Anthony Anderson is a take-charge type of guy. After building a successful career as a comedy star, he campaigned for and won numerous serious roles on TV shows such as Law & Order, K-Ville and The Shield. Meanwhile, on the home front, the soon-to-be 40-year-old also took control of his type 2 diabetes. And his lifestyle changes—including a healthier diet and consistent exercise—resulted in a 40-pound weight loss. He recently spoke with Real Health about his and his family’s experiences with the illness.

Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of diabetes. It is usually diagnosed in older adults. In this type, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the body’s cells do not properly use the insulin that is produced. Insulin is a hormone that lowers the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood.

When and how did you learn that you had type 2 diabetes?

It was about seven years ago, close to eight now. I’d been feeling lethargic and I was wondering, Hey, what’s going on with me? I was just tired throughout the day and then taking these mid-afternoon naps out of the blue. At first, I thought it was because I was working hard and moving at the same time. Then I realized that I just wasn’t feeling right. One night I literally drank the entire contents of a five-gallon water jug in our kitchen’s water cooler in a matter of hours. I was constantly going to the bathroom and drinking water during the night. And my wife said, “Baby, I think you might be a diabetic,” because we know what the symptoms are. I went to a doctor the next morning and had some tests run. My glucose levels were extremely elevated. That’s when I was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic.

How did you find out that diabetes runs in your family?

My stepfather had diabetes, but I was the first person diagnosed with it in my family. Subsequently my mother was diagnosed with the condition.

How did having this condition affect your life on a daily basis?

In the beginning, I knew what I needed to do, but I didn’t do it as wholeheartedly as I should have. Slowly over the years I made the changes. They weren’t really dramatic changes, other than how I needed to live my life managing my eating and drinking of alcohol and things like that.

Do you remember if your diabetes caused you any scary moments?

Fortunately for me, no. This was mainly because I had wake-up calls from experiences type 2 diabetic friends of mine had. One experienced temporary blindness. My buddy had a triple bypass at the age of 36, and that was in connection with him coming from a bad gene pool. But diabetes also contributed to that. Because these younger cats that I ran with had these episodes, that kind of scared me straight. Personally, I didn’t have anything that affected me like that.

You mentioned that lifestyle changes help you manage diabetes. How in particular have you taken control of the condition?

I started with the simple things, such as alcohol consumption. I’ve never been a heavy drinker, but I drink socially and would have mixed drinks with juice and things like that. Now, I will occasionally sip on some wine and may have a glass of vodka. But I no longer consume alcohol the way I once did. Basically, I’m just making healthier choices when I eat. I stay away from fatty foods, fried foods and things that I’d customarily eat. As an African American, this meant staying away from soul food—ham hocks, smoked turkey and things like that. Now I just eat those foods in moderation. I really don’t drink soda so that’s out, and red Kool-Aid is no longer in the house. I have a 14-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, and they are predisposed to this illness so I am giving them healthier alternatives.

In general, how did your diagnosis affect your family’s lifestyle?

As a family, now we exercise together. My daughter plays volleyball. Right now, we are at a weeklong volleyball tournament she’s playing in. There are over 1,100 teams. She has her own personal trainer now and is as fit as a fiddle. My 10-year-old son participates in sports, and he’s fit too. But, taking it a step beyond that, just the choices that we make in the house, the food that we buy and cook, are different. We’d gotten away from fast foods, all of those [unhealthy] habits years ago, but now the reason we had to do it has really hit home.

What motivated you to become a spokesperson for F.A.C.E. Diabetes Initiative, the national campaign to help African Americans with diabetes manage their condition?

Before I was diagnosed with the disease and then even after being diagnosed with diabetes, I’d see these entertainers on shows who were diabetes spokespersons. When I’d look at them, I didn’t see anyone who reflected me—a young urban male in the prime of his life. I understand and know how this disease affects our community, especially young people. I felt they needed someone with whom they could really identify.

I [also] wanted to let people know that diabetes isn’t a death sentence. You can live with this condition, and you can conquer it. And, with the right lifestyle changes, you can eventually get off meds. That’s what I’m trying to do.

How long did it take you to lose 40 pounds?

It took me since January of last year. I really wanted to transform my look, so I got a nutritionist. I’m turning 40 this year, but I feel young! Bob from The Biggest Loser on NBC—we kind of befriended one another just from being on the same network and being at the same places at the same times—and he said, “Anthony, once you hit 40, it’s going to be harder for you to lose the weight. I don’t know what it is, but once you hit that 40 mark the body just changes. But I guarantee you that you will lose weight if you only do two things: One, stop drinking soda. Two: Eat half of what you’re eating right now. Even if you don’t exercise at all, you will see a difference.”

That sounds like a plan.

And it’s something simple. Just eat half of what you normally would eat and watch what happens. I know how lazy I can be, and so that’s what I did. As opposed to eating a whole sandwich from the food service. I’ll have them prepare a half sandwich for me, or if I’m going to eat my meal out, I get a smaller portion. That’s how it started. Then, I got a nutritionist. Al Roker hooked me up with his nutritionist in Chicago. She put me on this plan. I was gluten-free, alcohol-free and sugar-free for a month. I was just lazy and hadn’t started working out yet. I changed three pounds of fat into three pounds of muscle just by eating differently. I thought, “Wow, if I do this and work out, imagine what could happen. Imagine how my life could change.” Now, I’m in the process of working out. I used to jog three miles a day a couple of years ago so I’m getting back into that. Those are what the changes are. I’m not perfect every day; I’m not perfect every week. Sometimes, I’ll allow myself a cheat day. I say, “You know what, my kids are eating this hamburger or this fried chicken so I’ll indulge.” But I also know I can’t do this every day like I used to. But I do allow myself some liberties on occasion; you have to reward yourself.

Were you concerned that diabetes might affect your career, especially after going public with the illness?

Not at all because my condition is under control. Everything is working fine; everything is functioning fine. I’m healthy; there’s a glow about me, and my industry can see a new look about me. People are, like, “Wow, what are you doing?” I look younger; I feel younger. If anything, I think it will bring awareness to the disease. Halle Berry is a type 2 diabetic; she’s gone public with it. As a matter of fact, we have the same endocrinologist in Los Angeles so it’s something that we share. Diabetes is something that we want to educate our community about.

What are your next projects?

I just finished a movie with Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin called The Big Year. Also, I’m starting work on Scream 4 and, hopefully, there is still some life for Law & Order, even though it won’t be on NBC. Hopefully it will land on TNT, and if not I’ll go back to creating. I did my own television show—All About the Andersons on the WB [network, now the CW network]. If all else fails, I’ll go back to writing with my partner and creating other projects for me to star in and produce.