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Diabetes and Eating Disorders

asha3

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was five years old. I grew up with this all-encompassing chronic illness and I barely remember my life before the click of the lancet, the beeps from my glucometer, and the hypoglycemic episodes that still, after 23 years of living with this disease, scare me. T1D has always been a part of my life and until five years ago, so was living with an eating disorder. In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week (February 23 through March 1) I want to share some of my story with the Glu community and offer hope and support to any T1Ds who may still be silently struggling with this dangerous disorder.

All of the challenges and complications that living with T1D can create ignited a deep resentment and sense of anxiety inside of me by the time I was thirteen. No one else had to worry as much as I had to worry. No one else had to eat a snack in the middle of class and no one else had to stop in the middle of something because they were “low.” I worried that I was perceived as weak and fragile by my peers due to my diabetes, and I started to resent my “broken” body. I felt that I was trapped inside a failed body that would not allow me to ever feel truly free. In a fit of rebellion and rage, I stopped taking all of my necessary insulin and started keeping my blood sugars high on purpose. What started out as an attempt to avoid having low blood sugars (mostly while performing on stage) and an honest desire to just not have to worry about my diabetes for a few hours, became a dangerous eating disorder that nearly cost me everything; my career as an actress, my marriage, and my life.

By the time I went to college my eating disorder had become the single most important thing in my life. It dictated who I was, my daily schedule, my relationships, and just about every single choice I made. I was miserable. I didn’t want to live like this anymore, but I didn’t know how to ask for help or if there even was help for someone like me. I had never heard of any other T1D with an eating disorder and I was sure that I was the weakest person on earth for not taking better care of myself. From the ages of 13 to 23, I struggled with this heavy and dangerous secret alone.

Five years ago I took my first step toward living my life fully again when I accepted inpatient treatment at the Melrose Center, which offers a program specifically tailored to type 1 diabetics with eating disorders. It was the scariest (and yet probably bravest) thing I have ever done. Living with my diabetes today is very different after finally coming to terms with my eating disorder. There are still challenges in navigating my diabetes management through my daily life, and there always will be. The difference is that that now when an unexpected challenge arises, I am not afraid to do whatever is necessary in order to take care of my type 1 diabetes and protect my strong recovery. I now possess the tools to deal with the anxiety and stress that living with this chronic illness can create, thanks to the positive and encouraging support from my treatment team.

Diabetes healthcare professionals put a lot of emphasis on healthy eating, weight management, and good control over your blood sugars in terms of good diabetes care. These are without question important factors to consider and to be mindful of. The problem is that with the large emphasis on food, weight, numbers, and control, the fine line between taking great care of your diabetes and obsession can become increasingly blurry. The more that the diabetic community can come forward and be honest about what they are struggling with to their family, friends and doctors, the better chance we have at establishing solid sources of support.

I never thought that I would be on the other side of this deadly disorder and I know that if I can find the strength and the bravery to ask for help, others who struggle with this dual-diagnosis can, too! I have been lucky enough to view the awe-inspiring determination of many others who struggled with diabetes and an eating disorder through the organization that I started two years ago with my co-founder Erin Williams. We Are Diabetes has supported and guided the recovery of many brave T1Ds who have struggled with diabetes burnout, isolation and eating disordered behaviors.

There is growing awareness among diabetes healthcare professionals about the risks of those living with type 1 diabetes developing an eating disorder. However there is a substantial disconnect between the knowledge and understanding of type 1 diabetes at most eating disorder facilities. The dual-diagnosis of a chronic illness like type 1 diabetes and an eating disorder is extremely complicated and demands the proper type of professional care; both for the emotional and the physical aspects being treated. We Are Diabetes has networked with specific treatment centers across the United States that have the experience and the expertise necessary to help those who are suffering from diabulimia. There are many options available for someone who is seeking help. For more information about what kind of support may be available in your area, please visit our website at wearediabetes.org or email us at info@wearediabetes.org.

Asha Brown

Asha is a member of both The ADA Woman and Diabetes Subcommittee, as well as Diabetes Advocates. She has worked firsthand with families, patients, educators, and medical professionals across the United States. Asha strives to educate others about her experiences and offer hope and support to others who may be struggling. She has spoken at the Park Nicollet Melrose Center, at JDRF, at Diabetes Sisters, on the Family Panel at NEDA and at numerous other organizations. Asha can be found online on Diabetes Health, Glu, dLife, DiabetesMine and many other diabetes related websites. Her passion for connecting people to the help they deserve continues to grow as she continues to establish relationships with eating disorder treatment facilities across the country.

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