Type 1 diabetes patients can struggle with eating disorder

By  | 

BALTIMORE (CBS) Some patients with diabetes can also struggle with a type of eating disorder called diabulimia.

Heather Stuckey has been living with Type 1 diabetes since she was 12-years-old. The 48-year-old never thought that diagnosis would spiral into a serious eating disorder. "I had a natural force within me that could melt away the calories," Stuckey said.

It's called diabulimia -- when diabetics manipulate the insulin they are taking to shed pounds.

"It was such a secret. I thought, ew, this is kind of cool in a way. I can do this and nobody know about it and I can get away with it. And look, I can lose weight," Stuckey said. "I had no idea that this is an eating disorder."

Alison Alderman is regional manager of the Renfrew Center, where Heather recently 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. She says that can lead to serious health risks including high glucose levels, thinking problems, muscle loss, and infections. "You can get dehydrated, severe weight loss, cramping, you can also see kidney damage."

Stuckey says she still struggles with her body image. "When I look in the mirror now, I see lets try to take care of ourselves. Lets try to do the best we can today to be healthy," she said.

Stuckey says she focuses on eating right and managing her diabetes.

Experts say some warning signs are diabetics who avoid their doctors appointments or eat or take their insulin in isolation.