A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes at the age of thirteen could be a lot for most to handle. Keeping a handle on diabetic symptoms and their effects on the body demands conscious regulation of food intake and exercise along with timely insulin injections or pills. While most teenagers can down candy bar after candy bar, those with diabetes need to think twice. With the proper familial and medical support, however, such a transition becomes easier and they simply develop a new lifestyle around their diabetes. Or so we hope.
The constant onslaught of mass media’s body expectations casts its net over everyone who engages in it. In today’s society that is the overwhelming majority. We become conditioned to believe that this is the way our bodies should look. Especially in the teenage years, where one begins to take an active role in finding themselves, this image carries a lot of weight. The constant search for easy shortcuts and quick results is yet another byproduct of our hyper-connected, technological world. Now when these two concepts mix we find many teenagers thrust into the search for an easy way to shed pounds and willing to try anything without thinking of all of the consequences. We then see the rise of diabulimia where the above diagnosis becomes more an opportunity to lose weight than an impediment.
The main concern with diabulimia is its propensity to comorbidities and the onslaught of severe medical repercussions on account of this. Diabulimia is characterized by a tendency to eat large quantities of food, especially those enriched with sugars and other carbohydrates, and losing that excess sugar by frequent urination (Dada, 2012). For those with diabetes, that often means either limiting or completely restricting much needed insulin injections. How do the two coordinate?
Type 1 diabetes entails the inability to produce sufficient if any insulin by the pancreas (Dada, 2012). Cells in the body need insulin in order to take up glucose from the blood and use its energy. When one lacks enough insulin, the body’s cells go into starvation mode causing one to lose weight. However, more sugar builds up in the blood, putting excessive strain on the kidneys to get rid of this build-up by more frequent urination. This weight loss comes at the expense of healthy kidneys and puts the patient at much higher risk for heart attack, stroke, vascular disease, infertility and quite possibly death.
It is important for those who receive a type 1 diabetes diagnosis to receive proper support from the very beginning. Especially those who are in their teenage years or younger. It is normal for patients to gain some weight at the start of insulin injections and this should be properly relayed as a temporary, healthy change before the start of treatment. Many suggest the help of a registered dietician (RD) to monitor and assist in constructing and maintaining a new appropriate diet. Familial support is also key. Parents should be ready and willing to administer insulin injections or at least keep track of them in order to ensure that younger patients with diabetes take proper care of themselves.
Dada, J.H. (2012, August). Understanding Diabulimia — Know the Signs and Symptoms to Better Counsel Female Patients. Today’s Dietitian. 14(8), 14.
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