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Body Image and Diabetes

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As a woman with diabetes, I am constantly thinking about diet, exercise and medication, even if I don’t want to. I have to think about every gram of carbohydrate consumed, unit of insulin injected and every minute of exercise performed.

Even as The Diabetes Coach, I dislike thinking about food. I am tired of it. I am tired of meal planning and having to mentally think through every minute of my day and how whatever I am doing will affect my blood glucose levels (BG).

All of this thinking about food makes it hard for me not to focus on health and body image.

According to The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes, the cycle of inexact insulin dosing can cause weight gain, which increases insulin requirements and resistance.

And there’s another factor at work: The insulin-producing cells that were attacked by the disease also make Amylin, which works with other appetite regulating hormones such as leptin, regulate the sensation of fullness. The resulting difficulty of diabetics to determine whether they are full has been documented in anorexia.

Researchers estimate that 10-20 percent of girls in their mid-teen years and 30-40 percent of late-teenage girls, and young adult women with diabetes, skip or alter insulin doses to control their weight.

Many diabetics do not realize this relationship. Most women focus on their body image.

Many diabetics can’t stop focusing on it. This can lead to eating disorders and poor self-esteem.

I know of diabetic women trying to regulate their weight by altering their insulin doses. In an effort to return to their diagnosis weight, insulin was forgotten and BG would rise, causing the body to burn fat instead of sugar.

Weight would drop, but health would suffer. This practice has been labeled diabulimia.

According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, “A possible explanation for the occurrence of this behavior among those with type 1 diabetes lies in the fact that the nature of the disease requires one to maintain a strict care regimen in order to stay healthy. Individuals must pay close attention to their diet and exercise, constantly monitoring their blood sugar levels and carbohydrate intake to ensure that their disease remains under control. This near-obsessive relationship with food can trigger a full-blown eating disorder in some type 1 individuals, particularly young girls, who studies suggest are more than twice as likely to develop an eating disorder as those without diabetes."

I encourage young girls and women to pay attention to their emotional needs. Having the right support or emotional outlet for life with diabetes can help regulate the pressure of food and BG control and its impact on one’s body image.

By Marianne Tetlow “The Diabetes Coach”
The Diabetes Coach is a comprehensive resource and consulting group for individuals or families with a loved one dealing with diabetes. “Helping You To Move Forward While Managing the Ups and Downs”


Eating Disorders and Body Image. The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes, Amy Stockwell Mercer. June 26, 2012

“Diabulimia” www.jdrf.org. Web June 26, 2012.

Reviewed June 26, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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July 19, 2012 - 5:34pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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