Will You Think Twice About Losing or Gaining Weight for a Role?

October 10, 2013

tom-hanks-type-2-diabetes.jpgTwo-time Oscar-winning actor, Tom Hanks recently appeared as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman where the host expressed how wonderful and youthful Hanks was looking. Tom shared that he’s making healthy choices in his life after visiting his doctor. “I went to the doctor and he said ‘You know those high blood sugar numbers you’ve been dealing with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated. You’ve got Type 2 diabetes, young man.'”

Those “high blood sugar numbers” that Hanks mentioned are what’s referred to as pre-diabetes. According to Clinical Director of Mount Sinai Diabetes Center, Dr. Ronald Tamler, “There is this stage where blood sugars start climbing, and that condition is called pre-diabetes, and we can already see who’s at risk for getting diabetes. And so, at that stage, you can turn back the clock and prevent people from getting diabetes.” Eating healthfully and increasing physical activity cuts an individual’s chance of getting the metabolic disorder in half. Specifically, you can lower your risk for getting Type 2 diabetes by 58% upon losing 7% of your body weight (15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds). And exercising moderately 30 minutes a day 5 times a week can help decrease your chances by 30%.

So how did Hanks develop the disorder? Doctors say that the dramatic weight fluctuations he experienced to play different film roles may have contributed to his condition. According to medical reporter, Dr. Holly Phillips: “In dramatic weight gain and dramatic weight loss, the equilibrium of the body is just completely off.” Hanks indeed gained 30 pounds to play a slovenly baseball coach in the 1992 film, A League of Their Own, and about eight years later lost 55 pounds to play the ship-wrecked survivor, Chuck Noland, in Cast Away.

Weight fluctuations are nothing new in the entertainment industry. Christian Bale lost a startling 62 pounds while dieting on coffee and apples for his role in The Machinist, and then morphed into a robust, musclebound Batman in less than one year. And Matthew McConaughey dieted on one daily piece of chicken, Diet Coke, and egg whites in pursuit of playing an AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club, losing about 40 pounds. Losing or gaining weight for roles demonstrates praiseworthy commitment to the craft, and can often lend to greater Hollywood credibility. But nutritionist Ian Marber warns, “Dramatic changes in weight interrupts the metabolic rate. Even if you’re losing or gaining at a less dramatic rate–of say five to 10 pounds repeatedly–it still ‘confuses’ your metabolism.” Although Marber can’t confirm any direct links between Type 2 diabetes and dieting, he does confirm that it certainly increases the risk of developing the disorder.

57-year-old Hanks is now one of the estimated 25.8 million people in the United States who is struggling with diabetes. One reason this disorder takes many by surprise is because people with pre-diabetes may not experience any clear symptoms. That’s why Tom Hanks coming forward with his condition is an eye-opener. If it can happen to someone with so many advantages and resources, then it can happen to anyone. What do you think? Will Hanks’s diabetes change the way actors alter their weight while committing to their characters? Will you think twice if producers ask you to gain or lose weight for a particular role?

The American Diabetes Association’s website has tools to aid in early detection of the disease. To take a free and easy diabetes risk test, click here.