Actress Tisha Campbell-Martin: Challenge Yourself to Better Health!

The TV star doesn’t let a family history of diabetes bring her down.

Bonnie Siegler with Stephanie Guzowski

The importance of health isn’t new for 44-year-old Tisha Campbell-Martin, who first made her mark as Gina on the ’90s hit comedy sitcom Martin, went on to other roles in My Wife & Kids and Everybody Hates Chris, and starred in Lifetime’s The Protector. One of her primary concerns: her family history of diabetes. Her father and brothers take insulin, and family members on her mother’s side have heart disease to boot.

“I saw how my family members were getting sick from not having a handle on their diabetes” says Tisha. “So at 18, I became determined to keep the disease out of my life.”

As it turned out, it’s been an uphill battle for the actress. Not only are genetics against her, but weight control has also been a struggle—several years ago, the steroids she was taking to treat a lung disease caused her to pack on the pounds. Then, she gained 90 pounds while pregnant with her second son, Ezekiel, tipping the scale at around 270 pounds.

Knowing that obesity is the number one risk factor for type 2 diabetes encouraged Tisha to make weight loss a priority after giving birth. “I didn’t let it get me down,” says Tisha, who decided to make exercise the first step in her weight-loss plan. “I started out with walking, then jogging. The healthier I became, the more in control I felt. Sure enough, the weight started coming off.”

Watching her food intake came next, and two years later, she’s a strong, curvy 158 pounds—and, most important of all, diabetes free.

“You have to take care of yourself first because if you’re running on empty, you cannot give to others. And I want to be here a long time for my husband and my kids.”

The good news? Tisha’s get-healthy strategies, below, can help you pare extra pounds and keep your blood sugar in a healthy range:

1. Fitting in fitness.
The busy working mom exercises six days a week, twice a day. Some of her workouts include 30 to 60 minutes of treadmill in the morning, a light weight workout in the afternoon and several sets of crunches. “I started doing a lot of cardio and also incorporate boxing. I’ve been boxing since I was 16.” And even when she’s not formally “working out,” Tisha finds opportunities to get active whenever, wherever she can. “Sometimes, I’ll do sit-ups in the evening while watching TV, or with Ezekiel by my side.” She also keeps a pair of sneakers in her car. “So if I’m watching my kid’s game, I can do some walking at the same time,” says Tisha, who adds that she’s working to take off 18 more pounds. 

Why it works: Exercise has been shown to improve your body’s use of insulin, lower blood pressure, raise good HDL cholesterol and lower bad LDL cholesterol, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). As Tisha acknowledges, “It might sound a little extreme, my working out twice a day.” But you can still reap the benefits with less. The ADA recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day most days of the week, which could be split into 10-minute bursts.

2. Focusing on nutrition.
In the past, Tisha focused mainly on her calorie intake. Today, she realizes it’s also important to ensure the foods she eats are nutritious. She eats five to six smaller meals a day, starting with breakfast. “I always keep low-fat, sugar-free snacks, such as carrots, nuts and dried cranberries, nearby to munch on.” Yogurt’s also a healthy, on-the-go snack, suggests Tisha. “I freeze yogurt and then let it thaw in my bag.” 

Why it works: Eating breakfast can reduce your hunger later in the day, making it easier to avoid overeating. In a study in Obesity of nearly 3,000 people, those who ate breakfast maintained a 30-pound (or more) weight loss for at least a year, and some for as long as six years. And grazing on healthy foods, like Tisha does, has its benefits, too: A study in the British Medical Journal found that folks who eat six meals a day have 5% lower total cholesterol levels than those who eat just two a day.

3. Drinking plenty.
Tisha’s a huge advocate of drinking lots of fluids. In addition to two cups of green tea each morning, Tisha keeps a large container of water on hand—and she gets plenty creative with it. “I call it Tishagrino, like Pellegrino, but different flavors that I’ve invented—so there’s a water theme for every day and I don’t become bored,” says Tisha. “One day it’ll be fresh mint, cucumber and rosemary, and I’ll pretend I’m at a spa. The next, I’ll mix in sliced oranges and lemons, or a combo of fresh strawberries and watermelon.“

Why it works: Staying hydrated means a better workout. That’s because muscles need fluid to contract properly, which equates to fewer aches and pains. Drink at least 8 ounces 20 minutes before doing cardiovascular exercise and another 8 ounces afterward, recommends the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). And in people with diabetes, hydration plays an important role by helping to flush blood sugar from the system. 

April 2013