PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Deliberately restricting insulin to lose weight has become a dangerous trend, especially among young women with diabetes.
It’s an eating disorder called diabulimia, which is practiced by about 40 percent of young women living with type 1 diabetes.
Restricting their insulin makes their bodies unable to absorb calories. Diabetics manipulate the insulin they are taking to shed pounds.
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,” said Stuckey. “I had no idea that this is an eating disorder.”
It’s called diabulimia — when diabetics manipulate the insulin they are taking to shed pounds.
“It was such a secret. I thought, ‘Eww, this is kind of cool in a way. I can do this, and nobody knows about it and I can get away with it.’ And look, I can lose weight,” said Stuckey. “I had no idea that this is an eating disorder.”
Stuckey was treated at the Philadelphia-based Renfrew Center.
“Without this insulin, the sugar stays in the blood an spills out into the urine, rather than being used as energy,” said Allison Alderman, the center’s regional nutrition manager.
“You can get dehydrated, severe weight loss, cramping, you can also see kidney damage,” said Alderman.
Stucky, who still struggles with her body image, says she’s now focused on eating right and managing her diabetes.
“When I look in the mirror now, I see, ‘Lets’ try to take care of ourselves. Let’s try to do the best we can today to be healthy,'” she said.
Doctors say when diabetics restrict insulin, their blood sugar levels spike, and the body can’t absorb food, or essential nutrients, which causes them to lose weight.
Experts say some warning signs are diabetics who avoid their doctors appointments and if they eat or take their insulin in isolation.