A new and dangerous weight loss trend is taking over the lives of many teens with type 1 diabetes, to the point where they are on the brink of death.
Some teens think it’s a miracle weight loss tool, but they soon discover its deadly consequences.
“I dropped a significant amount of weight to the point when I came back, everyone at school said something,” Erin Akers said. “‘You look great, wow, what have you done?’ Well, diet and exercise of course. That’s the only way to lose weight.”
The technique involves avoiding insulin shots so their bodies do not process food. It’s called diabulimia.
While Akers never revealed how much she lost, she and many other girls admit they were addicted to it.
“I realized it made me lose weight, and I just kept on doing it,” Patience Hollinden said. “By the time I was 14, I was hooked.”
“It got to the point where injecting insulin felt like taking a shot of fat to me. In my mind I didn’t understand that insulin was good for me. It became the enemy.”
While their bodies started slowly shutting down, they lost weight.
“Your nerves are dying and your organs are starting to shut down slowly,” Akers said. “It’s what’s known as diabetic ketoacidosis. It’s the big bad in the diabetes world.”
She thought she had it under control, but then she was taken to the hospital when her heart stopped beating.
It was in that moment that she decided to stop starving herself of insulin.
“Dying. Dying was the big thing for me,” she said. “Physical pain, I could deal with. But the idea of hurting the people I loved most finally clicked.”
Her mother Dawn researched the trend and discovered the name “diabulimia.” It was difficult to find help.
“When I first went to look for treatment for Erin, there were no programs in the United States for diabulimia. A lot of the treatment centers I contacted wouldn’t even take her because she had type 1 diabetes,” Dawn said.
Though there is a low population of diabulimic patients, some doctors have started offering treatment for it.
“Preteen diabetic patients we see somewhere around 10 to 15 percent, teenagers up to 25 percent, late teens and young adult somewhere around 40 percent,” Dr. Mehri Moore said, a doctor who treats the disease.
After Erin found treatment and joined a Facebook support group, she recovered from the disease. She is now CEO of the Diabulimia Helpline.
She said her biggest accomplishment was her ability to look in the mirror and love who she is.
“It’s a reflection of my skin and my body. Not my heart and my soul,” she said.