It can seem like a win-win situation for a young woman who's concerned about her weight and wants to lose pounds quickly. But the end result of diabulimia, a condition in which a diabetic purposely does not take the necessary insulin so that weight loss will result, is the loss of good health. .

"There are serious consequences of skipping or reducing insulin to lose weight," says Julie McNally, RD, of the Park Plaza Hospital and Medical Center in Houston, Texas.

What typically happens is that a young woman with Type 1 diabetes "puts two and two together and realizes that not only does insulin keep her muscle mass from breaking down but it also encourages fat storage," McNally says. "So the girl learns to manipulate her insulin and skip doses in order to lose weight. Once they get savvy with it, they take just enough insulin to avoid going into ketoacidosis."

Diabulimia is like an eating disorder in a diabetic, McNally says. The diabetic may binge on food, but her body is unable to utilize the energy obtained from that food because of the lack of insulin.

"It's most common in teenage girls who are very concerned about body image," she says. "This allows them to eat as much as they want without gaining weight."

The most immediate consequence of withholding insulin is a high blood sugar, explains Stuart Weiss, MD, an assistant clinical professor at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "They feel very sick with all the symptoms hyperglycemia brings," he says. "That's the short term. One long term consequence is that they develop bad eating habits. They think they can eat a lot and they lose their ability to regulate food."

Among the consequences facing someone who engages in this practice, McNally says, are dehydration, fatigue, as well as stunted growth and development in the teen years.

While diabulimia so far is not a recognized medical term, it's a risky, worrisome practice for a diabetic. "It's a pretty common phenomenon," McNally says. And it's important to note that it doesn't just happen to young women. It can affect men, too, as well as women who might be trying to lose weight after having a baby."

If you're wondering whether your daughter or someone else in your life could be abusing insulin, here are the warning signs to watch for, McNally says:

  • Chronically high blood sugar
  • Being hungrier than usual
  • A high hemoglobin A1C (if this suddenly becomes elevated, it's a sign something may be going on, McNally says)
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • An unwillingness to go to the doctor for routine appointments
  • Very low energy level.

And if you suspect that someone you know is trying to lose weight by abusing insulin, seek medical help. Not only are there short and long term health consequences, but not taking necessary insulin can be deadly.

Purposely withholding insulin shortens one's lifespan, McNally says. "The death rate for diabetics is about three times higher for those who are abusing insulin," she explains.