From the outside looking in you might think that Gabourey Sidibe had not a care in the world. However, for the 33-year-old Empire star, her health and negative self image were something that troubled her. In an exclusive for PEOPLE, Sidibe opens up about struggles with her health, her secret weight-loss surgery and finally learning to love her body.
According to the interview, last year, Sidibe underwent laproscopic bariatric surgery after she and her older brother Ahmed, 34, were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. “I truly didn’t want to worry about all the effects that go along with diabetes. I genuinely [would] worry all the time about losing my toes. I just didn’t want to worry,” says Sidibe.
Diabetes is a significant issue in the African-American community with several beloved entertainers and public figures falling victim to the disease and its complications, including longtime radio jock Doug Banks, gospel icon Pastor Daryl Coley, hip-hop pioneer Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest and Prince Be of the R&B group P.M. Dawn.
Sidibe says she tried for more than a decade to lose weight naturally before opting for the procedure. And in May of 2016, she secretly went under the knife.
“My surgeon said they’d cut my stomach in half. This would limit my hunger and capacity to eat. My brain chemistry would change and I’d want to eat healthier. I’ll take it! My lifelong relationship with food had to change,” she writes in her memoir, This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare, out in May.
The actress also talks about her struggles with depression, anxiety and bulimia, which she eventually overcame through therapy.
However, despite her past struggles, Sidibe is positive about the new lease on life she has in front of her, and is focused on maintaining her new lifestyle by changing her eating habits, working out with a trainer, swimming and riding a tricycle around the Empire set. Ten months after her procedure, Sidibe continues to lose weight.
“I have a goal right now, and I’m almost there,” she says. “And then once I’ve got it, I’ll set another. But my starting weight and my goal weight, they’re personal. If too many people are involved, I’ll shut down.”
More important than the weight she’s lost, Sidibe is celebrating what she has found, a new love of self.
“There’s nothing ugly about me. Anyone trying to convince me that I am — and it’s usually me — is wasting her time,” she says. “I was in a war with my body for a long time. If I’d started treating it better sooner, I wouldn’t have spent so many years hating myself. But I love my body now.”