Told That ‘Most Diabetics Have an Eating Disorder’

By October 25, 2012

I am 43 years old and have had Type 1 Diabetes since the age of 10. I have also had what I consider to be an obsessive eating habit since before the age of 10. I consistently lose 10 – 20 lbs and then gain it and more back – at this time I am 5’5” and weigh about *** lbs. I have never understood my eating patterns, I diet successful for a while (approx. 9-12 weeks) then I start eating foods that I shouldn’t (candy, chips, pizza, ice cream, etc.) in amounts that I shouldn’t. I can only describe it as a major binge. I eat when I am not hungry and I eat when I am full (for some reason I don’t feel satisfied) – this is not good for a diabetic. I don’t know that I have ever had good blood sugar control and I fear what may happen down the road because of it. I have tried to seek answers from the Psychiatric field but was unsuccessful (I was told that most Diabetics have an eating disorder but was given no help or solutions). I’m not quite sure what to do at this point. Do you have any answers or suggestions for me?– Diane

Dear Diane,

Oh yes, there is DEFINITELY hope!  I am so sorry that although you voiced your concerns in the past, no one took action to help you. I pray that this will soon change for you.

Without a doubt, dealing with Type 1 diabetes presents unique challenges and obstacles.  It’s certainly easier to fall into patterns of obsession with eating, because you continually have to think about balancing your food intake with your insulin and activity, in order to keep blood sugar levels within acceptable ranges.  While other people have bodies that do this naturally, you have to rely on external measurements.  Also, foods with a high glycemic load can quickly lead to hyperglycemia, so you have to limit them.  As a result, you might feel deprived, start craving those foods, then end up bingeing on them.  That said, even though you may be at greater risk for developing disordered eating, you don’t have to live that way!  (Shame on whoever said that to you)

I am wondering if you have seen a nutritionist lately to assist you.  There have been many advances in the field of diabetes management in recent years.  A good nutritionist should be able to teach you how to incorporate small amounts of those foods you crave, yet still have good blood sugar control (especially if you do blood glucose monitoring and/or use an insulin pump). This way, you won’t fall into that deprivation/binge cycle. If you are currently seeing someone and they are not particularly helpful, seek out someone else.  Even if you have to travel a bit for a consultation, it will be well worth it. It would be best to go to a good-sized medical center that has a diabetes clinic.

There can be a number of reasons why you are having difficulty discerning hunger and fullness.  Since you were taught to eat a specific meal plan on a set schedule, you probably lost touch with those signals.  This is a common challenge for people with diabetes, and not something you can blame yourself for.  In rare cases there can be a medical explanation for having problems with hunger and fullness, but your description doesn’t fit very closely. Due to neuropathy (nerve damage)—a possible complication of diabetes—some people develop reduced motility (movement) of the digestive tract.  But when this occurs, other digestive problems occur as well.

There are so many other causes for the bingeing you describe, which definitely need to be explored.  Read the articles “Overeating? Break the Cycle” and “False Beliefs: Overeating” for a sampling.  If you suspect that there are emotional issues behind some of your patterns, then you should seek out a therapist who specializes in either disordered eating or diabetes.  Although you hit a brick wall in your last attempt, don’t give up! Find a caring, compassionate professional who will give you the support you deserve.  See “Finding Treatment” for some guidelines.

Please write back if you have more questions.  Your circumstances are a bit more complicated, but are definitely not insurmountable.



(Proverbs 3:5-6)