Diabetic woman almost dies from rare eating disorder caused by cutting insulin

A diabetic dance teacher who reduced her insulin medication to lose weight was told she was just hours away from dying.

Amber Dumbill, from Cheshire, lives with Type 1 diabetes – an autoimmune condition which stops the body making insulin. 

As a result, she needs regular insulin injections to control her blood sugar levels.

Without these injections, Amber’s blood sugar levels would be very high and her body would react by burning fat. This is because, without insulin, the human body keeps the glucose in the blood.

After becoming self-conscious of her tight-fitting dance clothing and more aware of smaller girls in her class, Amber decided to stop taking her insulin injections, in an attempt to lose weight – an eating disorder which is known as diabulimia.

While she was living in university student accommodation at the age of 18, Amber stopped taking insulin and doing finger prick tests needed to monitor her blood sugar levels.

But, six weeks into term, Amber woke one morning unable to get out of bed and was sick several times with spots of blood in her vomit. After speaking to her mother Kath on the phone, she decided to call an ambulance. 

Amber, now 24 and a care home administrator, said: ‘I was told I’d have to wait four hours for an ambulance because I wasn’t a priority, so I rang my mum again who told me to take more tests.

‘The results were so high that when I rang 999 back and told them, they sent the ambulance straight away.

‘By the time we got to the hospital, my lips were turning blue and one of the paramedics told me: “If you’d waited four hours for the first ambulance you’d have been dead.”’

After her hospital visit, Amber started taking her insulin again – but took less than was prescribed as she was concerned about gaining weight.

But following a frank conversation with her mum and after meeting her new boyfriend, Ed Martin, Amber started managing her diabetes properly.

She said: ‘I told Mum that Ed and I had been talking about the future. We’d discussed getting married and having kids.

‘She just turned to me and said: “You won’t be having any kids if you don’t sort out your diabetes.”

‘That, together with the realisation that diabetes can cause complications in pregnancy even when it is properly managed, shocked me into realising what I was doing to myself.

‘I am so grateful that I turned my life around before it was too late, but if telling my story stops just one person with Type 1 diabetes doing what I did, it will be worth it.’

Now Amber is keen to spread more awareness of diabulimia – which remains a largely ‘hidden condition,’ according to Diabetics with Eating Disorders (DWED).

Psychiatrist, Professor Khalida Ismail, who runs the UK’s first diabulimia disorder clinic at Kings College Hospital in London, warns of just how serious the condition can be.

He said: ‘Diabulimia is extremely dangerous but the fear that taking insulin causes weight gain is so strong that sufferers will stop taking it to lose weight.

‘You can look well and have a normal body size but if you stop taking your insulin you will have very high blood sugars which can cause all those diabetes-related complications.

‘If a person with Type 1 diabetes does not take any insulin they will die very quickly.’

For more information about Diabetics With Eating Disorders see www.dwed.org.uk.


If you suspect you, a family member or friend has an eating disorder, contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 or at [email protected], for information and advice on the best way to get appropriate treatment

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