Della Reese: Staying Strong with Diabetes

Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD

Editor’s Note:  This article came out in one of the previous issues of our magazines and the information has not been updated.

Like most people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Della Reese was caught off-guard. It was at a taping of her critically acclaimed television series ,”Touched by an Angel,” that Della first had any idea that something was wrong. After collapsing on the set with a terrible headache, the music and TV star was rushed to the hospital, where she learned that she shared a disease with 18.2 million other Americans.

A long and storied career

Della began singing in church in her hometown of Detroit when she was six years old. Her vocal ability quickly attracted the attention of gospel great Mahalia Jackson, who hired Della as a back-up singer. This early introduction to the world of gospel entertainment set the stage for Della’s own music legacy that has now spanned five decades and includes multiple Grammy Award nominations. In addition to her acting and singing achievements, Della is an ordained minister with an active congregation in Los Angeles, where she works to inspire young people to pursue their dreams.

African-American and Hispanic-American risk factors

It turns out that, in addition to having an impressive resume, Della is part of a segment of the population most at risk for diabetes. While family history, obesity and inactivity all can play a role in the onset of diabetes, certain ethnic groups are at increased risk for the disease. More than 5 million African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in the United States today live with diabetes. These groups are almost twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the rest of the population.

At the same time, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are at especially high-risk for developing insulin resistance—a condition where the body fails to respond properly to [glossary slug=’insulin’/], a hormone that is produced in the pancreas.

In addition, African and Hispanic-Americans experience higher rates of many diabetes-related complications, including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and even amputation. Death rates are higher for African-Americans with diabetes than for other ethnic groups.


“When I found out I had diabetes, I was upset because I knew nothing about the condition and had nothing to fight it with. So I sought out as much information and support as I could,” the entertainer explained. “I talked to my doctor about an aggressive diabetes management plan that includes eating right and staying active. In my case, medication was necessary, as well.”

For Della, dealing with the disease and managing it has meant not only taking in as much information about it as possible, but also tackling on diabetes head-on with an aggressive diet, exercise, and medication plan. “With diet, exercise and medication, I took control of my diabetes,” she explained. “I lost 20 pounds and lowered my blood sugar from between 275 and 300 to between 67 and 110.”She was so thrilled with her results that Della has agreed to team up with the maker of Avandia to launch a nationwide campaign designed to help those with type 2 diabetes actively manage the disease and prevent potential complications. Through the campaign, “Della Reese: Stronger than Diabetes,” the star offers practical advice on living with the disease day-to-day. The foundation of the campaign is a three-pronged approach to diabetes management:

1. Take control and get informed. Find out as much as possible about the disease through research and talking with others.

2. Create a plan. Take what you have learned—and will continue to learn—and formulate the best plan for you. Your plan may include:
a. A proper diet
b. Physical activity
c. Monitoring of numbers (glucose, blood pressure, and [glossary slug=’cholesterol’/])

3. Stick with it.


Today, Della is enjoying the fruits of her labor. With some simple modifications to her daily routine, including closely monitoring [glossary slug=’blood glucose level’/], staying active, taking medicine and talking with her healthcare team about strategies for managing the disease, Della is in firm control of her diabetes.

“When I toured as a singer, I doubt if I ever ate correctly,” she relayed. “I traveled all over the world, but when the job was over, room service was a marvelous haven. I wasn’t always hungry when I ate, but it was something to do. If I was angry, if I was happy, if I was bored, I would eat. I came to realize I was using food as a crutch. Now that I understand the role proper nutrition plays in diabetes management, I’ve made some simple adjustments.”

At the same time, Della focuses on staying active. For her, a stationary bicycle with movable handlebars does the trick. And, she is an enthusiastic consumer of information, reading everything possible to help her learn more about the disease and how best to manage it. For Della, that’s the key: “When you have information, you don’t feel like a victim.”

Walgreens Diabetes & You, which is published quarterly, is a magazine that Della calls, “A great information resource for people with diabetes, with many practical tips for staying healthy on a day-to-day basis.”

Della also has created her own diabetes management team—a step she feels is too important to overlook. “Get a little help from your friends, family, and diabetes organizations. When you need encouragement, inspiration, or simply a pat on the back, go ahead and ask. They’ll be happy to help.” Della has also published an inspirational booklet. For more information, visit or call (866) 463-6342. So, take a page from Della’s book. Learn as much as you can about diabetes. Develop a plan to manage it—and then stick with it. Put together a healthcare team, including your Costco pharmacist, and make the commitment to take control!


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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

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