While looking for news about the connection between diabetes and eating disorders, I came across a question that stopped me in my tracks: “Can you imagine living a life where diets do not exist?”
It came as a shock to me that I cannot picture such a life. The roots of eating disorders are still deep in me in spite of the fact that I have explained on my own website why diets do not work.
Dieting leads to endless cycles of false hope, failures, disappointment, and restrictions that steal the simple enjoyment of life. Why, then, am I still am drawn to diets as the way to deal with obesity and Type 2 diabetes?
Natalia Zunino, PhD, of American Anorexia and Bulimia Association, Inc., says this: “The most common behavior that will lead to an eating disorder is dieting.”
A few statistics
At least I am not alone on the diet treadmill. One quarter of men and one third of women in the United States are on a diet right now. We spend over $40 billion every year on diets and diet-related products.
Women are more likely to have eating disorders than men, and eating disorders are more likely to appear in women who have diabetes than in those who do not.
One in five women is struggling right now with some sort of eating disorder. The fastest growing group being diagnosed with eating disorders is middle-aged women.
Among women with Type 1 diabetes, bulimia is the most common form of eating disorder. For those of us with Type 2, binge eating is more likely to be the eating disorder of choice.
Eating disorders affect about 30 million Americans and about 70 million people worldwide.
How it begins
The most common form of bullying in school is about body size. Eighty-one percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Nearly half of girls in the first through third grades wish they were thinner.
It is obvious that our society is infected with unrealistic images and expectations for body image. We have been set up for an avalanche of eating disorders.
What does dieting do? Girls who diet frequently are about 12 times more likely to binge eat. I know from experience how real this is. Out of fear, my mother had all her daughters on diets from an early age, even though not one of us was overweight.
Binge eating and secret eating were part of life for me, and shame was a constant companion. I had an eating disorder many years before it became a well-known disease.
Eating disorders defined
An eating disorder is a form of mental illness based in biology that adds in some emotional factors and influences from culture. Because of shame, eating disorders keep us from talking about them and getting treated for them.
This hiding can cause delays in seeking treatment, leading to dangerous consequences — even death among people with eating disorders. Here are the recognized types and some telltale signs of them.
Anorexia nervosa is an obsessive fear of weight gain that leads to starvation and excessive weight loss. Girls can stop having menstrual periods and may wear baggy clothes to hide how thin they have become. Hospitalization and death can result.
Diabulimia is a form of eating disorder where someone with Type 1 diabetes, often a young girl, will stop taking insulin to lose weight. This causes severely high blood sugars and leads to dangerous complications. In one case a preteen was using control solution instead of her own blood for monitoring so no one would know her blood sugar was out of control.
Bulimia is binge eating and then purging by throwing up or using laxatives. Some may chew food and then spit it out without swallowing. Others use diuretics or reduce insulin to dump the calories so they will not gain weight. Extreme exercise and periodic fasting can also be a component of this disease.
Binge eating disorder is exactly what it sounds like — compulsive eating, often past the point of feeling full. This is done in secret and may be followed by fasting or extreme diets, which lead to more binge eating.
All of these disorders can be sporadic, only happening when you are under stress or are feeling depressed. Sadly, all of them also lead to shame and self-hatred.
Because we have diabetes, we are flooded with advice about the best “diet” for our condition. Since we may already have an eating disorder, this reinforces our desire to fix ourselves by dieting.
For us to get better, we need to remember that diets do not work. They never will, no matter how many promises we hear from their promoters.
Neither will fasting or skipping meals. Extreme exercise can lead to things like bone loss and stress fractures. Eliminating food groups, such as fat or carbohydrates, may be effective for a short while, but it is nearly impossible to sustain. And the impact on your health is not worth the cost.
Since both diabetes and eating disorders involve weight management and controlling food intake, the first disease can mask the second and reinforce it.
For me the answer is to refuse to diet. That path is closed. I will not go down it again. So now what? What can we do if we have Type 2 diabetes?
The only answer for me is permanent lifestyle changes. I choose things I can stick to without feeling punished or deprived, something that can only lead to binge eating. I also see the need to be honest and open. It helps to refuse to eat alone.
Eating disorders encourage hiding. Let others in on your secret. Get professional help so you can find emotional healing. Understand what brought you to this place. Real health starts on the inside.
We need to be free to live a life where diets do not exist. In spite of Type 2 diabetes, we can.
Exciting work is being done to cure Type 1 diabetes by the Diabetes Research Institute. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more from nurse David Spero.