Kale and cauliflower don't exactly inspire big laughs – unless you're talking to Sherri Shepherd.
"If you had told me a few years ago that I'd be liking kale, I'd have laughed you out of the room," she said during a recent phone interview, her voice rising with vigor. "Freaking kale? Let's face it, when you break up with someone, you do not want a bowl of asparagus. I've never heard anybody say, 'I'm so depressed, can you give me a plate of asparagus and broccoli?'"
But as she describes in her new book, "Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes (Even if You Don't Have It)," getting acquainted with those veggies became necessary. Shepherd, a comedian and co-host of ABC's "The View," was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2007. The formal diagnosis came after years of ignoring doctors' warnings that she was prediabetic – a wakeup call that led to her current pro-veggie mindset: "The other night, my husband sautéed the kale in olive oil with green, red and yellow peppers," she said. "And it was good! So now I'm a kale addict. I always challenge people to do things that are a little bit different with their veggies."
Shepherd, 46, who's 5 foot 1 and weighs 157 pounds – down from 197 several years ago – originally needed three medications to control her diabetes. Now, she's learned to control her blood sugar with a healthy diet and regular exercise. She spoke with U.S. News about how she reached that point, as well as her advice to others. Her responses have been edited.
You knew you had prediabetes, but for a long time, you weren't worried. Why?
I ignored it for years because mostly everyone in my family had diabetes. My mom passed away from complications at 41. But there wasn't really an urgency to change anything because we called it 'the sugar' – we didn't call it diabetes. And when you have a term called 'the sugar,' it sounds kind of cute. So for years, I ate, because that's what I was taught: If something was going wrong in your life, there was a peach cobbler to fix it. Even when my mom passed away, it didn't stop me from eating. I ate more. And then I started getting these signs, like my feet and toes were numb, I was always going to the bathroom, my vision got blurry and I was really thirsty. But I ignored it. I kept thinking, if I don't talk about it or do anything, then it's going to go away. But it never did.
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Tell me about that 'aha' moment, when you realized you needed to make a change.
When I finally went to the doctor and got the formal diagnosis, they gave me three different medications, and I went home and ate. First I went to IHOP, the pancake house, and had a big stack of pancakes, sausage and bacon. Then I made chicken pesto pasta – a bowl big enough to feed four people. My blood sugar spiked so high that I remember my head was on my chest, and I couldn't even hold it up because I was so tired. I had this vision of my son crying, clutching his teddy bear, trying to figure out where heaven was because that's where everyone said mommy was. That image made me put my head up and say, 'I don't want to do what my mother did to me,' which was leave me at an early age to fend for myself. And I realized, I gotta change my life. Because I don't want my son to be walking down the aisle with his wife one day, with a rose on the chair in honor of his mother.
What's your diet like these days?
I had oatmeal with walnuts and blueberries for breakfast this morning. And for a snack, I had some Greek yogurt with almonds and slices of apples. Now, for lunch, I'm having salmon with corn, mushrooms and tomatoes. I'm going to get a salad in there somewhere too, and another snack. And we'll have leftovers for dinner. My husband, Sal, made me curried cauliflower soup. He threw in a little steak, which was my treat for the week, and made a great kale salad with some feta cheese. People think that when they're prediabetic or diabetic, they're not going to be able to eat anything, but you can eat a lot.
How do you squeeze exercise into your daily routine?
I have to make my house a mini gym. If I'm doing laundry, I do lunges to the laundry room, and if my husband is cooking and I'm just sitting in the kitchen talking, I do push-ups against the counter top. When we go to the park with my son, we do side shuffles, lunges and races, and we climb up the monkey bars. If you look at him, he looks like he's having fun – and mommy looks like she's about to pass out.
I also jump rope. Try it for 60 seconds straight, and you'll feel like your heart is about to come out of your chest. It's a great form of cardio. There's always a jump rope in my suitcase when I travel because it's something you can do anywhere.
And I've learned other ways to incorporate exercise into my life. Like, not everyone can do "Dancing with the Stars," but you can turn on salsa music and dance with your partner, or husband or child. I dance with Sal and pretend he's this hunky Russian man.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck loves exercising, and she told me that it releases endorphins. I thought she said it releases orgasms, so to this day I'm searching. I'm on the dang elliptical searching for that orgasm. It has not happened yet.
What are your parting words of wisdom for others?
If you have diabetes, it's not a death sentence. And if you're prediabetic, don't sit in the dark and try to ignore it. So many people are paralyzed with fear, but knowledge is power. Once you know, then you can take charge and make slight changes to your diet, and add in some exercise. My book is fun because I like to laugh. I don't like a lot of medical jargon. You can laugh at my journey and all the crazy things I do, like going in the garbage and eating food – and I've done that. After I've thrown coffee grinds it, and at 2 a.m., when that Oreo cookie is calling my name. It's OK. You've got to be forgiving. Don't be paralyzed, and you can live an amazing life.