Three years ago on her way to set, Viola Davis got a phone call that would change her life. The Oscar-winning actress expected to hear the results from a recent hormone test, but instead her doctor had some startling news to share with her — she was prediabetic.
"I just froze," Viola, now 53 years old, tells FirstForWomen.com. "When I say 'freeze,' I mean freeze in fear, but also in sort of nothingness."
But Viola didn't stay frozen for long. She decided to arm herself with information about her condition right away, and quickly learned she was not the only one dealing with this health problem — it's a widespread crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 million Americans have diabetes. Approximately 84 million have prediabetes, and shockingly, about 90 percent of those people don't even know it.
But this was not the first time diabetes has been a part of Viola's life — it just always went by another name. The star actually has a family history of the disease, but when she was a child in the Deep South no one ever said the word "diabetes." "When I was growing up, it was called 'sugar,'" Viola says. "People said 'such-and-such got the sugar. She got the sugar.' It was a way to describe diabetes because people weren't educated about it."
Though she didn't know the word, Viola saw first-hand how horrible diabetes could be. "I’ve had relatives lose their limbs, lose their eyesight..." she says. Despite witnessing such tragic outcomes, she never thought it could happen to her. She felt healthy, she enjoyed exercising, and ate what she thought were nutritious meals.
But after her prediabetic diagnoses, Viola took a closer look at her lifestyle, and realized she could make some changes. She began to take note of how many carbs and how much sugar she was consuming each day. She stopped going overboard with sugar-heavy fruits and began to incorporate foods with less carbs like kelp noodles and cauliflower-based dishes into her diet. She also hired a trainer to help her workout three times a week and made regular doctor appointments to test her blood sugar levels.
Before long, Viola had not only lost weight, she noticed she had a lot more energy, too. But most importantly, she has been able to keep her blood sugars in check. These changes made a huge difference in her life — and she wanted to make a difference for others as well. She hoped to start a conversation about a crisis that has been shrouded in secrecy far too long.
So it was a no-brainer for her to narrate Merck's A Touch of Sugar, a new documentary that tells the stories of those affected by the diabetes crisis. She encourages everyone, whether they've been diagnosed with prediabetes, diabetes or not, to visit ATouchOfSugarFilm.com.
Viola admits that managing her health isn't always easy. "My lifestyle is busy," she says. "Sometimes, it’s hard to keep up with what you’re eating." But relying on her network of people is a tremendous help. "You cannot do it alone," Viola says. "It's about connection — that's the only way that we have to eradicate this disease."
She also always keeps her role as a mom in mind. "Listen, I have an eight-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and I want to be around for her," Viola says. "I do it for myself, yes, but I do it for her, too. When I see Genesis and when I can run around with her and jump with her, it makes all the difference in the world."