Patti Labelle: A New Attitude About Diabetes

Written by Alan Braverman, 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.

Patti LaBelle is the kind of legendary entertainer you don’t just watch on stage. You experience her and her show. It’s impossible not to get emotionally involved in what she says and what she sings about. The reason is quite simple–she’s very passionate about what she does. That passion extends to her daily management of diabetes and, of course, the vocal role she is taking to help educate others about it.

A very public diabetes diagnosis

For LaBelle, her passion about managing diabetes began more than 10 years ago during an open-air performance in New York City.Toward the end of the show, just after singing “Over the Rainbow,” she collapsed onstage, in front of thousands of fans. She was rushed to the hospital and was revived. An hour later, she was informed she had diabetes—her blood glucose was 600 mg/dL.

“I had no clue that I had diabetes,” LaBelle explained. “I’m one of those black women who just doesn’t go to see doctors. Had I not passed out, I would have never suspected that I had diabetes.”

But, in truth, LaBelle was no stranger to diabetes. She had watched her mother die from diabetes-related complications at the age of 58. So, LaBelle knew that she had to stop everything and take an active role in managing her condition.

Luckily for her, weight has never been a problem. “I’m 60 and menopausal,” LaBelle offered, “and every day I thank the Good Lord that on top of everything else, I don’t have to battle with the scale!” Going up and down by about five pounds has always been a regular occurrence in her life. And thanks to her 20 dogs, she’s always walked regularly.

So LaBelle turned her attention to her diet. Having already published a cookbook called LaBelle Cuisine (which, she will tell you, “will kill you”), she came up with Patti LaBelle’s Lite Cuisine: Over 100 Dishes With To-Die-For Taste Made With To-Live-For Recipes. But she didn’t do it on her own. A few of her famous friends contributed, including Luther Vandross (she really loves his “Luther Soup”) and Halle Berry, both of whom manage diabetes on a daily basis. Patti is quick to add that “Halle’s great, but she can’t cook. So she gave me a fruit salad.”

Day-to-day living

LaBelle sees her diagnosis as a “blessing from God,” a wake-up call of sorts, to take better care of herself. “I realized I had to embrace my diabetes right away and not ignore it. Diabetes doesn’t scare me because as long as I control it and it doesn’t control me, I can live a normal life. And I plan to live at least another 60 years!”

LaBelle is the first to admit that not everything is perfect in her life with diabetes. Her eyesight is getting “really bad” and her feet swell sometimes. But the key to her new life is a “new attitude” about how she lives it. She checks her blood glucose four times every day (she paused during our interview to do so—it was 134 mg/dL) and takes insulin four times every day. To keep herself stable, she also takes two diabetes medicines.

She eats well, treats herself well and even gives in to her sweet tooth on occasion. To help curb those cravings, LaBelle favors Glucerna drinks and bars. For exercise, she swims in addition to walking her dogs. And her biggest workout comes when she’s onstage.

Motivating & inspiring

She also uses her time on-stage to reach the public with her diabetes message. At her concerts, the entertainer openly advises that people go to their doctors to have their blood glucose checked, since early diagnosis and treatment can lower your chances of developing complications.

Long inspiring listeners with her 1985 chart-topper “New Attitude” and with her current hit “New Day,” LaBelle embraces a take-charge approach to her healthy lifestyle, as well with the publication of her books. In addition to her cookbooks, she has written two successful motivational books.

“With my childhood emotional scars and having faced many issues of self-esteem, I wanted to reach out and help others.” And she has, thanks to her books Don’t Block the Blessings:Revelations of a Lifetime, and Patti’s Pearls: Lessons in Living Genuinely, Joyously, Generously.When asked what’s next in terms of publishing, she suggests a children’s book, perhaps.

In the midst of making Grammy-winning music that started in the early 1960s with the quartet Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, through the 1970s with the futuristic trio LaBelle and currently with her latest solo album—the critically acclaimed Timeless Journey—LaBelle finds time to work on behalf of the American Diabetes Association. She also works with other organizations that focus on cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and AIDS.

A nationwide contest was held recently to find real-life success stories of people achieving diabetes freedom. People with diabetes were invited to answer the question, “What does diabetes freedom mean to you?” The grand prize winner was invited to see music legend Patti LaBelle in concert, with backstage access. In addition, the grand prize winner and four first prize winners were the guests of honor at Diabetes Freedom Day this past Oct. 28 in Philadelphia.

The bottom line

Patti LaBelle can’t stress enough how important she thinks it is for everyone to see their healthcare providers often.

“Get check-ups regularly,” she advised, “and you might find out a lot about yourself. If you have diabetes, know that you can lead a normal lifestyle, as long as you eat properly and exercise and do everything the doctor says.”

She admits that sometimes it’s hard for her to follow orders to the letter because she’s on the road so much and has such a hectic schedule. But, she cautioned, “Take every opportunity you can to listen to what your doctor says. He or she is telling you what to do so you can become healthy, so do it!”

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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.

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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.

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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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