Mila Clarke, Founder of The Hangry Woman
Mila Clarke, Founder of The Hangry Woman

Mila Clarke never knew that her career path would lead her to be a Type 2 diabetes advocate. At the age of 26, the Houston social media manager juggled a hectic work schedule that impacted her health and eating habits. She noticed she had to make some changes, and when she did make progress with her actions, the results weren’t exactly paying off.

“I worked 50 or 60 hours a week. The nature of my job was stressful. I was always fatigued, sweaty. I was always thirsty and it didn’t feel normal. Even with my regular exercise routine and meal prep, I would lose a lot of weight and it didn’t feel right,” said Clarke. “I went to get a checkup and eventually learned that I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I was shocked.”

Though Clarke’s mother and grandmother had the disease, she didn’t know much about what it was or how to manage it. She also wasn’t aware of anyone her age who had diabetes. So, she decided to launch The Hangry Woman blog as a way to educate millennials about her experiences and as a vehicle for sharing food recipes and resources to live a normal, healthy life.

In 2020, Clarke was misdiagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, but actually had latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), a subtype of Type 1 diabetes.

“I was frustrated, but that didn’t stop me from advocating for those who need the support,” she said.

Now at age 33, she is an internationally recognized diabetes food and health writer with more than 45,000 Instagram followers watching her whip up diabetes-friendly foods, drinks and exercise routines.

Clarke spoke with the Defender to talk about her health journey and what healthy tips you should consider this holiday season.

Mila Clarke: Choosing to live well with diabetes

Defender: Tell our audience a little bit about your background.

Clarke: I was born in Connecticut but moved to Houston when I was five. My parents are both immigrants from Jamaica. I was the firstborn in my family and grew up around the Jamaican culture. I had a very lively childhood. Always lots of food and fun and family. That was the center of my life. As I grew up, I decided that I wanted to stay in Houston. Houston is a big part of what has saved me as a person and helped me forge my path as an entrepreneur. I told my parents I wanted to be a writer and they were confused, wondering what I was going to do with that, thinking being a doctor or lawyer would be the best route. I pursued writing and went to school for broadcast journalism. I worked in marketing doing communications and writing for nonprofits and hospitals. Then in 2020, when the pandemic shook up everyone’s lives, I had a turnaround moment where I was not happy with working in a corporate environment. I wanted to make a switch and work for myself. Since college I had been writing a food blog as a hobby. Every time I would make food for my roommates or post recipes on Facebook, people would always ask me, “How did you do that?” So, I decided to put all the answers in one place and send them a link. It was a fun, creative outlet for me that I couldn’t necessarily do in my job.

Defender: Before your diagnosis, how was your overall health and relationship with food?

Clarke: I had a rocky relationship with food, in general. I have always been a plus-size person. It was really hard for me to have a good relationship with food because it was mostly pressure from my peers in school. I grew up in Katy, Texas in the suburbs. Everything had to be perfect and look a certain way, and that wasn’t me. Then I started cooking more for myself and learning different things about nutrition and understanding how to pair things together. So, around the time I was diagnosed, I actually enjoyed cooking and eating healthy. I did everything my doctor told me to do. It was a frustrating experience because I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong, but I know I’m not dedicating enough self-care time. I work a lot, come home, eat, workout, go to bed. That went on for about three years. In March 2020 I quit my job to continue writing my blog. At that point, I was working out two hours per day, doing five- or six-mile walks and eating under 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, and nothing was improving.

Defender: You were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes but found out you were misdiagnosed. What was going through your mind?

Clarke: I went to see a primary care doctor who was at the end of her rope and couldn’t help me anymore because I was on a ton of medication and I was maxing out those dosages and my blood sugar was still not responding. She sent me to an endocrinologist and he asked me if I had ever been tested for type one diabetes. I said “No. I was never tested for Type 1 when I was originally diagnosed.” I got tested and it turned out that I was incorrectly diagnosed. I was angry. It was a simple blood test that would have confirmed everything. I spent all of these years on medications that I didn’t need, paying money for super expensive oral medications that weren’t working for me. The whole time I should have been on insulin. I could have died, because your body can’t survive without insulin. I was lucky.

Defender: How important was it for you to advocate for yourself all these years?

Clarke: With Type 2 diabetes, I noticed that many people stigmatize it to an incredible degree. You get called lazy, and that you did this to yourself. I would get a lot of messages like that. When I started advocating, it was really important for me to tell people that nobody asks for diabetes. People who are living with diabetes are so in tune and conscious of their health because diabetes affects every single part of your body. I found out I have what’s called latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). It’s also called Type 1.5. It’s the slow progressive form of autoimmune diabetes. People with diabetes need resources to make it easier to live a quality life. That is why I do what I do. Initially when I got diagnosed again (and discovered I didn’t have Type 2 diabetes, but rather Type 1.5), I kept thinking about if this will change my life, if I can still speak up for people with Type 2 diabetes. I’m grateful for my friends and peers who’ve encouraged me along the way and told me to continue advocating. Because being a Black woman and having to interact with the healthcare system you’re always not believed first. I’ve told myself, especially after what happened (being misdiagnosed) that I will never stop asking questions.

Defender: Have you been able to incorporate what you’ve learned with your family?

Clarke: Yes. Actually, my mother sadly passed away earlier this year. She also had diabetes. My mom had it when she was 30 and passed away at 53. It’s a crazy timeline because I was originally diagnosed at 26 years old and found out I had Type 1.5 diabetes at 30. I was about 10 years old when she was diagnosed. I would always see her poking her fingers or injecting insulin. I would ask questions but she would tell me not to worry about it. When I got diagnosed, she was the first person I called. I was scared. We started talking a lot more about diabetes and I would introduce her to different technologies and things like that. My stepfather is involved with the lifestyle change. It’s cool to bring my family together to talk about it because we hadn’t in a really long time.

Defender: How do you manage your health progress? Have you seen improvements, new tools and resources you use?

Clarke: Diabetes technology is amazing. I can’t imagine what people did without it. For the first four years of my diagnosis, I did six finger sticks a day. It was exhausting. There were times when I was tired of doing it. So, I got introduced to this technology called Freestyle Libra. It’s a patch that you place on the back of your arm and it sends continuous numbers to your phone that correlate to you blood sugar. If my glucose goes below a certain level an alarm will sound to tell me my blood sugar is low. I also take a patch for insulin caked CeQur Simplicity and it goes on your abdomen to deliver insulin without having to pull out a syringe. It’s a nice alternative.

Defender: The holidays are coming up. What healthy tips should people consider during this time?

Clarke: It’s all about balance. Don’t deprive yourself of anything because you have diabetes. It’s important to understand what your limits are and what your body responses to. Focus on building your plate in a way that will respect your blood sugar numbers.

Defender: What should our audience look forward to from you?

Clarke: I’m releasing some cookbooks next year. They will have diabetes-friendly recipes that are easy to make. They include shopping lists and meal plans. Those will be released on my website quarterly. I’ll bring more content and blogs about diabetes, and best ways to live with it.   

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...