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Disordered Eating and Type 2 Diabetes

Last updated: January 2023

As you go through your daily life with type 2 diabetes, have you ever found yourself feeling anxious or hyper-focused on food or exercise? Managing diabetes requires a certain amount of focus on these things, but when obsession overtakes focus, disordered eating might be the result.

What is disordered eating?

Disordered eating describes feelings and behaviors that disrupt healthy eating and exercising habits. Two primary signs of disordered eating are judging and severe restrictions.1

Sometimes the signs are apparent. It can be when a food is labeled as "bad" and must be avoided in all situations. Other times the signs of disordered eating are less obvious. It might be having a rule that you only eat pizza after completing a hard workout. Either way, it takes a toll.

Signs and symptoms of disordered eating include:2,3

  • Feeling anxious around food and/or eating
  • Having rigid rituals and routines around food and/or exercise
  • Feeling guilt or shame about eating and/or exercise
  • Applying "good" or "bad" labels to food and/or exercise
  • Being constantly preoccupied with food, eating, and/or exercise
  • Being constantly preoccupied with body weight, shape, and/or appearance
  • Feeling out of control around food
  • Acting compulsively around food and/or exercise

What are the risks that come from disordered eating?

Disordered eating disrupts physical and mental health. Physically it gets in the way of the body receiving the nourishment it needs. Mentally it drives distress. Over time, if left unaddressed, disordered eating can spiral, and thoughts can become all-consuming, leading to a diagnosis of an eating disorder like bulimia or anorexia.4

Additionally, disordered eating increases the risk of developing:1

  • Obesity
  • Bone loss
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Electrolyte and fluid imbalances
  • Low heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increased anxiety, depression, and social isolation

How common is disordered eating among people with type 2 diabetes?

It's hard to say. It's estimated that 9 percent of the general population will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their life.5

But estimates for people with type 2 diabetes run as high as 20 percent being affected specifically by binge eating disorder. Researchers think that the actual incidence is under-reported due to guilt and shame associated with eating, food, and body weight.1

A common misconception is that disordered eating only (or primarily) affects young, affluent, Caucasian women. This is not true. Disordered eating can occur at any age, whatever your gender, economic status, race, or ethnicity. Men make up 25 percent of all disordered eating cases.6

What to do about disordered eating?

With so much focus put on eating and exercise in diabetes care, it's no surprise that experiencing disordered eating is such a concern. While we must focus on these things, when that focus becomes all-consuming, it's more than counterproductive – it can be downright dangerous to your well-being.

If you find yourself wondering if your own eating and/or exercise habits are becoming obsessive or compulsive, discuss it with someone. Don't expect this concern to just go away or that you can handle it on your own. Reach out for support. Registered dietitians and other healthcare providers can help you understand what's going on and how to respond.

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