Needle-phobic diabetic admits to dicing with death by using exercise instead of insulin

27th Feb 18 | Real Life

Hollie says the way she lived was "dangerous" - but now she is injecting properly and even competes as bikini weightlifter.

Photos by Mike Tennant  (5) Cropped (1)

Terrified by needles, a young woman diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, diced with death by using excessive exercise to regulate her blood sugar, as she was phobic about injecting insulin.

Bikini weightlifter Hollie Smith was 17 when her mum suggested she used her diabetic sister’s blood monitor to assess her blood sugar, after she downed five pints of water in one sitting – insatiable thirst being a sign of the condition.

With sky-high readings, Hollie, 23, of Wimbledon, south west London, a legal PA, was soon confirmed to be type 1 diabetic, like her sister Lucie saying: "I was terrified of needles and was told I’d need insulin injections after food.”

diabetes type 1 weightlifting bikini
Hollie has won Miss Bikini in the Pure Elite fitness competition (Collect/PA Real Life)

She went on: “I’d had a needle phobia since childhood and it was always a joke in my family that it was lucky I wasn't the one with type 1 diabetes, like Lucie, 19, who was diagnosed aged eight.

“Then, of course, in 2011, I was diagnosed, too, and couldn’t face the idea of injecting myself."

Type 1 diabetes is caused because the pancreas does not produce any insulin – a hormone which controls the amount of glucose in the blood.

An autoimmune condition – meaning it causes a sufferer’s immune system to attack healthy body tissue by mistake – it is most commonly controlled by regular insulin injections.

But Hollie, who is single, resorted to substituting some of her insulin injections with punishing workouts in the gym, to regulate her blood sugar.

She said: “I especially did this after eating carbs, which are broken down into glucose quickly and can increase blood sugar levels.”

diabetes type 1 weightlifting bikini
Hollie with her trophies (Collect/PA Real Life)

"I know it was dangerous to hit the gym, rather than using insulin, but that didn’t stop me.

“I'd do two hours of cardio every day instead of taking all my insulin.

“I didn’t do it to consciously lose weight, but, looking back, I do think I might have had some form of diabulimia, where you deliberately give yourself less insulin to lose weight."

diabetes type 1 weightlifting bikini
Hollie with sister Lucie, who is also type 1 diabetic (Collect/PA Real Life)

Despite knowing how untreated type 1 diabetes can cause large amounts of glucose to damage blood vessels, nerves and organs, sometimes resulting in amputation, or diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – when a lack of insulin can result in a coma, Hollie could not overcome her needle phobia.

For almost three years, she juggled sporadic injections with exercise to control her blood sugar – her weight plummeting as a result, with her dropping from a size 10 to a size six, because of the lack of insulin and high blood glucose levels.

She said: "Looking back, I feel embarrassed that I treated my body like that. I would never recommend anyone to live like that, but it was a part of my journey, and being in the gym got me into the competitions."

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Hollie with parents Mark and Debbie (Collect/PA Real Life)

Then, in 2014, while studying law at the University of Reading, in Berkshire, Hollie saw some photos of fitness models on Instagram and felt inspired.

She said: "I thought they just looked amazing and realised how much I would like to look like that, and not like the thin woman I was.

"So, I started weight lifting at the gym – just small weights to start off with – but I began to feel amazing.”

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Hollie at her graduation (Collect/PA Real Life)

She went on: "It was my turning point, with insulin, too, as I realised I had been so stupid not injecting properly before. I realised I would probably kill myself if I didn't look after my diabetes properly. I could lose a limb, develop heart disease or even have a stroke.”

From then onwards, injecting insulin after every meal, Hollie also began measuring her carbohydrates out, to make sure she was managing her blood sugar levels properly.

Following a strict routine, by eating at the same time every day - breakfast at 9am; lunch between 1 and 2pm and dinner at 9pm - she controlled her blood sugar meticulously.

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Hollie now works out regularly (Collect/PA Real Life)

She also trained five times a week – bench pressing at first with 10kg and squatting with 15kg - but raising this to 40kg for bench presses and 100kg for squats.

Hollie explained: "I had to become really obsessive and precise, weighing everything out to make sure my blood sugar levels were just right."

Then, in 2016, she decided to enter the Pure Elite fitness competition in Manchester, competing in the Miss Bikini Babe and Bikini Tall categories.

diabetes type 1 weightlifting bikini
Hollie has type 1 diabetes (Collect/PA Real Life)

"I'd never been really confident about my body, but I really liked how the weight lifting was transforming the way I looked," she said.

"I thought the women who did it looked so amazing. So, I got training in a major way and was managing my diabetes properly, by injecting at least four times a day.

"It was also about proving to other people that having diabetes does not mean you cannot exercise.”

She went on: "People ask me how I do so much exercise because of my condition, or even dare to say, 'Why aren't you fat?' because I now manage my diabetes so well."

After winning the Miss Bikini Babe and Bikini Tall, Hollie had the competition bug.

She continued: "The mix of bodybuilding and beauty pageants makes me feel amazing. I love the feeling of going on stage and feeling empowered. It's about being able to prove to people that despite my diabetes, I have been able to do this. It's taken a lot of work to get where I am, but I am so proud of myself."

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Hollie with friend Charlotte at university (Collect/PA Real Life)

Douglas Twenefour, deputy head of care at Diabetes UK, warned that neglecting to use insulin can be fatal for type 1 diabetics.

He said: "People who have type 1 diabetes rely on insulin to live."If you omit insulin it can be potentially fatal and some people, who were undiagnosed, have died doing that. Managing type 1 diabetes can be a difficult task, but with the right access to education and support many people are able to manage their condition and live a normal life."

MUST Now Hollie, who is setting up a personal training business to coach type 1 diabetics, is supporting patient forum to make sure other people with type 1 diabetes are getting the help they need. To follow her on Instagram visit @hollie_louisee

© Press Association 2018