Laughter is often referred to as the best medicine. The multi-talented comedian Sherri Shepherd openly shares her battle with Type 2 diabetes and her journey of self-transformation, resilience and appreciation for her “imperfectly perfect” life.

Finding her calling

Shepherd grew up in Chicago, Illinois, the eldest of three daughters. She was surrounded by many members of her extended family who shared a love of food and faith and were full of creative spirit. “We always got together after church. All the women in my family cooked this big huge meal on Sunday, and we frequently had family reunions,” says Shepherd. “I have very good memories of getting together.”

During their Sunday gatherings, the family held variety shows in which the children participated and Shepherd’s job was to make people laugh. “I loved standing in the living room with a microphone in my hand,” she recalls.

Shepherd says there are a lot of creative people in her family, so the fact that she went into the creative space wasn’t surprising to them. Before finding acclaim as a comedian, Shepherd worked for several years as a legal secretary.

“I was always making people at my law firm laugh — that’s probably why I didn’t get fired, because I was so funny,” she shares. “Because I sure wasn’t on time — I was always late!”

One evening after work Shepherd suggested that she and her co-workers attend a comedy club. It was there that, as she puts it, her purpose found her. Inspired by that evening, Shepherd began her career as a comedian, going on the road showcasing her talent in different cities. Acting came as a natural progression and she decided to take acting classes. Her comedic talents and personal drive have afforded her recognition as an Emmy®-winning TV host, actress and author of multiple books.

A change for the better

For years, Shepherd ignored doctors’ warnings that she was borderline or prediabetic as she busily worked through her life. She considered it somewhat normal since diabetes was a disease that ran in her family. “Oh my gosh, I was in so much denial. I would ask ‘Do I have diabetes?’ and they’d say, ‘No, but…’ and I’d say ‘If I don’t have it — I don’t have it’ and would still eat the same way I normally ate.”

But eventually she was diagnosed with full-blown diabetes. Her doctor advised her that unless she made some healthier choices, she risked damaging her body to the point where she wouldn’t be able to wear her high heels. “Anyone who knows me knows that I have a closet just for my shoes — I have over 100 pairs of high heels! That scared me really badly.”

Even that wasn’t enough for her to make immediate changes. She walked out of the doctor’s office that day with three prescriptions — one for high cholesterol, one for high blood pressure and one for diabetes — and immediately went and ate a huge, sugar-laden meal. Her blood sugar was off the charts.

Her diagnosis was “numbing,” Shepherd says. “My mom had passed away from diabetic complications when she was just 41 years of age, and I didn’t want to face it,” so she continued to eat the same way to cope with the stress. “I was going through a lot, and I just wanted to check out.”

It wasn’t until she had a dream one night that she realized she needed to make changes to be there for her son, Jeffrey.

“He was holding a teddy bear, lying in bed in the dark, and he was crying because he kept trying to figure out where heaven was because that’s where everyone said Mommy was,” she recalls. “At that point my head just snapped up, and I came out of this stupor and I said, ‘I need to be there for my son.’”

Inspired by her love for her son, she took back control of her health and reformed her relationship with food. She began first by reshaping her diet.

“Everything white was gone — the flour, the bread, the pasta, the cereal, pancakes,” she says. “And I cut out sugary drinks, and I really started looking at labels, looking at carbohydrates and looking at the sugar content.”

The disease ended up being a blessing in disguise for her as it finally forced her to be responsible for her food choices. “Diabetes made me keep track of what was going in my mouth,” she says.

After losing 40 pounds Shepherd has maintained her physique by being honest with herself. When the bread basket is delivered to the table she kindly asks a waiter to take it away. “I can’t just sit there and say I’m going to ignore it,” she admits.

“I love to see myself as always being healthy and loving life, because life makes me smile. I always want to have that smile, because I love life.”

“I always load up on veggies on my plate. I make sure that I really incorporate grilled food.” Shepherd loves catfish, and learned to start asking for it grilled instead of fried. However, she adds, “I do believe moderation is key, so every now and then I get fried catfish.”

After her diagnosis, Shepherd switched from regular soda to diet soda, but when she became a contestant on Dancing with the Stars in 2012 she realized she needed to alter her diet even further. She quit soda altogether to keep up with the eight-hour dance rehearsals.

“I started weaning myself off soda and sugary juices. It took me three weeks exactly, of major pains in my head and stabbing pain behind my eyes. I have not had soda and juice in the last six years; I just drink a lot of water and unsweetened iced tea.” Shepherd also focuses on incorporating activities that she loves.

“What are the basics? It was getting back to exercising, but doing things that I liked. So, I take salsa at a dance studio around the corner. I started taking swing classes. I also signed up for tennis lessons. Me, I’m just not a gym person. Find something you love to do.”

Although Shepherd originally needed medication to control her diabetes, she has learned to control her blood sugar with a healthy diet and regular exercise and no longer needs medication.

“I do feel different,” she says. “I feel really great. I don’t want people to think that medication is not good. Sometimes we need that to help keep it regulated, and it helped.”

A new way of life

After her diagnosis Shepherd was faced with two challenges: learning to cope with her emotions without turning to food and discovering ways of getting together with friends and family that didn’t revolve around food and drinks.

“I was so used to drowning everything,” she says. “Any pain, any sorrow, any good time — everything was about food to me.”

She had to find other outlets to deal with her feelings. “Emotions just came up raw, and I had to deal with them. I had to deal with so many issues without being able to go eat a peach cobbler. I was so used to drowning my emotions in food, and when I no longer had food I had this sea of emotions I had to deal with. I did a lot of soul-searching back then, but it made me better.”

As far as the socializing issue, Shepherd says it helps that she and her friends and family support each other. “My two sisters are Type 1 diabetics, so we all stay on each other. And I tell my friends ‘You know, sometimes it’s just hard when the bread comes to the table — you gotta help me!’”

“Diabetes has taught me to take charge of my health. I say that diabetes truly saved my life. I don’t know if I would be as healthy, if I would be doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Because I know diabetes is right there in the wings. It makes me more diligent.”

Even with diabetes, she says, “You can have a really healthy, wonderful life. It’s just your body going, ‘Help me, make changes.’ We have the opportunity to make the changes to feel good, to go through life and it will be okay. It really will.

“It has also forced me to look at life in a different way — that everything is not as it seems. And that sometimes you can be imperfectly perfect, and your imperfections can be really great.”

Shepherd shares her story and personal journey with diabetes in a humorous yet helpful way for a serious disease that impacts millions of lives, hoping that her experiences may empower us to smile another day.

“I love to see myself as always being healthy and loving life, because life makes me smile. I always want to have that smile, because I love life.”

Tweet @SherriEShepherd and @hlmsmag about her #SamsClubMag story.

Jodi Marsh is the executive editor for Healthy Living Made Simple.