August 18, 2008

Is Diabetes an Eating Disorder?

I have been watching the Amazon "Diabetes" bestseller list for the past couple months, tracking how well my book has been doing--which is a lot better than I'd been hoping it would do. Thanks folks!

In the process, I've noticed something very troubling. One out of three books on the Amazon "Diabetes" bestseller list is a book about eating disorders. The people who designed Amazon clearly believe that diabetes is caused by overeating caused by emotional problems. Top books on the "Diabetes" bestseller list include Breaking Free from Emotional Eating (#2 on the Diabetes list last time I checked) or "Shrink Yourself: Break Free from Emotional Eating Forever (#6).

This is not a trivial issue. Many people will check out top selling "Diabetes" books immediately after a diagnosis. Will they buy a book that teaches them what they need to know to prevent complications or will they buy a book that blames their emotional problems for their diabetes and perhaps even urges them to start taking an antidepressant medication to "treat" their emotional problems--despite the fact that many of these antidepressants are very well known to contribute to cause weight gain and increase the insulin resistance that promotes Type 2 diabetes?

My very strong belief is that the hunger and weight gain suffered by people with Diabetes has nothing to do with "emotional eating" and everything to do with what happens when glucose metabolism is disordered. Hunger is usually a symptom that blood sugars are rising too high, which is why so many people are shocked to discover that their "emotional eating" disappears when they cut the sugars and starches out of their diets.

But if a person recently diagnosed with diabetes is not taught that there is an intimate connection between carbohydrates, blood sugar level, and hunger--and most still are not--they won't learn what they need to know to control their eating. If their doctor tells them to lose weight and eat a "healthy diet" they are very likely to fall for the myth that eating fat is dangerous and that only a high carbohydrate, low fat diet is "healthy."

After a week or two of eating whole wheat bread, pasta and bananas--which is what the folder my doctor gave me three years ago told me I should eat as a "healthy diabetic diet"--they will be hungrier than before, no thinner, and convinced that their "emotional eating" is impossible to control. The next step after this is hopelessness, quitting, and a life shortened by the inevitable diabetic complications caused by high blood sugars.

This is so unnecessary!

Beyond that, there is another huge problem with treating diabetes as an eating disorder. If you believe that diabetes is an eating disorder, you undoubtedly also believe that people with diabetes are to BLAME for their diabetes: that they have caused their diabetes through reckless eating.

This belief, which is not backed up by any science, is continually hammered home by the media. It causes shame in people with diabetes who often are obese because of the underlying condition causing their diabetes, rather than diabetic because of their obesity. This shame gets in the way of doing what needs to be done to achieve normal health.

If you still believe that people with diabetes cause their diabetes through their eating patterns, please read this summary of what a lot of high quality research has found about the true causes of diabetes:

You Did Not Eat Your Way To Diabetes.

After you have read it, consider emailing Amazon and asking them to remove books about eating disorders from their "Diabetes" bestseller list. Point out that there are NO books about diabetes on Amazon's "Eating Disorder" bestseller list, though undiagnosed diabetes is a major cause of the raging hunger that leads to the uncontrolled eating that is now diagnosed as "eating disorder" and attributed to emotional rather than physiological causes.

By putting these eating disorder books on their Diabetes list Amazon is making a medical judgment about diabetes--that it is caused by emotional problems--a diagnosis that is not supported by science. To do this is as valid--and as offensive--as putting books about demon possession in the bestseller list for mental illness.

To complain to Amazon use this link: (You will have to sign in.)

I have already written to them and got a personal response, but no action. Perhaps if Amazon hears from a couple hundred people they'll reconsider this policy. It is hurting people, especially those newly diagnosed, by giving them the false message that diabetes is caused by untreated mental illness.

8 comments: said...

You said:
"By putting these eating disorder books on their Diabetes list Amazon is making a medical judgment about diabetes--that it is caused by emotional problems--a diagnosis that is not supported by science. To do this is as valid--and as offensive--as putting books about demon possession in the bestseller list for mental illness."

Aw, shucks. So I can't blame "demons." And I can't say "The Debbil made me do it?"

Seriously, you make some excellent points. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Jenny, there's a disconnect here. The ads in the headings on your blog are about exactly the things you are deploriing: attributing diabetes to your inner unstable sugar pig and suggesting that "natural" health store cures are better than a doctor's advice. The ads seem to change, but one just now was for bulimia and others were for "eating disorders."

Prairie Mary

Jenny said...


These are Google Ads and they are dispensed in response to key words found on the page.

I would hope that visitors to this blog are web-educated enough to understand how Google Ads work. I have blocked the sleazier diabetes ads Google displays, but obviously this topic has attracted another, different batch of advertisers than does my usual subject matter.

The Google ads help support the work I do and the main Blood Sugar 101 site. A small web presence like mine cannot negotiate directly with advertisers. I do my best to keep slimeballs from using the page, but I also know my readers are very intelligent people and are not likely to be lured in by obvious trash.

Why Google is so prone to sell ads to slimeballs and people who sell trash is another question I leave as an exercise to the reader.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Jenny! I sent my complaints to Amazon.

From the title, I was expecting your post to be about something else... right after I was diagnosed with diabetes, I went to a lecture on eating disorders. When they listed the symptoms for eating disorders, they included: thinking about food all the time; counting calories, fat, and carbs; feeling guilty after eating certain foods; ...

I listened to the list and I thought, sounds like "everyday life" with diabetes.

I know the reasoning is different, but I was amazed how many of the "symptoms" matched.

Anonymous said...

I am completely unable to disagree. Like you but for different reasons I was never overweight - until I got put on a Healthy High Carb Low Fat diet "for may lipids". This not only made my lipids significantly worse but for the first time in my life I started gaining weight, and in all the wrong places. In retrospect the low fat had more effect than the high carbs since I was previously eating fairly high carbs without gaining.

Certainly in my case it is all back-asswards, once I started cutting the carbs I stopped getting high BG alternating with reactive lows, and one result was that my depression improved significantly and my ADD symptoms became minimal.

There's a genetic tendency to the depression from the opposite side of the family to the diabetes but the BG swings are definitely a triggering factor for the symptoms.

One wonders how many other victims are similarly afflicted and blamed when a simple dietary change would ameliorate the "mental" as well as the physical symptoms.

ps. what adverts? (grins) I guess my HOSTS file and script blocking must be working . . .

ItsTheWooo said...

Thanks Jenny...
I always hated the idea that obesity was an eating disorder. I actually partially attribute this myth to causing one in my case. I was so desperate to prove I wasn't some pathetic weak fat person (glutton, sloth) that I actually did screw my brain up and become very emotionally obsessed with controlling weight.

Even anorexia isn't an "emotional" disorder. Anorexia (the fear of food and being fat and inability to maintain normal weight or eating patterns) is a psychological response to starvation/trauma. But that's another discussion.

The myth of compulsive eating does so much more harm than good. How many obese people stay obese because they are working on their "emotional" issues when all they really need to do is accept they have a metabolic disorder, and treat it with strict low carb?
Or, then there are dieters who are starving themselves and believe they are binging because of emotional issues? I remember thinking that when I was sick, that a return of food obsession and hunger surely was a sign that I was a compulsive eater all along.

Unknown said...

I thought the tags or categories were added by Amazon customers. Maybe the diabetic people who thought they had eating disorders are buying your book and finding out they don't have the mental problems they thought. I know I was totally amazed that I could eat half the calories on low carb without hunger than I did on my normal diet when I was hungry all the time. I thought I must be sick in the head because I was also hungry when I was full and no matter how much I ate it was never enough. Now I know what enough feels like with way less food.

Jenny said...


I went and looked at the "Intuitive Eating" book that is #2 on the Diabetes bestseller list this hour and checked out its tags. In the list of tags there are dozens of tags. NONE of them is "diabetes" or "diabetic."

This is something Amazon is doing.