Delta Burke's Journey to a Healthier and Happier Life
This article was originally published on Diabetic Living Magazine's website in 2018. Burke is now retired and no longer giving media interviews. We updated this story to the best of our ability. We thank her for sharing her story and wish her well.
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, Burke also endured relentless public ridicule over her televised weight gain.
Through it all, she proved that nothing—not her battle with weight, her ongoing struggle with depression, nor a diagnosis of diabetes—could stop her. When we spoke with Burke back in the mid-2000s, she proudly proclaimed, "I've bounced back from it all." Gone is the lilting Southern belle accent that defined Suzanne Sugarbaker. In its place is the real Delta Burke who talked straight from her heart about diabetes.
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In 2018, happily in control of her health and her life, Burke 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," Burke said. "You have to learn about whatever is going on with you."
Burke said she's learned how important it is to find a doctor you can trust—one who will take the time to explain. And she acknowledged that the road to managing diabetes is frustrating at times. "There are so many things you have to watch," Burke said. "It's a lot of searching and it can be tedious, but you just have to stick with it."
Dealing with Weight
As a beauty queen in her 20s, Burke constantly struggled to keep her weight in check and used any means available to stay skinny.
She had hypoglycemia and remembered being told that if she wasn't careful, she could develop diabetes. "I didn't understand," Burke said. Diabetes does run in her family, but she believed 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, Burke began to lose some weight, but it was slow going until she realized she had to change her mindset. "I was telling myself that I was a bad person because I couldn't lose the weight fast enough," she told EatingWell when interviewed. "I decided to stop beating myself up and started to give myself credit for maintaining weight."
A Time of Stress
In 1998, Burke's grandmother died, her beloved pet Maltese passed away, and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her 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," Burke said. "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, Burke took her diabetes 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 said. "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."
A Bright Future
When interviewed back in the mid-2000s, Burke lived in Los Angeles with her mother, a breast cancer survivor, and her husband, actor Gerald McRaney. Burke credited him with helping her through the dark times.
"He's been great," she said. "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." Burke told EatingWell.
Burke'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 also had to learn about portion control and which foods work best for her.
Never a big fan of exercise, Burke said she and Gerald, who went through a bout of lung cancer, enjoyed walking together. "My mom's healthy and my husband's healthy. I feel good, and I know I'll get better and better," Burke said when originally interviewed. "To me, it's a time of celebration."