Diabulimia may not be well-known. However, current statistics show that the condition is relatively common and can create widespread harm to a person’s body and mind when left untreated.

People with diabulimia have insulin-dependent diabetes and intentionally avoid or use lower levels of insulin throughout the day to control weight gain. Diabulimia is not currently an official mental health condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. However, statistics show that this phenomenon affects a significant number of people.

Prevalence of Diabulimia

Compared to other eating disorders, diabulimia has only been recognized for a short time. The first reported incidents of diabulimia only date back to the early 1980s. Despite its recency, diabulimia affects people as young as 13 or as old as 60.

  • Diabulimia in Men: Females tend to have eating disorders more frequently than males. Though diabulimia is no exception to this general trend, men can also develop the condition. Whereas about one-third of females will restrict insulin to lose weight, about one-sixth of males with type 1 diabetes, or about 17%, will do the same.
  • Diabulimia Among Adolescents: Diabulimia is common in adolescents. Regardless of sex, about 30% of adolescents with type 1 diabetes will skip or reduce insulin to lose weight. Teens who have a negative view of their diabetes are more likely than others to restrict insulin use. This group also tends to exhibit higher rates of disordered eating overall.

Diabulimia and Type 1 Diabetes

There is a strong relationship between eating disorders and diabetes. Nearly 26 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and at least 30% of females with diabetes have an eating disorder at some point.

Diabulimia is just one type of eating disorder a person with diabetes may have. Because people with diabetes tend to have poorer self-images and focus more on their diet and eating habits than members of the general population, they often have a higher risk of developing any eating disorder. However, diabulimia is much more likely to occur in people with type 1 diabetes, largely because people with type 2 diabetes don’t respond as dramatically to insulin changes.

Many studies of diabulimia examine the impact the condition has on women. The National Eating Disorder Association reports that women with type 1 diabetes are approximately 2.5 times more likely to have an eating disorder and about two times more likely to have disordered eating than members of the general population. A review of studies also found that as many as 35% of women will restrict insulin to lose weight at some point in their life.

Diabulimia and Co-Occurring Health Conditions

People with eating disorders tend to have high rates of co-occurring mental health conditions. Of people with eating disorders severe enough to require hospitalization:

  • 94% have mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder
  • More than 50% have anxiety disorders
  • 20% have obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • 22% have post-traumatic stress disorder
  • 22% have substance use disorders

Diabetes commonly co-occurs with mental health conditions like:

  • Substance use, especially alcohol and tobacco
  • Mood disorders, with a 50% higher chance of having depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders

Diabulimia Mortality Rates

People with diabetes tend to have a shorter lifespan than others, but people with diabulimia die much earlier than people with diabetes alone. A study of women with diabetes found people with diabulimia died an average of 13 years earlier than people with only diabetes. Diabulimia damages the body, causing:

  • Dehydration
  • High blood sugar
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Nervous system dysfunction
  • Infertility

By avoiding behaviors linked to diabulimia, a person can add years to their life.

Diabulimia Treatment and Prognosis

Proper diagnosis and treatment of diabulimia drastically improves a person’s prognosis and recovery. A thorough evaluation from a mental health, physical health or nutrition professional is a fantastic first step.

Effective treatments for diabulimia may include:

  • Psychoeducation to communicate information about the dangers of diabulimia
  • Medical evaluation to identify serious physical ailments
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

Diabulimia treatment should always target co-occurring disorders as well for maximum benefit. If you or someone you know has co-occurring diabulimia and addiction, call The Recovery Village today. Their expert treatments can resolve the diabulimia and get you on the path to recovery.

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By – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

Balhara, Yatan P. “Diabetes and Psychiatric Disorders.” Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Oct–Dec 2011. Accessed April 15, 2019.

Dada, Janice H. “Understanding Diabulimia — Know the Si[…]nsel Female Patients.” Today’s Dietitian, August 2012. Accessed April 15, 2019.

National Eating Disorder Association. “Statistics and Research on Eating Disorders.” Accessed April 15, 2019.

Rabin, Roni C. “An Eating Disorder in People with Diabetes.” The New York Times, February 1, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.