Chaka Khan: “Diabetes Was My New Beginning”

The singer-songwriter shares how she’s conquered the disease—and her secrets for healthy living.   

Ellen Byron
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About two years ago, Grammy-Award winner Chaka Khan was going through a rough patch. She was overweight and mourning a bad breakup. “Food became my boyfriend, and the television was my husband,” says the Queen of Funk-Soul. “I was depressed.” She didn’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning because “it was a task just to get up and get dressed,” she says. “I was huge, so I was sweating. By the time I got dressed, my makeup was all messed up and my clothes were wet.”

Chaka sought comfort in carbs like pasta and overlooked her weight gain. Eventually, she couldn’t ignore the toll her lifestyle was taking on her body: “I had to go to the bathroom every five minutes, and I was irritable.” Finally her doctor told her she had type 2 diabetes. “The diagnosis snapped me right out of the depression,” she shares. “I said to myself, I’m not going to live like this.”

Fighting back with healthy habits
Chaka’s doctor prescribed medication, and she began to make important lifestyle changes. For instance, she swore off white flour and loaded up on produce. Her idea of a delicious snack? “I’ll get a big bowl of string beans and make a dip with a wasabi mix. Or I’ll cut up some sweet potatoes—a little nutmeg, cinnamon, nondairy butter—honey, that’s a wrap!”

Although the singer says she doesn’t have time to go to a gym, her work involves a lot of physical activity. “Forget about being on stage,” she says. “Walking through airports is great exercise!” And as the grandmother of four, one of whom—Daija Jade, 12—she’s adopted, Chaka is always on the go. “People who have children have it made because their exercise program is built right in!”

Chaka lost 75 pounds over the course of a year, and her diabetes is under control. Better yet, she’s discovered that maintaining her new lifestyle is easier than expected. She says she couldn’t resume her old bad habits even if she wanted to: “If I overeat, I get physically ill!”

A cause for celebration
Chaka Khan will celebrate her 60th birthday with a U.S. and international tour. She’s also releasing several new albums and devotes off-stage time to her charity, the Chaka Khan Foundation. It’s an impressive slate for a woman who could barely drag herself out of bed two years ago.

“I’m so blessed; I’m in perfect health,” she says. “The most important thing is the quality of your life—that you’re living well and healthy.” Her message to others with diabetes? “It’s not the end, but a new beginning.”

January 2013