Stephen Furst: Laughter Is the Best Medicine

You might recognize Stephen Furst as the bumbling fraternity pledge Flounder from National Lampoon's Animal House, but behind that goofball grin is a dedicated champion for diabetes education and research.


Food as the Focus

Stephen grew up in a household where food was the center of attention. "Big meals were routine," he says. "Eating was my friend, my confidant." Even though his father died from complications of diabetes, Stephen ignored his doctors when, at age 17 -- only weeks after his father's death -- they told him he had diabetes.

"I went into denial," Stephen says. "I didn't realize the long-term effects." By age 23, he weighed 285 pounds. That didn't stop him from being cast in funny-man acting roles that included such movies as Animal House and The Dream Team.

The Turning Point

Stephen's life of denial changed when, at age 40, he stepped on a piece of glass. A raging infection consumed his foot and landed him in the hospital. Even while doctors discussed amputating his foot, Stephen, who was on insulin at the time, didn't take his condition seriously. "I called for Chinese take-out," he says. The take-out food was confiscated, and Stephen was put on a meal plan. "I felt like the hospital was a concentration camp and I was a prisoner," he says. But the diet worked. He lost 12 pounds during his five-day hospital stay.

Losing that weight made Stephen realize he could change his life. "I thought it was kind of cool," he says. "I decided to see if I could continue doing it." Within months, his weight was down to 175 pounds. He did it with his own version of a healthful diet.

"I cringe at it now," he says. "I cut out almost every bit of fat and wouldn't even eat olive oil. I would make tofu cheesecake with artificial sweetener and cinnamon. Then I would buy a packaged cheesecake and put mine into the box because a lot of it was psychological."

He credits his ability to maintain his weight loss to being able to go off insulin, which can promote weight gain. "I dropped to 164 pounds and didn't look so good, but my numbers improved."