The star of ABC Family’s Baby Daddy opens up about his diabetes, and how he manages his blood sugar and a hectic schedule on the set of his show.
Derek Theler has a great first date line: “I say I’m a superhero.” It has nothing to do with his ripped abs, but rather with the item he keeps clipped to his belt—his insulin pump! It’s how he opens up about having diabetes and how grateful he is to the insulin that’s kept him going since his childhood diagnosis: “I imagined that the insulin I took gave me superpowers,” says Derek, who stars as lovesick pro hockey player Danny Wheeler on ABC Family’s Baby Daddy. Thanks to insulin, “there’s so much you can do—I played sports, just like every other kid.”
And today, it allows him to maintain a rigorous schedule on the set of his hit show, which has a third season on order. Of course, his life isn’t devoid of diabetes-management challenges. There’s the unpredictability of costarring with babies to contend with: “Our shooting schedule is up and down. Whenever the babies are ready to go for a scene, we have to be ready and it gets a little hectic, so I just make sure I regularly check my blood sugar.” Since he studied nutrition in college, he knows to sneak in wholesome foods between takes to help keep his levels stable.
For another, he’s often baring his bod on camera, which presents a unique problem: “I take my pump on and off during the day, since I can’t wear it when my character has his shirt off.”
Luckily, he’s surrounded by cast and crew who have become a tight-knit group of friends. (Derek’s real-life roommate is his TV brother, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, who plays Ben, the series’ namesake.) “On set, it’s good to know people are looking out for me. I’ll turn to a cast mate or a production assistant, and say, ‘I need a soda, now,’ and they know what’s happening and how to respond.”
As for those shirtless scenes, they’ve helped Derek maintain his health, serving as an added incentive to get to the gym three times a week and get plenty of cardio exercise. “I’ve always been diligent about fitness. But people with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease, so I need to give myself a boost.”
He’s also committed to giving a boost to others—by one day playing a character who has diabetes. “I’d like to show the benefits of diagnosis—people can be suffering for months and as soon as they’re diagnosed and begin taking medication, they feel better.”
Beyond that, he sees an opportunity to show that the disease isn’t a limitation. “I live a good life with diabetes—many people do—and having a character portray that would be a dream come true.”
Here’s how you can balance a hectic schedule—and your blood sugar:
Set alarms. It’s important to regularly check your blood sugar throughout the day, no matter how hectic life gets. If you’re worried you’ll become distracted and forget to check, set your phone’s alarm to help get you back on track.
Prepare emergency packs. Put a few glucose tablets or gels—or five or six pieces of hard candy—into baggies. Always carry a few with you when you head out the door, in case hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) strikes.
Grab healthy snacks. ”Snacks that have at least 1 serving of carbs and 1 serving of protein—nuts, whole-grain crackers, cheese—curb hunger and help stabilize blood sugar,” says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE.