Beyond Diabetes: T1D and Body Image

September 29, 2016
Meagan Banks
Georgia Tech, '19
Editor’s Note: This blog is for informational purposes only and to share a student’s experience. It is not intended as medical advice or treatment. Consult with your healthcare provider (such as a primary care physician, endocrinologist, mental health provider, etc) for advice, possible diagnosis, treatment, information, etc. for any health related matter. If you think you are having a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

Note from Meagan: Everyone experiences his or her diabetes differently. My experience with diabetes, how it has affected my own body image and mental health, and how my body image has affected my diabetes are completely unique to me, but the perspective I’m sharing is also one of many common challenges faced by persons living with type 1 diabetes. Please also be aware that I discuss eating disorders, so be careful if this may trigger a negative affect in your own mental health.

In my life thus far with diabetes, the hardest part has been the feeling that it’s not a mountain – it’s Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a hill for all of eternity. When my blood sugar is high, I can bolus and bring it down. When it’s low, I can drink some apple juice to bring it up. But there’s so much work that goes into every decision I make – because virtually every part of my life both affects and is affected by diabetes, including body image and body positivity.

It’s easy to think of diabetes in isolation from other parts of your life. However, both the physical and mental effects of diabetes are often deeply entangled- especially with aspects of your mental health, such as body image.

“There’s so much work that goes into every decision I make - because virtually every part of my life both affects and is affected by diabetes, including body image and body positivity. ”
Managing type 1 diabetes is a numbers game: insulin dosages, blood glucose levels, carb counts, A1C, day in and day out. There are simply some things that cannot be perfectly controlled 24/7, and in some cases a need to compensate for this feeling of a lack of control manifests itself in the form of an eating disorder or other damaging mental health issues, possibly related to body image.

Diabulimia is one such issue, characterized by a manipulation of insulin treatments resulting in weight loss. On the outside, it can look like an ordinary person still treating himself or herself well and losing weight. However, a person with diabetes can fabricate numbers and make drastic changes to their management which in turn starves their cells of energy and drives up their A1C.

My experience with the interplay of body image and diabetes has been, at times, both encouraging and damaging. Growing up with diabetes, I often struggled with the idea that I have no choice but to deal with a chronic disease that I did nothing to cause, and may not be cured in my lifetime. Additionally, the misconception that simply eating too much sugar causes diabetes also influenced my body image in that I felt I had to prove something. Even friends would sometimes joke that I “can’t eat this or that,” and though I knew that it was simple ignorance, and I was being given the opportunity to educate and advocate for myself, it still hurt. Of course I strived to be strong, to thrive, to be grateful that I live in such an amazing time and place with advanced healthcare technologies and educational resources. However, many factors (including diabetes burnout) combined to trigger disordered eating patterns and behaviors. I did not even realize I was using them.

After interventions by incredible friends, parents, and healthcare professionals, I can say that today I am much happier and healthier, thriving with both diabetes and a healthy body image. I also have knowledge and resources to combat the issues if they come up again. It is so important to know and accept yourself, and the challenges that can come with living with diabetes, so that you can go on pursuing the things you love in life.

Strategies to promote body positivity and thriving with diabetes:

→ Lean on your support system!! I cannot stress this one enough, both in the diabetes area and the body positivity one. Good, solid friends and family will support and encourage your self-confidence, and help you if you need support for diabetes or other areas in your life. CDN members are always happy to add to your support system as well!

→ Love your body by being GOOD to it!!! This means moderation. It means taking your insulin, but accepting that it’s okay to have high blood sugars, low blood sugars, and everything in between – because sometimes diabetes has a mind of its own and it’s okay to not have perfect control all the time.

→ Seek out positive role models. Whenever I get down about my body image and/or diabetes, I think of amazing women who overcame struggles and are now thriving as strong, confident people. I also think of role models like Phil Southerland, who must take care of and be secure in their own bodies to thrive as athletes and professionals.

→ Contact your college’s counseling center! They may provide counseling, resources, or workshops and are always happy to help.

“Many factors (including diabetes burnout) combined to trigger disordered eating patterns and behaviors. I did not even realize I was using them. ”

Helpful Resources from Meagan:

We Are Diabetes is an organization that provides support, education, and awareness regarding type 1 diabetes and eating disorders. They offer support in the form of mentorship, guidance, resources, and more.

“The Athletic Woman’s Survival Guide: How to Win the Battle Against Eating Disorders, Amenorrhea, and Osteoporosis” by Carol L. Otis

“8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder: Effective Strategies from Therapeutic Practice and Personal Experience (8 Keys to Mental Health)” by Carolyn Costin

If you think you may be struggling with any type of disordered eating, this is a great screening and it can help you on your way to recovery along with other NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) resources and treatment from your healthcare team.

Lexicon is a The Diabetes Link Corporate Member and is dedicated to bringing awareness to the relationship between T1D and mental health. Watch our Mental Health and T1D Facebook Live event, which was made possible by funding from Lexicon.

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