Strict diets required for chronic disease management may increase risk of unhealthy eating behaviors

Young women with diseases that require them to adhere to a strict diet may be more vulnerable to a range of eating disturbances that varies depending on the disease, according to the results of a small study.

Eating disturbances are unhealthy eating attitudes and behaviors that are not severe enough to qualify as full-blown eating disorders.

Previous studies noted that eating disorders occur more frequently in women with diabetes, but this study, which focused on women with phenylketonuria (PKU) as well as on women with Type 1 diabetes, attempts to take a broader look at the association between eating-disordered behavior and chronic diseases.

Individuals with both Type 1 diabetes and PKU, a hereditary condition in which an amino acid found in protein-containing foods can't be properly metabolized, must adhere to strict diet regimens. Since diabetics don't produce enough insulin, a hormone that helps the body regulate carbohydrate metabolism, they must carefully monitor food intake. Individuals with PKU have to restrict severely their consumption of protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, and milk, and also certain fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Deviation from diet regimens carries serious health risks for both groups. Diabetics who deviate are at increased risk for vascular complications like heart disease, and individuals with PKU who don't adhere to their diets can develop brain damage.

A statistically comparable number of the 54 study participants with diabetes and the 30 study participants with PKU demonstrated symptoms of eating-disordered behavior, according to authors Joan C. Chrisler, PhD, and Jeanne E. Antisdel, MA, of Connecticut College, in New London, CT. Specifically, 33 percent of those with diabetes and 23 percent of those with PKU exhibited such symptoms.

Certain types of eating problems were more common within each group. Preoccupation with avoiding fattening foods and with weight loss was mor

Contact: Joan C. Chrisler, PhD
Center for the Advancement of Health

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