DIABULIMIA is the dangerous eating disorder you've probably never heard of – where diabetics risk death by skipping their insulin injections, all in a bid to slim down.
Mum Emma Porter, 31, who lives in Cheltenham, was admitted to hospital several times during her battle with the condition – and at one point shed three stone in a matter of weeks.
Now the Type 1 diabetic has turned her life around – and is speaking out to raise awareness of the condition, which recently killed Cheshire lass Shayni Kirk, 28.
Here, speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, Emma shares her story…
“More vodka shots?” my friend shouted from across the other side of the bar, the rest of us dancing on tables in our bikinis. “Absolutely!”, I shouted back over the music.
We were all 18, we’d just finished our A-levels and we were partying very hard in Newquay.
We felt invincible and we looked beautiful.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and liked what I saw – I’d lost around a stone in the week we’d been in Cornwall and was slimmer than ever.
I just wanted to 'feel normal', like everyone else.
We posed in front of cameras at every opportunity, pouting, giving each other play kisses and showing off our washboard, tanned tummies.
But when I got home I felt truly horrible, like there was something seriously wrong, and my mum rushed me to hospital.
“Have you been skipping your insulin again?” my mum asked me. “No!”, I shouted defiantly, in a way only a teenager can when they’re lying.
The truth was I’d not eaten much all week, had high blood sugars and not been taking my insulin properly – knowing that the less I injected, the more weight I’d lose.
When I was 18, attracting boys and looking great seemed far more important than my health.
DIABULIMIA – THE FACTS
- Diabulimia is an eating disorder where people with Type 1 diabetes skip their insulin injections, in a bid to lose weight.
- This puts them at risk of a fatal condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) which can also damage the kidneys, nerves in the feet and lead to blindness.
- As many of 40% of women with Type 1 diabetes, and 10% of men, are thought to have been affected by the condition – which is most common in those aged 15-30.
- It isn't medically recognised as an eating disorder – but recent fatal cases pushed the NHS to launch pilots, joining diabetes and mental health services, in London and along the South coast two weeks ago.
- When people develop Type 1 diabetes, they tend to lose a lot of weight, and putting this back on can be hard to deal with.
- Without insulin, your blood sugar levels will build up quickly – and any calories you are consuming pass straight out of the body through urine.
- When this happens, the body starts breaking down fat, because it's not absorbing energy from food, which can lead to dramatic weight loss.
- “Diabulimia is a serious eating disorder which, without the right clinical and mental health support, can have devastating consequences such as stroke, kidney failure and blindness,” said Libby Dowling, senior clinical adviser of Diabetes UK. “It can also be fatal.”
- There is support available. Please visit Diabetes.org.uk for more info.
I knew exactly what I was doing, but I also knew the risk of letting my blood sugar get too high.
I’d been at boarding school aged 16 – surrounded by skinny and beautiful daughters of the rich and famous – when I’d started to lose weight dramatically.
I was also drinking gallons of water and running to the loo every half an hour, often in pain. Within six weeks, I’d lost three stone and gone down to 7st 12lbs.
“You look amazing!” my friends told me. “Really?”, I asked, loving the attention but smiling through the pain.
I blinkered myself to my symptoms and soldiered on until finally I had to see a doctor, who admitted me to hospital with a blood sugar level of 45mmols – it should not have been over 7mmols.
I was spent ten days in hospital and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – and told I'd have to start injecting insulin at least four times-a-day.
“Will I put on weight?” I asked the nurses. “Yes, you’re going to go back to where you were, if not more,” they said.
And they were right – I soon piled on the pounds, and hated it.
So, when I was given a taste of freedom in Newquay, I knew what I had to do.
But, back in hospital, I was also told very clearly if I carried on skipping insulin I’d end up with a whole host of awful complications – I could go blind, lose limbs and even die.
After the trip, I went to uni in Edinburgh – but soon dropped out to move back in with my parents in London, realising I wasn’t coping with my diagnosis.
When I met Jonathon, who is now my husband, it took me eight months to open up about my illness. I felt nervous and ashamed.
“Are you okay in there?” he’d ask when I was in the loo again, injecting. “Yes, I’m fine,” I’d reply.
When I did open up, he was amazing.
“Don’t be daft!” he said, giving me a massive hug. “It’s not your fault, and we can work through anything together.”
After a string of bitty, soulless jobs in London, I ended up working in the City at a boutique finance firm.
It was long hours, high-stress, but I loved the work, and loved the pay even more.
I put my health on the back-burner – I was doing almost no exercise and eating things that just weren’t good for my blood sugar.
“I’m doing what the dietitian told me to. I’m eating carbs, counting calories and injecting insulin regularly, so I’m healthy, right?” I’d say to myself.
But looking in the mirror at my 14 stone, size 16 body, I knew that couldn’t be true.
When Jonathon proposed in 2013, it spurred me into action.
I knew I wanted to lose weight before our dream wedding on the beach in Indonesia.
So I hired a personal trainer who told me to cut out carbs and hit the gym – which went against standard medical advice at the time.
Within a week of the high-intensity workouts and a low-carb, high-protein and healthy fat diet, I managed to reduce my insulin intake by 30 per cent while maintaining my stable blood sugars.
The weight was starting to fall off me. “I’m finally experiencing what being well feels like,” I told Jonathon.
We got married in 2014, me fitting into a gorgeous size 10 dress and weighing 10-and-a-half stone of pure muscle.
I started posting my low-carb recipes on Instagram and got loads of positive feedback – I've got 80,000 followers now.
“Why don’t we leave London and start a new life?” I said to Jonathon. He couldn’t have been happier.
I quit my job and a month later we got pregnant with our little girl – something the doctors had always told me would be a near impossibility without special drugs to counter my diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Now Florence is two and I'm a full-time mum and recipe developer – with stable blood sugars, weight, regular periods and no brain fog.
Helping other diabetics to be healthy and happy is worth more than any London pay packet.
Looking back at the naïve, vodka-drinking, partying 18-year-old I was, I know I'm a completely different person now.
Emma has now released a book with Dr David Cavan and Diabetes.co.uk. You can buy The Low-Carb Diabetes Cookbook here.
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