When it comes to the intersection of diabetes and eating disorders (EDs), there’s an aspect often overshadowed – the impact on males. Traditionally, research has primarily focused on females, but understanding how these disorders uniquely manifest in men is crucial for effective care and dismantling stigmas surrounding EDs in the male population.
What are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are intricate psychiatric conditions involving problematic relationships with food and the body. Individuals with diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2, are susceptible to disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, and diabulimia – the dangerous practice of skipping insulin to lose weight.
Binge eating disorder and sugar addiction, in particular, contribute to Type 2 diabetes due to an over-reliance on high-carb foods to cope with distressing emotions.
Males vs. Females: The Different Shades of EDs
The presentation of EDs varies between males and females. Men are less likely to be diagnosed due to social stigma and lack of awareness. In men, EDs often coincide with an emphasis on body shape and muscularity, shifting the focus from weight loss alone.
Why are People with Diabetes Vulnerable?
Several risk factors make males with diabetes susceptible to EDs, including genetic predispositions, psychological vulnerabilities (like anxiety and depression), and societal pressures for a specific body type. Perfectionism, coupled with the complexities of managing Type 1 diabetes, can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with food and body image.
The Risks of Co-occurring Diabetes and EDs
Overlooking eating disorder tendencies in people with diabetes can be perilous, leading to poor glycemic management, heightened risk of complications, more frequent Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), and increased risk of mental health disorders.
Altered Brain Function
Diabulimia’s impact on brain function is particularly worrying. Restricting insulin, a vital regulator of blood glucose, can result in damaging fluctuations that affect the brain. Meanwhile, EDs can cause nutritional deficiencies, influencing serotonin levels and leading to structural and chemical changes in the brain, creating a challenging cycle for diabetes management.
What Sort of Help is Available?
Treating EDs requires a comprehensive approach, involving collaboration between various disciplines. Dietitians play a vital role in the team approach, working alongside patients, families, endocrinologists, and psychologists. In some cases, short-term admissions may be necessary.
When to Seek Professional Help?
Recognizing the need for help is crucial. Warning signs include sudden changes in eating patterns, hoarding or stealing food, obsessive thoughts about food or body image, and deliberately skipping insulin. Men with diabetes should understand that seeking help for an ED is a sign of strength, not weakness. Don’t hesitate to discuss concerns with your doctor or a mental health professional – your well-being matters.
Araia, E., Hendrieckx, C., Skinner, T., Pouwer, F., Speight, J., & King, R. M. (2017). Gender differences in disordered eating behaviours and body dissatisfaction among adolescents with type 1 diabetes: Results from diabetes MILES youth—Australia. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50(10), 1183-1193. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22746