Derek Theler spent his entire childhood meticulously watching what he ate.
“I couldn’t stay overnight at a friend’s house or have cake or soda or candy at a birthday party,” Theler, 30, says in the current issue of PEOPLE of living with the autoimmune disease that results in high blood-sugar levels and can lead to death if left untreated.
But things got easier for Theler when, at 14, he was fitted with an insulin pump that regulated his blood-glucose levels through a catheter placed under his skin.
“We went straight to IHOP and I had pancakes with real maple syrup and strawberry sauce,” he says of going through a phase of “eating everything in sight.”
But with dietary freedom also came insecurity.
“I was embarrassed for people to see it,” he says of having carry and be connected to the pump 24 hours a day. “It was something strange that they didn’t understand.”
RELATED: We Tried to Have a Serious Conversation with Derek Theler – and Then He Started Stripping
• For more from Derek Theler – including how he booked the role of a lifetime despite a severe hypoglycemic episode that resulted in his “worst audition ever” – pick up the latest issue of people, on newsstands Friday
Those insecurities followed Theler when, after graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in sports medicine and nutrition, he moved to Hollywood with dreams of becoming an action star.
“I ended up connecting my pump to one of my butt cheeks instead of my stomach,” he says of the temporary change he makes when he knows he’ll have to show skin at an audition or on set. “I figured that I’d have to expose that far less than my abs.”
Theler admits his diabetes still sidelines him about once a week. But he says life has gotten a bit easier now that he’s able to have an early response to a drop in his blood-glucose levels thanks to a Dexcom glucose-monitoring system that sends real-time blood data to his phone.
“I would never want this disease to hold me back from living the life I’ve always wanted,” says Theler, who still has hopes of becoming the next Marvel or DC Comics superhero. “And I’m doing my best to make sure it never will.”
The new season of Baby Daddy premieres Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. on Freeform.