treatment

A virtual treatment program or a partial hospitalization program that allows you to continue living at home while receiving the care you need is another option if inpatient is not viable. Receiving a comprehensive assessment from an eating disorder professional will help to determine what level of treatment is appropriate for your situation. They will evaluate your physical and mental health, as well as biological, environmental, and social factors that may be contributing to your condition, and provide treatment recommendations.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Eating disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, July 7). What is diabetes? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Eating disorders and the patient with diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/professionals/diabetes-discoveries-practice/eating-disorders-and-the-patient-with-diabetes
  4. Winston A. P. (2020). Eating Disorders and Diabetes. Current diabetes reports, 20(8), 32. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-020-01320-0

FAQs

Further reading

Black History Month spotlight: Mamie Phipps Clark—Redefining equality in a segregated world

Scientific studies are often considered the closest thing to objective truth. And not without reason. To be...

Is fasting an eating disorder?

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED) are...

How to maintain a healthy eating schedule in college

College can be one of the most exciting transitions in a person’s life. For many, it provides the first...

What is neuroplasticity?

The ability to change and adapt is often considered essential to mental health. But it’s also a critical...

Fighting fatphobia in healthcare (Part 2): IAEDP urges AAP to revise harmful guidelines for childhood “obesity”

In part two of Fighting Fatphobia in Healthcare, we explain more reasons why the International Association...

Fighting fatphobia in healthcare (Part 1): IAEDP addresses harmful AAP guidelines for childhood “obesity”

In its new guidelines for the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with "obesity," the...

How to treat eating disorders at home

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect millions of people around the world. In...

What is fatphobia?

In a world that's long been deeply influenced by the ideals of diet culture, people with certain body...

Different types of hunger

Hunger is a complex and multifaceted physical sensation that is felt in the body. Understanding the types...

Fasting vs. anorexia

Fasting and intermittent fasting (IF) are popular methods of energy consumption that limit eating to...

Tirzepatide for weight loss (Mounjaro)

Tirzepatide (Mounjaro) was approved in 2022 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating type 2...

What are atypical eating disorders?

Anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge-eating disorder (BED) are among some of the most...

Challenges in BIPOC eating disorders: Prevalence, bias, and treatment barriers

It is a common misconception that eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and...

How do eating disorders affect the heart?

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa (AN), binge eating disorder (BED), and bulimia nervosa (BN) can...

"You're not sick enough": Eating disorder misconceptions

Eating disorders are treatable conditions that people can fully recover from if they get help...

How the gut and brain are connected

Medical experts have long been exploring the relationship between the gut and your physical health, mental...

Eating disorder symptoms

Just as every person is different, so is every experience of an eating disorder. Different conditions can...

The relationship between grief and eating disorders

Experiencing a significant loss, whether you lose a loved one, relationship, passion, job, or home, can...

What causes eating disorders?

When you or one of your loved ones is suffering from an eating disorder, it may be tempting to look for...

What are the different types of eating disorders?

There are many different types of eating disorders, each with its own unique set of challenges in treatment.

Diabetes and eating disorders

Diabetes and eating disorders are both serious conditions that can negatively affect a person’s physical...

Effects of eating disorders on your health

Conditions like bulimia nervosa (BN), anorexia nervosa (AN), binge eating disorder (BED), and other eating...

Disordered eating vs. eating disorder

While disordered eating and an eating disorder share many risk factors, signs...

Eating disorders in the military population

Eating disorders affect the military population, due in part to the...

How long can you go without food?

Just how long can the body go without food? And what are the implications...

How do I know if I have an eating disorder?

Following a balanced way of eating that provides the body with the fuel and...

Diabulimia causes: environmental and biological factors

Diabulimia is a complex eating disorder that involves the deliberate underuse or...

Unpacking the fear of eating in front of others

For many of us, sharing meals with others or going out to eat are the primary ways...

Diabulimia treatment & recovery

Diabulimia is a complex eating disorder that involves the deliberate underuse or restriction of insulin in...

The differences between bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa (BN) and anorexia nervosa (AN) are two of the most well-known eating disorders, but many...

Sleep and eating disorders

Sleeping and eating share a very intimate relationship, as they are both essential...

Diabulimia symptoms and warning signs

Diabulimia is an eating disorder that occurs in people with Type 1 diabetes where...

What is diabulimia?

Diabulimia is an eating disorder that people with Type 1 diabetes exhibit by lowering...

Bulimia vs binge eating: the differences between eating disorders

Bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge eating disorder (BED) are two different eating disorders...

What causes an eating disorder: A biopsychosocial perspective

Eating disorders are complex and severe psychiatric illnesses that can have many causes. The biopsychosocial..

Signs a loved one may be at risk of an eating disorder relapse

Recovery is a lifelong process for those who have struggled or...

8 eating disorder myths

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED) are...