Actress Delta Burke reached some of her highest heights and lowest depths when starring as Suzanne Sugarbaker, the vain ex-beauty queen on the television sitcom Designing Women. Nominated twice for an Emmy, Delta also endured relentless public ridicule over her televised weight gain.
Through it all, Delta proved that nothing -- not her battle with weight, her ongoing struggle with depression, nor a diagnosis of diabetes -- could stop her. "I've bounced back from it all," she says proudly. Today Burke is a svelte 150 pounds. Gone is the lilting Southern belle accent that defined Suzanne Sugarbaker. In its place is the real Delta Burke talking straight from her heart about diabetes.
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Happily in control of her health and her life, Delta, 52, just finished leading the nationwide Byetta Let's Talk campaign. Her goal: To help spread the word that education and communication are the keys that help people manage their diabetes. "The whole point is to encourage people to start talking," she says. "You have to learn about whatever is going on with you."
Delta says she's learned how important it is to find a doctor you can trust -- one who will take the time to explain. And she acknowledges that the road to controlling diabetes is frustrating at times. "There are so many things you have to watch," she says. "It's a lot of searching and it can be tedious, but you just have to stick with it."
As a beauty queen in her 20s, Delta constantly struggled to keep her weight in check and used any means available to stay skinny.
She had hypoglycemia and remembers being told that if she wasn't careful, she could develop diabetes. "I didn't understand," she says. Diabetes does run in Delta's family, but she believes it was the weight she gained during the filming of Designing Women that ultimately triggered her diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. By the time she left the show in 1991, she weighed an all-time high of 215 pounds.
Through diet and exercise, Delta began to lose some weight, but it was slow going until she realized she had to change her mind-set. "I was telling myself that I was a bad person because I couldn't lose the weight fast enough," she says. "I decided to stop beating myself up and started to give myself credit for maintaining weight."
In 1998, Delta's grandmother died, her beloved pet Maltese passed away, and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Delta's acting career was hibernating, and she was working on a clothing line for plus-size women. "I was on the road a lot. I was tired. My body didn't feel right. I knew something was wrong, but nobody could tell me what," she says. "They said I had Epstein-Barr. I knew it was something else. Then one doctor did the right tests and told me I had diabetes."
While she was helping her mother with cancer treatments, Delta took her medication but didn't take care of her diet. "My doctor told me I would end up on insulin if I didn't get my blood glucose under control. That scared me enough to take action," she says. "I began a stringent eating program and tested my blood more often. That's when I got better control of my blood glucose. I also lost 20 pounds, which helped a lot."
These days, Delta is living in Los Angeles with her mother, now a breast cancer survivor, and her husband, actor Gerald McRaney. Delta credits him with helping her through the dark times.
"He's been great," she says. "It didn't matter to him how fat I got. He reminds me what I should be doing or shouldn't be eating. He likes to give me my shots and says it makes him feel like he's taking care of me."
Delta's road to better health hasn't been easy. "Sometimes I would get obsessive about testing, then realize I didn't need to test that much." She has also had to learn about portion control and which foods work best for her.
"Being on Byetta helps, because it suppresses my appetite," she says. "With Byetta, I can eat foods I like, but not all at once. I go through phases where I really want macaroni and cheese or sweets. Then Mom makes me sugar-free gelatin. That or some fruit is my little treat."
Never a big fan of exercise, Delta says she and Gerald, who went through a bout of lung cancer recently, enjoy walking together. "My mom's healthy and my husband's healthy. I feel good, and I know I'll get better and better," Delta says. "To me, it's a time of celebration."