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The DX Diabetes Dish: Zippora Karz

Former NYC Ballet soloist on good food, good friends & T1 diabetes

The DX regularly features The DX Diabetes Dish, a profile about life and life with diabetes. This month, we dish with Zippora Karz, a former soloist with the New York City Ballet who is living with type 1 diabetes. She retired from performing in 1999 and now serves as a teacher and repetiteur (someone who supervises rehearsals) for the George Balanchine Trust, rehearsing and staging Balanchine’s choreography for national and international dance companies. She is also a diabetes spokesperson and educator who regularly addresses major diabetes conferences and organizations. Karz lives in Los Angeles and published a memoir, The Sugarless Plum, in 2009.


What is your state of mind today?

I would say I am at peace with myself and the course my life has taken. I certainly didn’t plan on the detour diabetes took me on, but I have learned so much about how to take care of my body, and how to live with diabetes. It wasn’t easy to get here, but I’m happy to be here now.

What three words would you use to describe who you are?

Intuitive, creative, honest.

How does diabetes change – or not change – who you are?

I thought I was a health-conscious, granola-loving Southern California girl. I thought I had found my purpose: to be a ballerina with the New York City Ballet. Diabetes changed all of that. I have learned so much about healthy lifestyle and healthy eating. By the time I was promoted to soloist, my life passion had transitioned from being a great ballerina to being a healthy and fully realized person.

If you could take away one aspect of diabetes, what would it be?

I don’t always feel a low blood sugar. I’ve had diabetes for twenty-six years now, so my body does not always alert me that I’m too low. I’d like to get rid of that.

What inspires you to do what you do?

I’m inspired by human potential. When teaching dance, I love helping my students, oftentimes through the tiniest of details, to experience their potential and greatness. And I love sharing my story and journey to help motivate others to take care of themselves.

What do you appreciate most in your friends?

My closest friends are open-minded; I’d call them seekers. They learn and grow from life. And they are wise.

What would you pack for your favorite vacation?

I’d be headed someplace warm, so clothes for warm weather and a swimsuit. My supplies, and a package of dates in case I go low. I’d also pack my teaching (jazz) shoes and some ballet music. My favorite trips are when I’m not a tourist, but I get to know the people living where I visit. And what better way to do that than to teach a ballet class? Every culture loves to dance, and many little girls (and grown women) dream of becoming ballerinas.

What’s in your refrigerator right now?

Oh, it’s very healthy in my refrigerator! I just went to the farmer’s market, so I have many vegetables, all organically grown. I have chicken and eggs from the farm, avocados, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, asparagus, pesto sauce, sauerkraut, cucumbers, dates, tahini, almond butter, and kale.

What is your favorite way to relieve stress?

When I’m really stressed, I like time to just breathe and think. I like to turn everything off, no phones, computer, or television. I lie down, let my thoughts wander, and breathe slowly and deeply. It helps ground me. And I try to get enough sleep! I’m not a great sleeper if I’m upset or stressed. But if I can relax and let my mind wander before bedtime, I usually am able to fall asleep. And I love to dream. I learn a lot about what is bothering me from my dreams.

What is your idea of happiness?

A sense of peace and gratitude for my life and the people in it.  Good friends and loved ones, animals, nature, work I love, good and delicious healthy food, good rest and sleep.

What do you most dislike?

In people, I dislike dishonesty. In regard to diabetes, it is extremely frustrating when I get sick and the usual regime that can already be challenging goes awry. When difficult gets extra difficult, it’s distressing.

What’s your favorite diabetes management tip?

When in doubt, check blood sugar levels. As a performer, I sometimes thought I was having a low when I was actually nervous for the performance and having a high. Anxiety can raise blood sugar levels for me. Also, sometimes exercise lowers my blood sugar levels, and sometimes, it can raise them. So I never assume, and I always test!

Also, I try to eat for health. If you are craving something, try to find the healthiest version that will satisfy you. I believe when we nourish our physical bodies and our emotional needs with food, we will feel satisfied. For instance, I love using coconut. It is creamy and sweet, and I use it in a lot of recipes.

What words do you try to live by?

Thank you to modern advances! I feel grateful to be living in a time where I am able to live a full and passionate life! And I try to be aware and enjoy the present moment: as John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

What is your greatest extravagance?

I spend more for organic food. I spend the extra money to eat high-quality food.

On what occasion do you lie?

I wouldn’t say I lie. But recently, I avoided telling a friend something because it was painful news. She was already upset, so I decided to wait to tell her a few days later. When I finally did tell her, she understood why I delayed, but asked me not to do that again. It’s so hard to deliver news that will be hurtful to someone.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

I’d bring my mother back.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Somaly Mam is a real life hero. She is a survivor of sex trafficking and devotes her life to saving young girls from the same fate. Also, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is another woman who survived terrible situations and gives back in ways that changes lives. And Jane Goodall! As a child, my hero was Doctor Dolittle. Jane is the real-life Dolittle.

What would you choose for your last meal?

Oh, my answer is a healthy one (as I said, I am a granola-loving California girl). Fresh and dried fruit are sweets for me that I miss eating in abundance. I grew up eating apples, oranges, nectarines, peaches, bananas, mango, papaya, and plums. And I love dates and figs! So I would want a medley of all my favorite natural sweets. And I love nuts and seeds: cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. One of my favorite snacks as a kid was bananas and peanut butter (the crunchy kind). So, some peanut butter for the banana and apple. I know, so healthy! And throw in a blueberry muffin. I miss those, as well.

All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the interviewee and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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