Successful, beautiful and with loving friends and family – from the outside Zohra Allana’s life looked perfect.
But the courageous 25-year-old was battling a secret – and deadly – illness .
Heartbreakingly, this was something only she could provide the recovery for and late last year she was given the devastating diagnosis ‘you have to get better or you’ll die’.
Zohra, from Pinner in north west London, was suffering from diabulimia, which is when someone with Type 1 diabetes deliberately doesn’t take their insulin to control their weight.
It took an emergency hospital admission – and medics warning her she was close to death – to save her life.
She is now using her ordeal to raise awareness of the condition and to urge others suffering from the unrecognised medical disorder to seek help as soon as possible.
Zohra said: "I was so emaciated but I still couldn’t see anything was wrong.
"I didn’t want to get treatment, I didn’t want to start taking my insulin again because I knew it would affect my weight.
"I knew what it was doing to me but I didn’t want to stop."
The recruitment consultant wasn’t diagnosed with Type 1 diabates until she was 19 and at university.
Her friends rushed her to hospital when she collapsed outside her flat.
She admits this was an incredibly hard age to be told she had the condition and would have to take regular insulin injections to stay alive and make sure she ate properly.
Zohra said: "I practically screamed the hospital down when I was told. It was completely out of the blue."
Initially, she managed her medication and diet well.
But then Zohra noticed her weight had begun to creep up.
She said: "The weight gain was rapid because of the insulin."
Zohra increased the amount of time she spent in the gym and started cutting carbs from her diet.
But then she realised if she occassionally missed a dose of insulin the weight came off faster.
Zohra said: "I was have regular checks and my doctors just thought I was being ignorant and forgetting to take my insulin.
"They didn’t see the weight gain as an issue and kept telling me I could damage my eyesight along with other health problems."
Chillingly, as a pharmacy student, Zohra was well aware of the very serious damage she could be doing to her body.
She said: "I knew all the consequences but I didn’t realise how my the diabulimia was affecting my mind."
Over the years Zohra was aware she was skipping her insulin injections more and more and losing increasing amounts of weight.
Even on a holiday with friends and her then boyfriend, when the devastating impact of what she was doing had become clear, she refused to seek help.
Zohra said: "I was struggling to breathe or even walk, my friends had to walk so slowly just so I could keep up.
"I was exhausted all the time and by 8pm all I wanted to do was go to bed.
"I was so unhappy but I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t even control my temperature because my glucose levels were so high."
Looking back at photos of the trip Zohra, who has now completely changed careers from pharmacy to recruitment, realises how emaciated she had become.
But even after her return from holiday, she continued not taking her medication and restricting her diet.
Then matters were taken out of her hands and she was admitted to an eating disorder where she was told if she didn’t accept treatment she would die.
Zohra said: "I didn’t want to go into hospital, I was so angry, it was a nightmare to me.
"But that environment knocked some sense into me. At first I just did what they told me because I knew I would never get out if I didn’t comply.
"I thought to myself ‘I can lose the weight when I get out’.
"But then I started feeling so much better and I made the difficult decision to keep going. I’ve never looked back.
"I can finally sleep again and I actually feel hungry for the first time in a long time."
But Zohra wants anyone going through the same ordeal as her to get help as soon as possible.
She said: "I was lucky that it’s caused no long-term health issues but it could have been very different.
"I would tell people never to suffer in silence – tell someone, your parents, your friends, anyone, so you can get the help you need."
While diabulimia is still not recognised as a medical condition, the government as now ploughed £1million into schemes to help people like Zohra.
She was admitted to Kings College Hospital in London and transferred to the South London and Maudsley hospital next door, which is a specialist eating disorder unit.
Consultant at SLaM, Professor Janet Treasure, told the BBC : "We’re seeing more and more of it over time but because there hasn’t been enough of a group power between diabetic and eating disorder clinics we have reached optimal levels of what to do about the illness."
Zohra also welcomed the investment.
She said: "It’s absolutely neccesary. There needs to be far more research around diabulimia.
‘I find it incredible that this hasn’t been done before. This doesn’t just affect women."
What is diabulimia?
- It is an eting disorder where sufferers limit or stop taking their insulin to control their weight.
- Diabulimia is not a recognised medical condition at the moment.
- Serious long-term health problems can be caused by diabulimia.
- These include severe kidney damage, extreme fatigue, nerve damage to hands and feet, heart problems, osteoporosis and death.
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