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'Diabulimia' causes diabetics to misuse insulin to lose weight

Doctors say eating disorder has dangerous side effects

Patients with diabetes can also struggle with a type of eating disorder called “diabulimia" that can cause serious health risks.

Doctors said it occurs when diabetics manipulate the insulin they take to shed pounds.

"I had a natural force within me that could melt away the calories," said Heather Stuckey.

Stuckey has been living with Type 1 diabetes since she was 12 years old. Now, at the age of 48, she never thought her diagnosis would spiral into a serious eating disorder.

"It was such a secret and nobody knows about it – and I can get away with it,” Stuckey said.

Stuckey said she knew that she had lost weight, but had no idea she was living with an eating disorder.

Allison Alderman is the regional nutrition manager of the Renfrew Center, where Stuckey went through treatment. 

"Without this insulin, the sugar stays in the blood and spills out into the urine, rather than being used as energy," Alderman said.

It can also lead to high glucose levels, thinking problems, dehydration, muscle loss, infections and kidney damage, according to Alderman.

Stuckey said after she was diagnosed with an eating disorder she stopped manipulating her insulin, but she still struggles with her body image.

"When I look in the mirror now,  I see, let's try to take care of ourselves. Let’s try to do the best we can today to be healthy," Stuckey said.

Experts say some warning signs are diabetics who avoid their doctor’s appointments, or eat or take their insulin in isolation.