What You Should Know Before You Make Assumptions About Diabulimia


There’s been a lot of coverage relating to diabulimia in the press, certainly in light of how largely disregarded the condition has been until now, despite its staggering prevalence. It’s great to see such acknowledgment from the BBC article that brought a tide of traffic to Diabetics With Eating Disorders. It’s so crucial to get accurate information out there, especially after numerous past occurrences of grossly sensationalist reporting. The death of Lisa Day has prompted some of this. It’s disappointing that such a tragedy is the one thing that brings forth attention, when all our continuous shouting merely falls on deaf ears. But despite that, I know her family is determined to bring awareness to this fatal condition that caused the loss of their beloved sister and daughter. In turn, a service at Kings College London which will treat type 1 and 2 diabetics with eating disorders is hugely positive news which has placed diabulimia under a spotlight.

However, traffic can result in road collisions. By this I mean loud voices of the misinformed and uncompassionate. Those people that will skim a story, but have already formed a negative judgment from the headline. A judgment that they want to push onto anyone they can, but most of all those they see with a spot of vulnerability.

The best lesson is to never, ever read below the line. But it’s that self-sabotaging nature in me, and so I need this space to rant a little. Even if I fear I may just be preaching to the choir.

Eating disorders are not a result of ignorance. On the contrary, it is a proven fact that the majority of those who have it actually have a high degree of intelligence. I have never met anyone with an eating disorder who is not smart, some to the point of intimidation. Instead, I have met so many talented people through treatment experiences and online support communities. These people can be great scientists, artists, writers.

It is often the case that people who develop eating disorders actually think too much. Minds full of numbers and weights and ratios are not idle. Instead, they are over-occupied, fixated, obsessed. If you bring type 1 diabetes into the mix, the need to be clued up on nutrition and the mechanisms of your body is pertinent. You do not have the option to avert focus from any of that, and diagnosis can be a hugely overwhelming time. Furthermore, with diabulimia, insulin manipulation is a not a simple equation.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Manipulation is often the fuel of an eating disorder, it feeds and sustains it. You can become someone you do not recognise, and do things you would never dream of. Sometimes, you become the master of trickery. All the while you are blind to the fact that a mental illness is pulling at the puppet strings attached to your limp feet, legs and arms.

It’s not a choice. It is not a decision made with any rationality. Someone with an eating disorder and diabetes is not choosing to not take their insulin just because they can’t be bothered or want to throw their toys out the pram (in this case syringes and test strips!). They are not just being ungrateful for that crucial life source which is now so luckily available. The discovery of injectable insulin to treat diabetics is meaningful to everyone that has to rely on it to survive. But with a mental illness, with an eating disorder, survival is not a priority. It’s also not just “another label” that can be lumped in with other conditions — it has characteristics that require treatment to be specifically tailored.

The roots of any eating disorder are deep and heavy. It isn’t an illness that just sits in a shallow pool on the surface, but it is all consuming river. It is not vanity, or selfishness or a fad. It is not just about appearance. Everyone who has an eating disorder will have their own stories to tell and different reasons as to why they developed one. Often these psychological origins can be tangled and extremely difficult for those who have it to try and unravel.

“All diabetics have to do to stay on top of their health is take insulin” read one comment beneath a recent article on diabulimia. Firstly, this shows a huge disregard for the impact of type 1 diabetes as it is about so very much more than that. Secondly, again, someone with diabulimia isn’t just a diabetic, they also have a mental health disorder.

Ultimately, all I ask is that if you don’t know about a condition such as this, if it’s something that seems beyond your scope of understanding, please do not automatically judge. Do not assume. Instead, listen, try to learn, have some empathy. You do not know the influence that harsh, unkind words can have. Ignorance spreads like wildfire, and if someone we care about adopts a similar view, well yeah, that can hurt.

I’ll end this with a suggestion: Just don’t read below the line, especially if it’s The Daily Fail online.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

This piece originally appeared on Diabetics With Eating Disorders

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