I had prediabetes but was able to make changes that helped me take control of the situation … I am so proud of Viola addressing this issue and helping others learn.
Prevention.com talked with Viola and allowed her to share her story.
She narrates A Touch of Sugar, a documentary about the type 2 diabetes epidemic.
Viola Davis has a powerful voice that commands a room. When she speaks, you can’t help but listen, and what she says leaves a lasting impression on you. Perhaps that’s why the Academy Award-, Tony-, and Emmy-award winning actress decided to partner with Merck to narrate A Touch of Sugar, a documentary film about the type 2 diabetes epidemic in America, which debuted at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday night.
In Hollywood, there’s no shortage of celebrities that are outspoken about spreading awareness for cancer, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. But rarely does a celebrity come out to de-stigmatize diabetes. The 53-year-old How to Get Away With Murder star has witnessed first-hand how the disease has ravaged families.
“My two sisters have diabetes. My aunt died of diabetes after having her two legs amputated. My paternal grandmother had diabetes. The list goes on and on,” Davis says.
Davis was also recently diagnosed with prediabetes herself. Davis says the aim of the documentary is to inspire others to become advocates for their family and friends and draw national attention to improving access to healthcare and better-quality foods. Because let’s face it—everyone knows someone with diabetes.
“There are 30 million Americans with type 2 diabetes and 84 million with prediabetes. There are 324 million people in this country, so that’s half the population right there,” Davis says. “I think this documentary is really wonderful because it’s confronting the stigma around diabetes, and it’s giving a voice to something that has been voiceless for way too long and that’s why the numbers are too high.”
What is the difference between prediabetes and diabetes?
Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 84 million Americans—that’s more than one out of three adults—have prediabetes. And of those people, 90 percent don’t know they have it.
“I was experiencing absolutely no symptoms,” Davis says. “None whatsoever. I felt totally healthy and able. Listen, I’m a workout fiend. I’m a really strong woman. I went in for a hormone test, and my doctor took an A1C test.”
The A1C test Davis refers to is a blood test that takes the average of your blood sugar levels for the past two to three months and is used to diagnosed type 1 and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. But more specifically, the A1C test measures glycated hemoglobin, aka how much of your red blood cells is coated with sugar. The higher your number, the higher your risk of diabetes. Anything below 5.7 percent is considered a normal A1C level, while anything between 5.7 and 6.4 percent is considered prediabetic. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher indicates that you have diabetes.
“My test was a little high. It was 6.0, and it sort of leveled me because I eat right, I work out, my glucose level has always been good. It’s good now, so I didn’t understand it. My understanding of diabetes was that it was something that you control. If you had it, you did something to not control it. I didn’t think that’s not what could happen until I got it, and then I got it and became someone I stigmatized.”
Since her prediabetes diagnosis, Davis is being more proactive about her health and focusing on what she can do to improve her diet, stick to her exercise routine, and manage stress. Here’s what she had to say.
She’s focused on making better food choices
Davis admits that she hasn’t changed her diet drastically since her diagnosis. “What can I do? Can I not have the orange?,” Davis jokes. “I don’t feel like I load up on sugar or carbs. Even when I’m on the set, I make very healthy choices. But I have a genetic disposition with diabetes, so I have to be more than vigilant. I have to be hyper vigilant,” Davis explains.
For instance, if she’s craving noodles, she’ll go for yam noodles because they’re high in fiber and don’t have refined carbs, which can raise blood sugar levels. When she’s in the mood for pizza, Davis says she’ll use a cauliflower pizza crust, which is also high in fiber and nutrients. Instead of adding sweetener to her coffee or tea, she opts for ground cinnamon to boost the flavor.
“I’ve always understood carb counts and how to measure that. But I also keep in touch with my doctor who can keep me honest because blood doesn’t lie,” Davis says. “But not everyone has contracted this disease from diet. It’s about having a healthcare provider and getting your blood work done to check your A1C and glucose.”
She stays active and is all about building strength
As a self-described workout fiend, Davis likes to stay active. In fact, it’s rare that she’s not moving. “I love being 53, but the body is different at 53, and I’m only saying that because I work out really, really hard—probably harder than a 20-something year old,” Davis says. Davis also likes to lift weights and does many HIIT workouts, using resistance bands and medicine balls. “I do a lot of planks, a lot of step-ups, a lot of medicine ball exercises—like 15- to 20-pound balls. I run. I have a Peloton bike. I have a Boflex machine. What don’t I do?,” Davis laughs.
She keeps stress in check
But Davis understands that turning the intensity down is just as important as turning it up, and that’s why she has also learned how to squeeze in more self-care into her routine.
“I think therapy is a great thing. I forgive myself daily. I try to meditate, but I’m really bad at meditating because I always think I have to think of something,” Davis says. She’s also a fan of using the Zero Gravity Full-Body Kahuna Massage Chair Recliner. “It’s life giving. It’s got 20 different programs. It helps me recover, and it helps me sleep. I also have a weighted blanket that I like to use,” Davis says.
After all, when it comes to managing prediabetes and diabetes, treatment goes beyond diet and exercise, Davis stresses. “I remember someone said this about marriage: You never want to be automatic because then you’re not in it. It’s the same thing with your health. You can never not be in tune with it. You have to be a warrior about your health. You can’t approach it passively. You have to be a warrior with every aspect.”