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.”
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!”