Anthony Anderson Finally Gets Real About His Diabetes

The comedian and star of "Black-ish" talks about what it took for him to get serious about his type 2 diabetes diagnosis and what he's doing today to stay healthy.

Anthony AndersonIt's been 18 years since the actor's type 2 diabetes diagnosis but he didn't take it seriously until his dad died from T2D complications about a decade ago.

It happened 18 years ago, but the evening is still very fresh in actor/comedian Anthony Anderson's mind. "I drank 5 gallons of water in the middle of the night," recalls the four-time Emmy nominee, now in his fifth season of the ABC comedy "Black-ish."

He'd been in denial about his constant thirst, but that night the sheer volume of water consumed hit home—he knew he had to take action.

"I went to the doctor the next morning," he says.  Once some tests were done, he thought he was out of there, ready to resume his hectic schedule. "I was burning the candle at both ends," he says, promoting his movie "Kangaroo Jack" and his TV show, "All About the Andersons."

Not so fast, his doctor said. His blood glucose reading was in the low 200's.

"I thought I was going to be put on insulin at that very moment," says Anderson, now 48. Instead, the doctor told him he had type 2 diabetes and prescribed metformin. Once the shock subsided, Anderson says his first question was: "Can I get rid of it?"

No promises, the doctor said, but he encouraged him to lose weight. At the time, he was heavy, he admits, carrying about 265 on his 5-10 frame. "Now, I'm 220," he says.

OnTrack Diabetes spoke to Anderson recently high above Universal City, California, in a suite overlooking Universal Studios. Anderson was on a promotional swing as a paid spokesperson for the  Novo Nordisk "Get Real About Diabetes" campaign. During a wide-ranging conversation, Anderson talked about how he's incorporated diabetes control in his life—with reality and his trademark humor.

So the doctor was happy with that weight loss? Not exactly, he says. "My doctor still wants me to lose like 40 more pounds," he says. "Ok, like 31. He wants me down to 189."

And?

"I said, 'Doc, have you seen my head?''' he said pointing to himself and what he considers an oversized noggin.

Staying Real

The humor—and the desire to keep living the life he loves—helps him get real and stay real about the diagnosis, he says.

He knew of no family history of diabetes when the diagnosis was made back in 2002, at the age of 31. "I was shocked," he says. What about angry?

"Who am I going to get mad at?" he asks, then makes a fist and pumps the air. "Damn you, diabetes!"

While he didn't think he had a family history, his diagnosis set off a ripple effect, he says. His mother and father both found out they had it, too.

"We lost my dad of complications from type 2 diabetes [a pulmonary embolism]," he says sadly. Anderson’s father was only in his 60s when he passed away.

That tragedy was a wakeup call and continues to motivate him to be vigilant about his health, he says. "I don't want to orphan my children or widow my wife. I enjoy my life. I am enjoying the fine young man and young woman my son and daughter have grown to be."

Anderson and his wife, Alvina Stewart, are parents to Nathan and Kyra.

Black-ish & the Sugar Daddy Episode

Beyond spreading the ''Get Real'' message through the pharmaceutical company campaign, the storyline was also incorporated last season in episode 9 of "Black-ish," the comedy about an upper middle-class African-American family—he and his wife—with four kids, trying to balance their success with a need to create and maintain a sense of ethnic identity.

In the show, Anderson's character, Dre, is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He fights the advice about getting control, reflecting some deep-seated mistrust some in the African-American community have about doctors and medications. But next, he has a dream that he died and the kids get a new step-daddy—whom they are excited about. That did it for Dre—he got serious about managing his diabetes.

Staying Real: Anderson's Tips

In real life, there's been no such dream, but Anderson admits it can be tough to stay motivated and do what’s necessary to manage your blood sugars.

He says he also knows that ''If you don't keep your eye on the ball, you lose the game, " he says. "It's about making a conscious decision to live a healthier lifestyle."

He checks in with the doctor every quarter, at a minimum. He's always trying to do better. "Today, I am looking into apps that can help me," he says. In the past, he has used Dexcom devices and is planning to try the new Freestyle Libre sensor.

His advice for others, whether newly diagnosed or long ago? "You want to get someone who specializes in diabetes," he says. Support is crucial, too. "Don't think you can do this on your own. A lot of us say, 'I have diabetes. I will just cut out sugar.'"

Diet: Not enough, as he has learned. Diet is crucial. "I am a vegan at the moment," he says. This time, that began about five weeks earlier. His chef? His wife. His daughter, also a vegan, inspires him. No one suggested that to her, he says, she decided on her own.

They enlist help, relying on meal service companies such as Blue Apron and Purple Carrot, to keep them on the healthy track and reduce effort.

Activity: Exercise is important but not always easy, he says. "It's hard to break old habits," he says. When he lived in New York, cycling was an easy and scenic way to get in a workout.

Now, he has a trainer at the gym—but his schedule is getting in the way of compliance.
In the past, he would rely on his treadmill at home, walking it an hour twice a day. "I did that for a good six months," he says.

Unpredictable Celebrity Schedules: Keeping to the exercise and healthy eating is a bit more difficult, he says, as a celebrity, but not due to the celebrity status. Rather, it's the hours and the unpredictability. His solution: preparation.  "I know I will work 14 or 16 hours today," he says. "I don't know when my breaks are going to be. And I am not able to cook."

So, the solution is to prepare meals the night before, put them in containers, and set alarms. "At 12, I need to eat this," he explains. "At 4, it's time for my big meal.''
Right now, he knows his glucose is a bit elevated. He's working on it.

He's on metformin and insulin. Anything else?

"You're getting a little personal now, right?" he says, laughing. "Let's just talk about the diabetes medicines."

Looking Ahead

He's working on that last 31 pounds, too, he says, despite the big head. This season's "Black-ish" will probably continue a diabetes story line at some point, he says. Meanwhile, his character and he both know staying real is crucial for diabetes. "You either manage it or it's hurting you," he says.

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