Popular television and movie star Anthony Anderson is on a roll, with a new NBC situation comedy just under way and a host of movie and TV roles. And he's not about to let his type 2 diabetes spoil the success. Anderson has not only learned how to live a healthier life while managing his diabetes, but he is now involved in educating the public about the importance of understanding diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. He recently sat down with NIH MedlinePlus magazine to talk about his diabetes and his goal to help others get educated about the disease—before it's too late.
When were you diagnosed with diabetes?
I was diagnosed 11 years ago, when I was 31. I'd felt very tired for a couple of weeks but thought it was from working too hard —I'd done 14 cities in 16 days. So I took a week to decompress but got extreme "cotton mouth" for three days, alternating with extreme thirst and frequent urination. Then one night I drank five-and-a-half gallons of water in about two hours. I knew something was wrong; I knew about diabetes from my father, who had it. I was immediately diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
What did you do then?
I thought, "How can I turn this thing around?" I wasn't really in denial but wondered how I could I turn this negative into a positive. So I cut stuff out of my diet, got on a regimen. I thought I was doing well because I felt better than before. But that wasn't the case.
Why weren't you doing well with your type 2?
Well, about four years into my type 2, my father died. He had no idea he was diabetic until he was diagnosed in his 50s. He lived another 10 years, but his quality of life was not great. That's when I decided to really change my diet, go on a plant-based diet, and get in the gym and get going!
Did the change in diet and exercise help you?
Oh, yes! Although I was five feet eleven and weighed 269 pounds, I'd lie and tell myself I was "husky." I had two chins and no neck! I lost 45 pounds and have kept it off for the last four years. My goal is 189 pounds.
Have you been on any medications?
Yes, because I hit the trifecta when I was diagnosed: type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Now all three are much better, thanks to my diet, exercise, and the medicines I take.
What are your top tips for living with diabetes?
Diabetes is not a death sentence. The worst thing is to do nothing. First, get out and exercise. You don't have to join a gym. A body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest stays at rest. So start walking—around the yard, then around the block, then the neighborhood. Always try to improve.
Second, start eating healthier. It's taken a lifetime for you to get to this point, and you can't cold turkey out of your diet. Eat fresh vegetables. And don't drown your food in salt and butter.
Third, and most important, cut portions in half. At 269 pounds, I was consuming over 4,600 calories a day. Cutting that in half meant 2,300 calories a day. I had no choice but to lose weight. Take one baby step at a time, too, and try to incorporate new foods into your diet.
What about diabetes and African Americans?
African Americans have a higher percent chance of developing type 2 diabetes than non-African Americans. Hispanic youth are at greater risk, too. But young people, especially teenagers, think they don't have to worry about diabetes. Unfortunately, the people they see on TV speaking out about diabetes are mostly old, so they don't connect. The message doesn't get through.
How are you helping in the fight against diabetes?
I'm part of a national campaign to educate African Americans, especially, and others about how to live with diabetes, not die from it. I give testimonials and speak with groups around the country, sharing my own story. The key is to reach out directly to inner city kids now about diabetes.