When we first heard the term "diabulimia," we thought it sounded like a made up word for a mythical condition — and in a way, it is. Starting around 2007, diabulimia has become the unofficial diagnosis of an insulin-dependent person living with an eating disorder who purposely stops taking their insulin in order to accelerate weight loss. Without insulin, super-high blood sugars lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, which quickly burns off the body's fatty acids.
Diabulimia is not a technical term recognized by psychologists, but it's becoming a common term to describe this "compounded" eating disorder.
We took a look at diabulimia in 2010 when we interviewed Dr. Ann Goebel-Fabbri of the Joslin Center and D-blogger Lee Ann Thill about their experiences. There still wasn't much known about diabulimia at the time, but more and more people have started to come forward with their own personal struggles.
Now, Maryjeanne Hunt, a type 1 PWD for the past 30 years, has written a moving memoir called Eating to Lose: Healing from a Life of Diabulimia, with a foreword written by the very same Dr. Goebel-Fabbri.
Maryjeanne writes beautifully about the emotional and mental struggles of striving for physical perfection while also dealing with challenges of managing diabetes. She describes in detail her mental and physical pain in struggling to manage diabetes, and also how the dieting culture, self-perceptions and self-worth, and the influence of friends and family can actually wreak havoc on our ability to live healthfully.
Maryjeanne shares how her mother's constant roller-coaster of dieting and "cheating," and her college best friend's anorexia influenced her own attitudes on weight, and provided a rationale for what she herself was doing. Even though she knew the dangers of omitting insulin and the damage she was causing to her body from the high blood sugars, she writes: "It didn't stop me. I was addicted to a partnership of polar opposites — the pleasure of eating and the high of starvation."
Like most women, body image, weight loss, and self-acceptance are life-long battlegrounds, and Maryjeanne's story is no different. Starting in middle school, food comforted her during emotionally stressful times. But how she paid the price with guilt, shame and self-loathing! Even though she wanted to be skinny, the author writes, she couldn't control the temptations of food. She attempted to balance the two with binging and purging, and the occasional omission of insulin made keeping her weight down easier.
Even after she married and had children, Maryjeanne struggled with this dangerous cycle. Maryjeanne's commitment to physical perfection went beyond just omitting insulin or purging food: exercise also became an obsession. It was a huge part of her weight loss methods, so much so that Maryjeanne eventually became a physical trainer despite her unhealthy attitude toward her body.
She writes, "I was fully committed to calorie shortage. I was so committed in fact that I often calculated with decimal precision the tiniest daily calorie consumption my newly shrunken body would require in order to continue its steady descent down the number line. I embraced hunger pains, reading them as a sign that fat cells were, at that very moment, actually shrinking. Not metaphorically, mind you. Physically. scientifically."
I especially appreciated Maryjeanne's frank explanation of the eating disorder phenomenon: "The truth is: not everyone who is skinny has an eating disorder, and not everyone with an eating disorder is skinny. It's not about the size of your body; it's not about the amount of food you eat or don't eat. It's about your relationship with the food; and it's about what that does to your relationship with your body." Powerful words, and something I think many of us (women / PWDs) can relate to.
Eventually Maryjeanne receives a diagnosis and begins treatment for her eating disorder. Diving into all the things that have contributed to her struggle with food, Maryjeanne takes us behind the scenes of recovery from an eating disorder, both physically and emotionally.
It's a heart-wrenching and eloquently written memoir, and a story that many will relate to, not because of the eating disorder or the insulin omission, but because I think diabetes itself creates a highly disordered relationship with food.
But there is a happy ending: Maryjeanne writes that she has now been free of her eating disorder since 1997, and she has been featured in Boston area newspapers and on Oprah Radio to discuss her struggles with diabulimia.
In short, I highly recommend this book. You can get your own copy of on Amazon for $12.71. It's also available on several eReaders.
The DMBooks Giveaway
We love sharing our book finds with our readers, so once again we're giving you the chance to win a free copy of our latest review. Today that's Eating to Lose: Healing from a Life of Diabulimia.
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