Patti LaBelle: My Struggle with Diabetes

Patti LaBelle: My Struggle with Diabetes
Patti LaBelle/WENN

12/19/2008 AT 02:00 PM EST

When Patti LaBelle learned she had diabetes after passing out onstage 14 years ago, the legendary singer said she thought that meant no more fun in the kitchen.

For years, the Grammy Award winner loved to whip up "twelve-egg potato salad, seven-cheese macaroni and all that stuff that I used to eat like crazy," LaBelle, 64, tells PEOPLE. "I was hooked on fried chicken and pasta."

Determined to get her diabetes in check, the singer completely revamped the way she cooked – and gave herself an attitude adjustment. "I said, 'I'm not going to let it get me,' " says LaBelle, whose third cookbook, Recipes for the Good Life, comes out this month.

She still gives her meals "diva love," but LaBelle sticks to recipes from her book’s Light and Healthy chapter. "Instead of frying my fish, like I used to do, I sauté it. I spice everything," says the singer, who also has a line of spice blends. "Because I can’t use butter, these days I am a fresh garlic fanatic."

A typical day's meal for the original "Lady Marmalade" includes: egg whites, oatmeal, turkey bacon, a little fruit and coffee "with that two percent milk – that is so nasty" for breakfast, and a huge salad and salmon for lunch. She snacks on almonds and carrots.

For dinner, LaBelle chows on turkey burgers (get her recipe here), grilled chicken breast and jerk-seasoned chicken, with vegetables and brown rice. "If I’m having a low blood sugar day I'll have a baked potato or yams," she says.

Resisting temptation is still tough for her, since she grew up on "stick-to-your-ribs" food. "For 14 years I’ve been restricted. It's hard," she says – while admitting to a few indulgences. "Every now and then if I see that piece of bacon or short rib, I’m gonna snatch it.”

She also works out regularly in her pool with a trainer and walks in her neighborhood. "But the best thing that keeps me in shape is dancing onstage," she says. "I love to shake it, honey!" LaBelle credits regular exercise with helping to keep her diabetes from getting worse – her mother suffered from the illness and, due to complications, had to have her legs amputated. "My uncle went blind because of it and he died. My aunt and my grandmother had it," she says. "So when the doctor told me I was a diabetic, I was like, 'No, no, no,'" she says. "I cried."

But LaBelle says she stayed strong. "You can take hold of the situation," she says. "I feel great now. I live the right way. I wear fierce clothes. God has blessed me. Everything I do now, I do it proud. I am a divabetic!"

Don't miss these easy and healthy recipes from Patti LaBelle's new cookbook, Recipes for the Good Life, and check out her line of spices at PattiLaBelleFoods.com.

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