Food, Fear and Type 1 Diabetes

Food is my saviour and my enemy.

Leaning against the cool wall of my bathroom I shove another lolly down my throat, feeling my stomach roll and recoil. Fighting nausea, another one follows. I gag, forcing myself to swallow. The day has been full of low blood sugar readings and I’ve spent it eating carbohydrates and sugar non-stop to prevent myself from going into a coma, even as my stomach bloats and begs me to stop.  I have hit my limit. I hate every bite. The urge to purge comes and like the lolly, I force it down, repeatedly.

This was one bad day for me, but for other Type 1 Diabetics they feel this anger, disgust and loss of control everyday.

Type One Diabetics have a turbulent relationship with food. It’s our medication as well as a source of comfort. While sitting on the floor of that bathroom, it was hard not to imagine all of the hard work I’d put in at the gym fade away and disappear under layers of sugar. I knew I’d be bloated and lethargic the next day and I couldn’t help but resent each mouth-full. This isn’t a healthy image to have, it’s self destructive and a habit ironically developed after being lectured by dietitians for years.

Diabetes health professions are there to help you, but as a young child or teenager, being told what you can, cant, should and shouldn’t eat can cause a lot of resentment and anger. One of the first things you do when you’re diagnosed is relearn your relationship with food. That piece of banana bread is no longer fun snack, it’s 40 grams of carbohydrates. Even fruit can become dangerous. Have too much or not enough insulin and the natural carbohydrates and sugars can have a devastating effect. Birthday parties become awkward, going out for lunch can be painful and maintaining a healthy relationship with food can be one of the hardest hurdles to jump.

According to Diabetes Australia, women with Type 1 Diabetes are “approximately twice as likely to develop an eating disorder or disturbed eating behaviour as their peers without diabetes.” Men with diabetes are also likely to develop disturbed eating patterns. There are many reasons for this, some people might feel shame from needing to eat additional sugar and carbs when hypoing, they feel a loss of control when living with a chronic illness,  focus too much on food restrictions or have depression. Likewise, diabetes and body image issues are also often interconnected; needles leave scars, insulin can cause fat build-up and excess sugar consumption can cause weight gain. For some people this is triggering and difficult to control. 

Diabetes Australia lists two common eating disorders that affect diabetics: insulin manipulation and disorders not otherwise specified. Insulin manipulation involves restricting insulin intake or skipping it all together as high blood sugar can cause weight loss. This can increase the risk of complications later on in life including loss of eyesight, kidney problems and amputation. Eating disorders not otherwise specified is “a category of disordered eating that does not meet the criteria for a specific eating disorder.” It might be meal skipping or binge eating.

People often joke that “eating too much junk food can cause diabetes.” While it’s true some Type 2 Diabetics have developed the illness due to excess weight; maybe just take a step back and think. Almost every piece of food put in our mouths needs to be thought about as it all will have a consequence whether good or bad.

The person on the bathroom floor will thank you.

To learn more about Type 1 Diabetes and eating disorders follow this or read an article about ‘Diabulimia’ here.

2 thoughts on “Food, Fear and Type 1 Diabetes

  1. This is such a powerful piece. I myself am constantly reevaluating my relationship with food, and I try to be as healthy as I can, but I think diabetics really have so many other factors involved that make it necessary to be on point with their intake. Thanks for sharing this!


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