Insulin restriction, medicalisation and the Internet

A corpus linguistic study of the discourse of diabulimia in online support groups

  • Gavin Brookes Lancaster University
Keywords: Diabulimia, medicalisation, corpus linguistics, diabetes, online support groups


Diabulimia is a contested eating disorder characterised by the deliberate restriction of insulin by people with type 1 diabetes in order to lose and control body weight. This article reports the first discourse-based study of diabulimia. It employs a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques afforded by corpus linguistics, a methodology for examining extensive collections of digitised language data, to interrogate the discourse surrounding diabulimia in an approx. 120,000-word collection of messages posted to three English-speaking online diabetes support groups. The analysis shows how, despite lacking official disease status, diabulimia was nonetheless linguistically constructed by the support group contributors as if it were a medically legitimate mental illness. This article explores some of the consequences that such medicalising conceptions are likely to have for people experiencing diabulimia, as well as their implications for health professionals caring for people presenting with this emerging health concern in the future.

Open Access: CC BY

This research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (grant number: ES/J500100/1). Open Access funding was provided by the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (grant number ES/K002155/1).

Author Biography

Gavin Brookes, Lancaster University

Gavin Brookes is Senior Research Associate in the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University. His main research interests include corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, multimodality and health communication. He is Associate Editor of the International Journal of Corpus Linguistics (published by John Benjamins). 


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How to Cite
Brookes, G. (2019). Insulin restriction, medicalisation and the Internet. Communication & Medicine, 15(1), 14-27.