How One Woman Reversed Her Diabetes Through Healthy Eating & Exercise

By: Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.

Tiff McFierce was able to lower her blood sugar and finally get healthy habits to stick.

Tiff McFierce got a pretty big scare when her doctor told her she had diabetes. Originally, her blood sugar numbers were in the prediabetic range, but she wasn't able to stick to healthier habits consistently, and at her next visit they had gone up. That was what it took for her to really turn healthy into a lifestyle and not just something that lasted for a little while. Watch her take you through a day in her life to see how she's staying healthy and taking care of herself from breakfast through a dinner out on the town and then learn more about her journey in this inspiring interview.

Watch: How One Woman Reversed Her Diabetes in Four Months

We talked to her while she was in her kitchen cooking up quinoa and broccoli (true story) to find out how she stays motivated, what her diagnosis felt like, how she learned to love vegetables and more.

Learn More: 12 Ways to Lower Your Blood Sugar

How did it feel when you first talked to your doctor about prediabetes?

I was very disappointed. I have been challenged in the past with overeating and binge eating and I felt that something was wrong. I was really disappointed because I had a feeling something was coming. I was trying to figure out if I was going to be able to fix it and how.

You tried to make changes and they didn't necessarily stick until you went back and your doctor told you your blood sugar levels had progressed to having diabetes. Did that motivate you more?

Hearing diabetes let me know, I am actually sick. It was a fact. I needed to make sure that I could continue to be healthy. I had been practicing healthy eating and learning more about that for years. I read everything. I research what I eat. I had already progressed with my education, so now I had to put it into practice. I needed to tackle what was going on underneath the surface, because you'll never be healthy if you don't. You'll go back and forth and back and forth. I never knew what it was to nourish my body and I had to learn. I had to dig deeper.

Once you tackle what you're eating you have to tackle why you're eating certain things. The diabetes made me realize that you can hurt yourself with food. The diabetes slapped me in the face and woke me up and helped me learn how to nourish my body. Cold turkey has never worked for me. I can do it for weeks, even months, but it doesn't work for the long haul. I need to live my life and be realistic. I needed to make healthy changes little by little and be gentle with myself, not try to be a raw vegan by Thursday.

Did your doctor recommend trying lifestyle changes before exploring other treatment options?

When I did get diabetes, I switched doctors because my old doctor suggested medicine right away. She knew I was challenged with eating, so she wanted to help. I switched doctors because I knew what I needed to do. I told myself, "I've done it, I can do it."

I talked about making lifestyle changes with my new doctor. She didn't want to put me on medicine, but told me I had to make changes with food. She helped a lot. I knew I could do it, but needed support. She took the time to sit with me and talk and tell me to get serious. I needed to advocate for myself. If you can, its important to get a second opinion, do your research and find a treatment plan that you're comfortable with.

Get More: Packable Diabetes-Friendly Lunches

Speaking of support, have your friends and family been supportive of your lifestyle changes?

People can only be as supportive to you as they are to themselves. I've said things to my family and friends to let them know "I might eat this, but don't want to eat that," if we're eating together. I ask them to help me out and, say, tap me on the shoulder if I'm reaching for certain foods. I have also told my friends there are certain things I don't want to do. I don't want to just go out to drinks, so maybe invite me somewhere else.

Some people are not ready for the changes I am making. So I'm finding new support systems—people who eat vegan, people who work out more often. My close friends sat down with me and said, "What do you need from us?" That was great. Some of my friends said, "I need to eat better too. Do you need me to eat greens with you?" Sometimes people can't follow through. I try to meet people where they are and meet myself where I am.

What have been the biggest challenges you've faced when making healthy changes to your diet?

I go back and forth to LA for work, and traveling can be tough. When I travel someplace I want to do fun things, but it's easy to lose your healthy routine if you don't make it into your lifestyle. Work schedules mean there are different times to eat and it can be hard not being able to eat on time. I'm lucky that I have a rider at work, so I can ask for healthy foods. I'll say I need unsalted raw almonds and kale. I felt a little weird, but I have dietary needs and people usually say, "OK that's fine. Is there anything else you need?"

It's tough because there is no kitchen in a hotel room and you don't have your full lunch packed for the day. I try to remember that it's not just about reversing diabetes or weight loss, but this is how I want to live. I will look up where I am staying and see what is around there. It's harder to stay healthy while traveling, but it's possible. If you do fall into something, be really gentle with yourself. [Tell yourself] that was one thing, and move on the next instead of beating yourself up for every setback.

Other than your blood sugar numbers coming back down, have you seen any benefits to changing up your eating and lifestyle habits?

My legs and feet were tingly, my hands were swelling up and it was scary. That doesn't happen anymore. Every time I eat clean—my stomach feels better. There is such a difference between eating processed and eating clean. My energy is better and my mind feels clearer. I feel more accomplished.

I'm proud of myself for doing what I set out to do. The weight loss is a lot slower, but it's slower because I am trying to be present in what I'm eating. I feel the most connected to my body. I'm not dancing my life away, this is my diet and I'm mindfully eating. Chewing, looking at the food with no phone and no TV.

I'm more mindful in everything, not just eating. We don't always pay attention to what is going on. If your favorite show is on and you're binge-watching, even if you're eating healthy, you're distracted. That biggest change for me is being more mindful with what I'm eating. I keep practicing and it's such a practice.

How did you learn to start loving, or liking, vegetables?

I had to be realistic with myself. I didn't like vegetables, but I told myself to try them again. I tried them slowly. I hated vegetables at first and forced myself to eat them by just swallowing them with water. Then I realized that healthy eating didn't need to be plain and I could season my vegetables. I use Mrs. Dash seasoning with no salt. I make my veggies look nice and presentable. I sometimes treat myself like a kid and really make it look good so I'll want to eat it. This was something I needed to do on my own. I didn't want people telling me they loved Brussels sprouts or hated them. I wanted to make my own opinions on vegetables.

Learn to love veggies too! Take the Eat More Vegetables Challenge.

Any new favorite foods or meals you have discovered?

I'm trying jackfruit again, a chef just turned me on to that. She was talking to me about transitioning away from meats and she made it like chicken tenders. I really love kale. I love kale a lot. I used to despise spinach as a child and I love it now. I like my spinach raw too. Asparagus is another veggie I love.

I still have times where I'm like ugh, Brussels sprouts. They still make me go yuck because all the TV shows I watched growing up showed Brussels sprouts as a punishment for kids. So, they still seem gross to me. You need some leeway to not like every healthy food. Someone told me if I don't like something after trying it more than once not to force myself.

Now that you're not dancing as much, how do you stay active?

I do a lot of yoga and I box. I also dance by myself in the house and just freestyle. I used to practice a lot at home by myself and now I put on music and move my body the way I know how. I do HIIT workouts that work with my knee injury too. I try to find things that are low-impact for my knee. And I do strength training and physical therapy for my knee.

How do you make exercise a priority?

 

Thanks to everyone that came out to my wellness event, the 2nd installment of Look IN vs Lookin’ that specifically focused on closing the apps on our phones & minds for us as entrepreneurs, creatives, freelancers and more. With music, mingling, movement and meditation, my goal is to keep facilitating spaces where we are given or expanding the tools to start or keep implanting self care daily and not just focus on the grind. I’m thankful for 2 guided meditations by @jessicaanigma & everyday yoga stretches we could do in our street clothes at any moment that is needed w/ @pilinanice. After all, that’s what meditation really is so don’t be fooled by the Pretty pics & complicates yoga stretches-your breathe is accessible to you at every moment and that’s real talk. Thank you to my sponsors @pygumeals, @balvina.maitri and @drinkverday for healthy, organic treats and of course @mndflmeditation Williamsburg for an amazing space. Photos by @shellbairfoto! Thank you so much @erika_gema & @eventsbyerikac with planning! #TiffMcFierce #LookIN #meditation #networkingevent #dj #yoga #brooklyn #nyc

A post shared by Tiff McFierce (@tiffmcfierce) on

I have to really just talk to myself and say: "You're not getting any younger. You need to move your body so you don't have trouble going upstairs one day." I set times and days to exercise and write it down. I'll put a Post-it note on my mirror. I set my alarm and name it "workout time" or "movement time" to make it a priority. I need to schedule it or it won't happen.

I actually created a wellness event, centered around music, meditation and movement. Instead of my going to look for it a community, I decided to create it. We're having another one this month for Minority Mental Health Awareness Month with a panel. Learn more about my upcoming events on Instagram: @TiffMcFierce.

What are healthy habits that people might not think of, that make a big impact?

Little things really helped me. Everything that has to do with processed foods. Salad dressing, ketchup, mayo—there is sugar in there too. [I didn't know] years before that those were considered sugar ... [or] why people said to put less salad dressing. Things that are labeled "light" aren't always healthier. You have to take a really hard look at processed foods. I use EVOO instead, or make my own dressing that doesn't have a lot of sugar or something else in it. Look for options on the go made with real food, and you can read everything on the back.

You seem to have a really positive outlook on your health and your journey. How do you maintain a positive attitude to keep going?

It's challenging. Meditation has been something I've continued to explore in different ways. I don't just sit and meditate. I dance and I write in my journal to keep on my journey and keep being positive. I talk to myself, literally. I look in the mirror and say things to myself. The past few months I was very impressed with how I was able to handle things. I had a lot going on at work—and drinks being offered to me a lot when I was out. I felt really proud of being able to be moderate and not coping in an unhealthy way. Actually saying that out loud to myself and expressing my gratitude helped. That sounds a little weird but I think it's important to celebrate small victories. Say, "I'm very proud of you for not eating the whole bag of chips." My godmother told me that when I was a young girl. I thought she was crazy at the time but she was right. And I always tell her she was right.

I also look at progress pictures and wear clothes that are fitting better to keep me going and keep it up.

This interview has been edited and condensed.