Diabulimia is an eating disorder where sufferers (who are diabetic), refuse to eat or to take their insulin – in order to lose weight.

Insulin is the hormone that allows the body to access energy from food, in the form of glucose travelling in the bloodstream. Without insulin, cells can’t access the glucose and are left to starve, while the blood stream is flooded with it, causing symptoms such as extreme thirst, low energy, and weight loss.

But weight loss isn’t the only result. Forgoing insulin can also cause long-term damage to eyes, kidneys, nerves, and the circulatory system, as well as the possibility of coma or death.

Steff Morlake knows this only too well. In an interview with The Times Magazine (15 Dec 2012), she describes how her diabulimia began:

‘My first symptoms..appeared when I was 9.  At 8 months old I had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and at school I had to give myself insulin injections and have snacks at certain times of the day, which always made me feel self-conscious.  I have an older sister and felt really angry that she could be independent and have sleepovers, for instance, and I couldn’t.  I was different – and I started blaming insulin and food…I wanted to be invisible and didn’t want my eating to define who I was – I felt food held me back.

..By the time I moved to secondary school I wouldn’t eat around other people and then I started not to inject.  As a diabetic you can manipulate your body and by the time I was twelve I had worked out that it was possible to (lose large amounts of weight), no problem”.

For the next few years Steff’s health declined.  She was in and out of A+E,  nearly had a heart attack,  and at 17 had a very bad breakdown. At the age of 18, she was admitted for eating disorder treatment at a hospital in London and today she is doing well. Last month, she started work as a youth worker in a job that she loves.

She comments:

“My eating disorder started because I didn’t want people to know I had diabetes. I just wanted to be normal. Now, I almost feel like I am…I go to work; I spend spare time with my family, partner and friends…I worry about the train fares going up and finding matching socks in the morning.  My life no longer revolves around food.  Yes, there are still things I need to work on, like being able to weigh myself and eat certain foods.  But I’ve got a lifetime to conquer those, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

…Because  the appearance of people with eating disorders is so dramatic, people often fixate on that.  But I know a lot of people whose illness has nothing to do with outward appearances.  If you have an eating disorder it takes on a life of its own.  You get to that point where you honestly believe that what people refer to as your ‘eating disorder voice’ has you best interests at heart.  I really believed it would look after me, that I could rely on it, that it was my safety net – but that people couldn’t be trusted, that they would abuse me. I could not grasp that my eating disorder was abusing me more than any person ever could”.

Read the full article (‘Changing attitudes to Eating Disorders’), here.


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