Sherri Shepherd on putting down the pina colada, losing weight and fighting pre-diabetes
Life hasn’t always been full of laughs for comedian Sherri Shepherd. After spending years battling excess weight and ignoring the warning signs of pre-diabetes (tingling in the arms and toes, blurry vision), the actress and co-host of The View was eventually diagnosed with type 2 diabetes—a day she refers to as D Day. While she struggled with coming to terms with her new reality, it was the fear of leaving her son, Jeffrey, without a mother (her own mother died of the disease) that gave Shepherd the determination she needed to put down the macaroni and cheese and start a new life path.
In her new book, Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes (Even If You Don’t Have It), Shepherd writes, “This plan is part of the promise I made to myself to see that boy grow into manhood.” “Whereupon I can harass him about his girlfriends, his wardrobe, his housekeeping habits, and whatever else gets into my elderly mind.”
Shepherd spent some time with iVillage to discuss the ups and downs of her journey, what she misses the most about her old lifestyle, the Twitter handle she should give herself, and the day she told America she wasn’t sure if the world was round or flat.
iVillage: Was there a part of you that felt your weight was connected to your success as a comedic actress?
Sherri Shepherd: Absolutely. I think people tend to look at people who are plus size or overweight as more funny, more jolly. Also, I don’t think a lot of women are threatened by women who are bigger, which allows us to come in with our guard down and make you laugh. And that has always worked for me, along with being a black woman who is sassy. When you use the word “sassy,” you tend to think of black women who are plus size. You don’t use the word sassy to describe Halle Berry, but you will use the word sassy to describe Mo’Nique, Niecy Nash or Sherri Shepherd. So I think, at the time, I felt the un-funniest when I lost a lot of weight when I tried to get pregnant. Do you want to know why I didn’t feel funny? Because I was too busy trying to be cute as a size 4! It’s all in the mind, so it was a big adjustment for me to get back to my funny.
iVillage: People with weight issues—especially people in the public eye—tend to be ridiculed. Was there ever a time when someone made a nasty comment about your weight that really got under your skin?
SS: I get nasty comments all the time on the Internet, which is why I don’t read the blogs. I feel that it’s easy for people to sit on their couch or in front of their keyboards and criticize. If I say something on Twitter or on The View that people don’t like, I usually get Tweets that start with the words, “You fat bitch!” It happens on a regular basis. My Twitter handle should be @YouFatBitch! I laugh because the way I see it, I don’t know you and with just 140 characters, I know even less of you. But the one comment that did affect me was back in 1995, when I was doing standup comedy. I had a manager from New York who said to me, “You’re going to have to lose weight because you will never play anything more than the girl next door.” That statement affected me for a very long time, but it also drove me to prove her wrong. And the first day that I played Tracy Morgan’s wife on 30 Rock, I cried. When I created my own show on Lifetime, Sherri, I cried. My character had not only a husband, but a boyfriend and I played a leading actress in my own show. So it’s always that tape in my head that I’m still trying to erase.
iVillage: Did any of your friendships/relationships change after you lost the 40 pounds?
SS: For the most part, I still have the same friends I started with in this business, along with the girls who were legal secretaries with me back in the day. We share with each other, and they understand if I’m not always available. We’re all just real women with real problems. I am so very thankful for all of them.
iVillage: In your book, you talk about learning to forgive yourself for the lifestyle mistakes that are bound to happen (i.e. skipping the gym, eating fast food). Since you've established Plan D, what has been your biggest mistake?
SS: I don’t drink anymore because I like the sugary, sweet drinks—the pina coladas, the margaritas—which make the blood sugar levels spike. I’ve read that vodka and beer will raise the blood sugar slowly. However, vodka and beer taste like pee! I’ve never tasted pee, but if I did, I assume it would taste like beer and vodka.
I went to Costa Rica with these secretary girlfriends, my “trouble girls,” and they were drinking pina coladas. I felt so left out, and I said “F” this, I’m going to have a pina colada! After two drinks, I thought I had to be taken to the emergency room. The next day I was sick because my body cannot process all that sugar.
We are not perfect, life is not perfect. Women, especially, set themselves up to this standard of perfection. Then, when we don’t meet it, we’ll spend so much time beating ourselves up instead of patting ourselves on the back for the things we do. It’s time to change that paradigm. If you were to call your best friend and say, “I tried this diet, but I ate a cheesecake and I can’t do it anymore.” She would say to you, “Amy, stop it!” and she’d list everything good that you’ve done to lift you back up. We need to be that friend to ourselves. I think this attitude has served me well in this journey. Another day means another chance.
iVillage: Do you fear a weight relapse? Over the years, we’ve watched a number of celebrities, like Oprah, who made the connection and then lost it.
SS: I think until the day I leave this earth, I will struggle with my weight. Life is all about readjustment. As long as I can readjust, I’m good.
There was a time when I stopped regularly checking my blood sugar because I deluded myself into thinking that I know how food affects my body. Bad food starting creeping in and I was sleepy all the time, sluggish, feeling like I was operating in a fog and getting into arguments with my husband. He finally said to me, “Sherri, the way you are eating affects everyone in the family. We’re getting the second best—we don’t get the best part of you.” I realized that I couldn’t do this to myself again. I couldn’t listen to the old tape playing in my mind. I know what feeling great feels like and I really hang onto that feeling. My mental clarity is there, I’m energetic and alert.
Let me tell you, when I made my first big blunder when I said I didn’t know if the earth was round or flat—that’s when I was first diagnosed with diabetes. I had no idea how to eat, I wasn’t taking my medication properly, so sitting at that table I wasn’t even alert. I’m not blaming it on the diabetes; I’m saying that my mental focus was not there. When the ladies were talking to me, I was zoned out and literally thinking, “Geez, did I pay the cable bill? I think they’re going to turn it off!” While The View is not a physically demanding job, it’s a mentally demanding job. If I’m not together mentally, it’s hard to participate, especially when people get passionate about stuff!
iVillage: What do you miss most about your old lifestyle?
SS: I miss eating pancakes with syrup. I miss drinking, like I said. And sometimes, I miss being numb. In no way am I comparing food to drugs, but when you eat the wrong foods, it numbs you. It makes your blood sugar go crazy. When you’re numb, you don’t have to feel. I’ve always been an emotional eater. The way I was raised, if I was going through anything, my grandmother made a peach cobbler.
Now, I can’t turn to food when I have to deal with issues—because broccoli doesn’t do it. I say this in my standup routine: I’ve never heard anyone say, “He broke my heart—I need a plate of steamed broccoli!” Eating right makes you feel better, but you will go through every emotion raw. When I was first living healthier and I’d be dealing with something painful, I’d be on the floor, moaning and crying. If you walked by my apartment, you’d think someone shot a bear in the ass!
iVillage: Do you find yourself lecturing, or maybe gently nudging, friends and loved ones to get healthy now that you've seen the light?
SS: Yes, but I found it doesn’t work! It makes people very angry. I have found that people need to have their own a-ha moment. Sometimes the best things are the things unsaid. Instead of what you say, live your life in a certain way and inspire people. Everyone in my family is diabetic, and I know when I say to them, “Oh my gosh, put that Mountain Dew down,” that statement does nothing. But when they see me make the choices between a peach cobbler and a lower calorie dessert with less sugar, and they see me feeling good, that does more than thumping them on the head with my diabetic beliefs.
iVillage: Do strangers treat you differently now that you're thinner?
SS: It’s the way you carry yourself. I think you can be skinny and walk with slumped shoulders and have a neon sign over your head that says, “I have self-esteem issues. Come here and take advantage of me.” You can be that way if you’re overweight or a size 2. It’s all about the way you feel about yourself inside.
I have girlfriends, believe me, who are as big as a house, and they get the men! When my girls walk in a room, they’re two tons of fun! They’ll say, “I can get any man I want!” They have a great sense of humor and they have a little swing in their step. They may not be able to cross their legs, but they’ll say, ‘Look at this thigh!’ They know they have to change the way they eat, but they feel good on the inside.
Back to your question, now people come up to me and say, “I can’t believe how little you are in person!’ It happens so much, I’ll think to myself, “What the hell do I look like on TV?”
iVillage: What would your response be to someone who might say, "It's easy for someone like Sherri Shepherd to lose weight—she can hire a trainer and a chef!"
SS: If you only knew what was going on behind this smile! There are comments about my weight and my body shape every day. It’s a lot harder being in the public eye and there’s a lot more pressure. Yes, I have the money to hire people, but just because someone has the money doesn’t mean they are going to make the changes. I don’t care if you’re rich or you’re poor, it’s all the same—it’s about making a commitment. Let me tell you, I’m the queen of excuses. At one time, I had a trainer. Ask that trainer how many times I’d say my ankle was hurting or I fell going up the stairs. All that happened is that person got paid! So if you don’t make the commitment, nothing is going change.
iVillage: One of my favorite quotes from your book is, "I'd barely be done with breakfast before I was fantasizing about lunch." Now that your lifestyle has changed, what are you fantasizing about today?
SS: I’m fantasizing about what I’m able to do with all of this energy and the dreams I want to become a reality. I’m focusing on things that are scaring me. I’ll think, “If you can beat diabetes and get healthy, then what’s stopping you from pitching a show and producing it?” That’s the kind of stuff I look forward to—what is something big I can conquer? I’m fantasizing about the memories I can create for myself.
Amy Capetta is a contributing writer at iVillage.com. You can follow her on Twitter @amycapetta.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.