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11 Celebrities With Type 2 Diabetes—Plus Their Tips for Staying Healthy

If you have type 2 diabetes, the last thing you should feel is alone. Over 37 million Americans have diabetes, and around 90 to 95% of those cases are type 2 diabetes (1). There are millions of people from all walks of life who are on this diabetes journey with you—and many of them are celebrities! Plenty of superstars live with type 2 diabetes, but that doesn’t stop them from going after their dreams.

A type 2 diabetes diagnosis is just one small part of you—and it won’t get in the way of living your biggest, boldest life. Just ask these stars…

1. Chaka Khan

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 27, 2011. Singer Chaka Khan, during her show at the Back2Black Festival, at Leopoldina Station, in the city of Rio de Janeiro

The talented diva behind hits like “I’m Every Woman,” “Ain’t Nobody,” and “I Feel For You” was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2011. Around the same time, Khan took custody of her young granddaughter. She was overweight and had high blood pressure, but she knew she wanted to become as healthy as possible. “I have a new little daughter to raise [my granddaughter], I adopted her so I have to be here. ... [She] was really my first and major influence to lose weight and get healthy so I can be here for her,” Khan told the Huffington Post.

Khan got her type 2 diabetes under control with a 60-pound weight loss. One thing she attributes to her weight loss: getting plenty of protein. (This can help lower blood sugar and is linked to benefits for people with type 2 diabetes!) (2, 3). “In the morning I’d have a high protein smoothie and in the afternoon I’d have a vegetable smoothie and in the evening I’d have another protein smoothie,” she shared with the San Francisco Chronicle.

2. Delta Burke

LOS ANGELES - SEP 10: Delta Burke at the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards - Arrivals at the Microsoft Theater on September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, CA

Beauty queen and Designing Women star Delta Burke has a family history of type 2 diabetes. While first learning to manage her diagnosis, Burke was helping her mother manage her cancer treatment, so she was under a lot of stress. She started taking diabetes medication right away, but it took her some time to have the energy to prioritize healthier eating.

Burke started out with a self-loathing attitude, but she soon realized that eating better was much easier when she was kind to herself. "I was telling myself that I was a bad person because I couldn't lose the weight fast enough," she told EatingWell. "I decided to stop beating myself up and started to give myself credit for maintaining weight."

In interviews, Burke has urged diabetes patients to be sure their doctor is someone they can trust, and someone who will take the time to really explain their health to them. Burke is right: one study found that patients with diabetes have a 50% lower chance of death over the next ten years if they have an empathetic doctor (4).

3. Gabourey Sidibe

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 6, 2015: Gabourey Sidibe at the premiere of Fox's new TV series

When the Precious star was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she underwent drastic weight loss to help manage her symptoms and risks. Sidibe and her doctors decided that laparoscopic bariatric surgery was the best move for her. “I truly didn’t want to worry about all the effects that go along with diabetes," Sidibe told People of her decision. "I genuinely [would] worry all the time about losing my toes.”

While losing weight through diet and exercise alone is a good option for some people with type 2 diabetes, others find amazing success through laparoscopic weight loss surgery (5, 6). Losing toes sounds like a scary possibility, but it doesn’t have to be: exercise and a healthy diet are simple ways to avoid these outcomes (7).

Today, Sidibe follows a healthy meal plan and eats about five times per day. “I cook a lot more,” she told People. “I talk to my nutritionist a lot. I just had an appointment with her on my laptop two days ago. We keep in touch. I tell her all the things I worry about. I have all these apps to help me keep a food diary.” Sidibe also exercises with her trainer three to four days per week and loves going swimming for an extra workout.

4. Tom Hanks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18, 2017: Tom Hanks at the 2017 People's Choice Awards at The Microsoft Theatre, L.A. Live, Los Angeles

Tom Hanks experienced high blood sugar for years before he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In 2013 the affable actor told David Letterman, “I went to the doctor, and he said, ‘You know those high blood sugar numbers you’ve been dealing with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated! You’ve got type 2 diabetes, young man.”

Since then, Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, have shifted their habits. “We’ve really cut back a lot on sugar, and we find time in every day to exercise,” Wilson shared with People. “We actually walk and hike together.” Regular exercise, including walking, is a fantastic way to help manage your diabetes (8).

NativeTip: Make your walk even more fulfilling by inviting one of your friends to tag along! If this isn’t an option, give a loved one a call—this is an easy way to nurture your relationships AND get some exercise.

NativeTip: Make your walk even more fulfilling by inviting one of your friends to tag along! If this isn’t an option, give a loved one a call—this is an easy way to nurture your relationships AND get some exercise.

5. Sherri Shepherd

New York, NY - February 7, 2019: Sherri Shepherd wearing dress by Jay Godfrey walks runway for Red Dress Collection 2019 Go Red for Women at Hammerstein ballroom

Comedian and Less Than Perfect actress Sherri Shepherd was no stranger to diabetes when she was diagnosed. Her mom died from complications of type 2 diabetes, and both of her sisters have the condition. When Shepherd received her own diagnosis in 2007, she struggled to process the news.

After some time in a bit of denial, Shepherd realized she wanted to be as healthy as possible so she could be a present parent to her son. "I was going through a nasty divorce at the time, and I thought, I'll be damned if my husband's girlfriend is going to raise my son,” Shepherd told USA Today. She shared that her friend, Oscar-winning actress Mo’Nique, told her, "We keep saying we would die for the people we love. Are you willing to live for the people you love?"

Once she processed her diagnosis, Shepherd began a total overhaul of her eating habits. "I learned how to eat. I learned how to get rid of the white foods,” she told USA Today. “The pasta, pancakes, cereal, anything loaded with sugar." These types of carbs can cause blood sugar spikes, so Shepherd is wise to be cautious around them (9, 10).

Shepherd got into the habit of reading food labels, eating more veggies, and opting for grilled protein instead of fried. She dove into a regular fitness habit and found ways to fit exercise into her everyday life. Today, she’s healthier than ever!

6. S. Epatha Merkerson

S. Epatha Merkerson attends opening night of revival of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson at Ethel Barrymore Theatre on October 13, 2022

Vibrant Chicago Med and Law & Order star S. Epatha Merkerson discovered her type 2 diabetes when she had her blood sugar tested as part of a health publicity event. After the test, the doctor pulled her to the side. “I thought he wanted a photo or autograph,” Merkerson told Everyday Health. “Instead, he told me that my blood sugar was high, and I should go get checked out by my doctor.”

Merkerson’s family has a history of type 2 diabetes, but the condition was never really discussed among them. So the actress didn’t recognize when she started experiencing signs of the disease herself. “I could remember being really, really thirsty,” she explained to Everyday Health. “I was dealing with frequent urination, feeling fatigued even though I was getting enough sleep, and hungry when I knew I had eaten recently.”

After her diagnosis, she set out to build healthy habits. “You can’t run away from it, you have to make changes,” she told Everyday Health. “I knew it was time to take this seriously.” She made a point to learn more about the condition and found an exercise routine that she loved: walking.

Merkerson also made changes to how she eats. She approaches sugary food in moderation, and makes sure to eat a healthy breakfast every day—a great way to help lower your blood sugar and keep weight at a healthy level (11).

7. Billie Jean King

New York, NY USA - August 28, 2017: Billie Jean King speaks during the Opening Night Ceremony of 2017 US Open Championships at Billie Jean King Tennis center

Tennis legend Billie Jean King was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2014. She has a family history of the condition, and has seen many friends in the tennis world experience it. By the time it happened to King, she “felt well-prepared,” she wrote in the Huffington Post. “My blood sugar started to get elevated and I tracked it with my doctor and I knew I had to make some changes in my life.” She created a focused plan, lost 35 pounds, started exercising more often, and changed the way she thought about food.

"Anyone can develop diabetes, even an athlete," she once said. In addition to her family history, King told Health that she has also struggled with eating disorders in the past, which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes (12). "I was a binge eater,” she said. “I don't binge eat anymore, but for about 10 years, I was being very cruel to my poor little pancreas.”

Today, King attributes tennis as one of her tools for staying healthy. "Tennis is so good for diabetes," she told Health. "We've had several examples of professional tennis players with diabetes. Billy Talbert lived into his 80s. Ham Richardson lived into his 70s. They lived much longer than the normal lifespan for diabetics, I think, because of the tennis and taking good care of themselves.” Research has found that tennis is a great pastime for reducing blood sugar, and as the experts at Mount Sinai point out, the sport has perfect built-in breaks to check your blood sugar level (13, 14).

8. George Lucas

George Lucas at the 2009 Governors Awards presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland Center, Hollywood, CA. 11-14-09

The blockbuster creator of Star Wars found out he had type 2 diabetes at a young age. According to Diabetes UK, Lucas was drafted for the Vietnam War at 23 years old, only to discover his diagnosis during his military physical. Doctors told him he couldn’t go to war after all. Lucas’ grandfather reportedly also had the condition, which may have increased his risk of developing it (15).

After decades of successfully managing his condition—and creating world-changing cinema along the way—Lucas definitely seems to know a thing or two about thriving with a chronic illness!

9. Patti LaBelle

NEW YORK-JUNE 8: Singer Patti LaBelle attends American Theatre Wing's 68th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 8, 2014 in New York City.

World-famous singer Patti LaBelle was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1994 when she collapsed on stage during a performance. LaBelle has a family history of the condition. When she received her diagnosis, “at first, I was angry, and I was terrified,” she told USA Today.

Today, LaBelle seamlessly manages her condition, but she struggled with facing her health when she was younger. Before she was 50, she often avoided regular check-ups. “I never saw doctors,” LaBelle told Prevention. “I was afraid of what they might tell me,” she told Prevention. Now, she’s the opposite and closely monitors her health. “I tell my friends, ‘Go check yourself before you wreck yourself.’ It’s important for us to know what’s in our bodies and how long we might be able to stay on this planet,” she shared with Prevention.

LaBelle is right: general health checks are associated with greater recognition and treatment of chronic illnesses. Regular check-ups can also help you better manage your risk factors and preventive care (16). The singer regularly exercises by walking her dog, dancing, and leaning into other activities she loves. She’s also radically changed her relationship with food and has gotten into thoughtful cooking, which can help manage diabetes (17).

“If I get my sugar below 100, I’ll have a bite of cheesecake or sweet potato pie—maybe two bites, maybe three,” she told Prevention. “But I don’t go over my limit. And I cook for myself on the road. I take my pots and pans. I make sure my body is taking in better foods, and I’m not trusting room service and restaurants.”

10. Randy Jackson

LOS ANGELES - FEB 20: Randy Jackson arrives to the American Idol Top 13 Finalists on February 20, 2014 in West Hollywood, CA

Legendary musician, American Idol judge, and Name That Tune star Randy Jackson shifted his approach to food after his type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Jackson told Tiffany Haddish on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that he had to trim his previous emotional eating habits to get his weight down. “I had a food divorce is what I usually say”, he explained. “I had to let it all go and start over.” Now Jackson eats lots of vegetables, fruits, and other healthy whole foods, a great way to boost glycemic control (18). Jackson also walks regularly and has fallen in love with yoga, which has been found to be a great way to potentially manage type 2 diabetes (19).

11. Lea DeLaria

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20, 2015: Lea DeLaria at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theatre LA Live.

When Orange Is The New Black star Lea DeLaria first developed symptoms of type 2 diabetes, she confused them for symptoms of menopause. “I just thought I was doing the menopause thing, but it lasted for almost a decade,” she told Yahoo Life.

DeLaria shared with SELF that she spent about ten years unable to afford doctor visits. When she was finally in a position to afford health care—thanks to Orange Is The New Black—DeLaria went in for a check-up. She found out she had type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

DeLaria knew that certain habits needed to change. “I’m in show business and have been my entire life, so I’m used to a certain lifestyle of partying, staying up late, hanging out, sleeping during the day—all that stuff,” she told Health Insight. “Once I was diagnosed with diabetes, I knew I had to make a change in my diet, my drinking habits, and my exercise regime. It really made a huge difference. But as a result, I lost 50 pounds, which is great for one’s health.”

Weight loss (if you are overweight) is a well-known boost in managing type 2 diabetes, but fewer people are aware that heavy drinking can cause diabetes-related complications and can make blood sugar control more difficult (20, 21).

“If I go to a restaurant and everyone gets a cocktail before the meal, I think, ‘What am I going to have with my meal, am I going to have a cocktail?’ and decide to just have a club soda with lime,” DeLaria explained to Health Insight. “Previously, it would have been automatic for me to order a drink before dinner when I’m out with friends.”

The Bottom Line

A type 2 diabetes diagnosis can be life-altering, but it doesn’t have to be in a bad way. This condition doesn’t have to stop you from living your healthiest, happiest, fullest life out loud. Lea DeLaria said it best: “You can do this. You can be healthier and happier. It’s not as hard as you think—you’re stronger than the disease.”

As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.

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Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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