I was 13 years old when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Here I am, this teenage girl sitting in the doctor’s office being told that this is a chronic, incurable illness that I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life, and the doctor says to me, “I know that you’ve lost a lot of weight, but don’t worry, as soon as you start taking insulin today all that weight is going to come back.

Not what any teenage girl wants to hear right?

Out of the gate, I was sort of set up for this thought that insulin was going to make me fat. As a type 1, that was a very scary notion because insulin is my life support. It was very problematic for me.

The thing about diabetes is that right from your diagnosis there is an obsession with eating and numbers, and back when I was diagnosed the language really focused on ‘good diabetics’ and ‘bad diabetics,’ and ‘good food’ and ‘bad food.’

Looking back, I don’t think it was necessary for my doctor to say what he said about my weight.

Taking insulin doesn’t equal gaining weight or being overweight; taking insulin is about finding proper doses, being on a healthy schedule, and balancing your blood sugars. What’s sort of sad is that a year prior to my diagnosis, my parents had brought me to his office to address their concerns about my eating behavior being disordered.

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I was a competitive figure skater who grew up in Minnesota and around the age of 10, I became hyper-focused on my body. I remember those obsessive thoughts about my weight and equating that with success at my sport. I was weighing myself every day on the scale, limiting what I was eating, and was very aware of the calorie content of foods. I remember calling it the saltine cracker diet and writing out how many crackers I would allow myself at each meal.

It was very unhealthy, but the doctor’s response to my parents was, “Yes, she’s underweight. Make sure she eats dinner with you guys.”

Obsessed with My Weight

When I was diagnosed with type 1, I think some people thought that now I had this diagnosis of diabetes it would cure my eating disorder, because now I had to eat on a set schedule. But this just wasn’t the case. In fact, it only emphasized the thoughts I was already having, and my body image issues transformed into full-blown bulimia.

Bulimia and Diabetes

Looking back at photos and remembering that time, I was praised for having a good meal plan. I had forbidden foods because of my diabetes, and I had to look at labels for sugar content. I was thrown into this whirlwind of obsession about food, weight, and dietary restraint.

Now I could use diabetes as my eating disorder ‘get out of jail free card’ because my parents, teachers, and family would praise me for not reaching for sugary foods and being a ’good diabetic.’ Other terms for this problem are diabetic bulimia and hypoglycemia bulimia.

As I got into my twenties, my excuse for not eating meals was always, “Oh I have diabetes.” It became this stronghold that I could use as a cover. It gave me permission.

Even though people didn’t know that I was struggling with an eating disorder, they were praising me for having these regimented food rules–even though I wasn’t eating everything I should to nourish my body.

I guess in my mind my doctor always told me I was going to have a tough time with diabetes and being thin, so I thought, “I’m just going to cut corners–that’s not an eating disorder.” That’s what I really thought in my mind for all those years.

I felt a lot of shame about my behavior. My bulimia got really bad once I went off to college. I didn’t see my mom for long periods of time in the same way that I did in high school, so she wasn’t able to see how bad things were getting for me.

I was binging and purging. I would get a low blood sugar like a lot of people with type 1 do, and I would think that now I could eat foods that I felt I was forbidden from eating–cookies, ice cream, things that I typically wouldn’t eat out in public. When I’d get a low blood sugar I felt a sense of liberation; I could go to town and eat as much as I wanted. I’d then feel so guilty that I would purge through throwing it up or deciding to do excessive exercise or restrict my eating for as long as I could hold on.

It was a bad, bad cycle.

Understanding Healthy Eating Behavior and Getting Back In Control

It wasn’t until I was 24 years old that anyone really spoke to me or screened me for an eating disorder. In the diabetes world, eating disorders are often only thought about in terms of what is referred to as diabulimia: purposeful omission of insulin. I think because that light didn’t go off to them, they weren’t looking out for eating disorders in me. It wasn’t until I went to an annual OB/GYN appointment that the doctor was looking at my chart and how my weight had really yo-yoed over the past couple of years that she started questioning me about it.

She told me that this isn’t what healthy is–mentally or physically. So, at 24, I sought professional eating disorder treatment. I had a great life, but I was miserable. I hated myself. I didn’t like the way that I looked. I was depressed, and I was anxious.

Seeking Treatment for My Eating Disorder

I did outpatient treatment. I did inpatient treatment for 7 months. I left my career, my house, my friends, and family because a friend I met in an eating disorder group passed away. Being at her funeral I realized that if I don’t get the help that I so desperately need and start being honest with healthcare professionals and myself, I will never recover.

I was a master manipulator in lying to myself about my behavior and the severity of my bulimia. I needed to realize that this had taken over my life and it had taken my friend. Being immersed in residential treatment saved my life.

I still have type 1 diabetes. I still have low blood sugars. I still have to count every carb that goes into my mouth. But I’m now choosing a life for myself to actively seek recovery every day.

Last Updated: Sep 10, 2021