Eating Disorders in Adolescents and Young Adults with Type 1 Diabetes

According to an article from Eating Disorders Review, “adolescents and young adults with type 1 diabetes have a higher-than-normal prevalence of eating disorders.  In fact, nearly 7% of patients with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have type 1 diabetes.”

Teenagers and young adults with type 1 diabetes often struggle with the constant stress of having a chronic disease.  Their disease requires constant self-monitoring that may interfere with their social life and every day activities.  And if they have an insulin pump, they must deal with their condition being on public display for people to notice or ask about.  On top of the stress caused by the every day treatment, many teenagers with type 1 diabetes struggle with their body image and the fact that they are so different from their peers.  All of these factors compounded on one another create a high risk for the development of an eating disorder.

In adolescents and young adults with type 1 diabetes, it is important to watch out for warning signs of an eating disorder.  These might include typical warning signs for any population, such as erratic eating behaviors, trips to the bathroom after meals, not eating with family or friends, etc.  They might also have blood glucose levels that are difficult to control or that don’t seem to match their food intake or physical activity, and many will skip insulin doses or scale back on their insulin to achieve weight loss or prevent weight gain.  All of these behaviors are especially dangerous with type 1 diabetes because elevated blood glucose can lead to serious complications acutely and chronically.

With any eating disorder combined with a co-morbidity such as diabetes, a comprehensive, collaborative team approach is the best plan of treatment.  Clients with eating disorders need individual, group and/or family therapy to deal with the underlying issues behind the disordered behavior – it very rarely is “just about food” or “just about body weight.”  In addition to the support of therapy, it is very important to educate young adults and adolescents with type 1 diabetes in healthy eating.  The registered dietitian’s role is to help them to understand the basics of how our bodies process food, how important it is to manage blood glucose levels through diet, exercise and medication, and working with them to create an individualized nutrition plan is essential.

If you know a teenager or a young adult with diabetes that is struggling with disordered eating, we can help.  Please visit our website for more information: or call our office at (248) 336-2868.  Our team of therapists, dietitians and other medical practitioners can help your loved one get back on the path to self-care and healing.

Don’t forget about our upcoming event – Stereotype Event Detroit – June 14th, 2012 at the Detroit Opera House.  Visit the website: for more information.


King MS, RD, CDE, Nancy L.  Nutrition Care for Clients with Diabetes and an Eating Disorder.  Eating Disorders Review.  January/February 2003.  Volume 14, Number 1.


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