Seven years ago, Elizabeth Mwanga weighed more than 200 pounds and didn’t know how to boil an egg. Today at 36, she’s 100 pounds lighter and makes her living developing healthy recipes—thanks to undiagnosed diabetes that landed her in a New York City emergency room.
“In the hospital, I made a conscious decision to eat healthier, lose weight and manage my condition better,” she recalls. “It wasn’t driven by, ‘Oh, I want to look fabulous in a bikini.’ I needed to make these changes in order to live.”
Mwanga shed her excess weight in less than two years, taught herself to cook, and landed a spot on the Food Network’s “Chopped” cooking competition show. Her diabetes—a subtype known as type 1.5, or latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA)—now is under control, without medication. And she is working to develop an online social network to connect doctors with patients who have diabetes.
“I feel fortunate. All of this has been a result of my hard work,” she says. “But you know what? Everybody can do what I did.”
Here are Mwanga’s top diabetes management tips:
1. Check blood sugar at least three times a day. “It’s the single most important thing you can do,” she says.
2. Get to know the Glycemic Index (GI). The measurement, which rates foods based on how quickly a person’s blood sugar rises after eating them, “is like the bible for diabetics,” she says. Some of her favorite low-GI picks include fish, eggs, nuts (not roasted or candied) and vegetables.
3. Add fresh herbs to dishes. “I use a lot of cilantro, oregano, parsley,” she says. “I also use garlic and onion. They add a lot of flavor for basically no calories.”
4. Work out while you watch TV. “I like to jump rope during commercial breaks,” she says. “You can get a jump rope at the 99-cent store!”
5. Read food labels. Choose products with fewer than 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving, and watch for hidden sugars in seemingly healthful foods such as turkey bacon and low-fat salad dressing. “Don’t just look at the calorie content. Focus on the ingredients,” she says.
To gauge your diabetes risk, visit diabetes.org/risktest.