STAR JONES is a lawyer, author and celebrated TV personality who is perhaps best known for her larger-than-life personality and "tell it like it is" candidness. She once tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds, underwent gastric-bypass surgery 10 years ago and has maintained her weight loss.
But in 2010, at age 47, she faced her biggest health crisis so far when she was diagnosed with heart disease and had open-heart surgery to repair her aortic valve.
Now a proud spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, Star was in Philly recently as the keynote speaker at the 10th annual Go Red For Women Luncheon.
Here's an excerpt from our frank chat about health, weight, Chris Christie's surgery, black-women's hair - and cheesesteaks.
Q: You had a heart attack and surgery in 2010. How are you feeling these days?
A: I'm in the best health of my life, but I didn't have a heart attack. I had a genetic disorder and a malfunctioning aortic valve. A lot of African-Americans have genetic heart disorders. When it comes to African-Americans, heart disease beats out all four leading causes of death combined.
Q: How much do you think obesity contributes to heart disease?
A: Eighty percent of heart disease is avoidable by making lifestyle changes! If we could eradicate obesity, diabetes, smoking, overeating and not getting enough exercise . . . Yes, there are genetic and congenital disorders, which we can't prevent, but I think my obesity contributed to my health problems.
Q: Was your surgery a preventive procedure?
A: I had elective heart surgery to stave off replacement-valve surgery or even a heart transplant later.
Q: We know that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for all Americans, but it hits black women particularly hard. What do you want sisters to know about heart health?
A: We have to make good choices. I do 30 minutes a day of some type of movement, and some type of class at least three times a week - like pilates, soul cycle or core fusion.
First of all, I don't want to die too soon. This is the best time of my life. I would say that to black women: You want to be here for your children, your family. We want to experience all the goodness and the grace that is available to us.
If all we have to do is stop smoking, take out the excess salt and saturated fat in our diet, and get our butts off the couch, I think it's worth it!
Q: But it's tricky, and women overwhelmed by stress often feel deprived. How do you manage treats?
A: You can treat yourself every now and then. I treated myself last night. I'm in Philly; I treated myself to half a cheesesteak.
Q: Where did you go?
Q: That's my spot, too.
A: I was raised in Trenton, and all my life I have been a cheesesteak fanatic! Last night was a wonderful experience for me to get one of my favorite things on the planet and choose to eat half of it. It really said to me that I have made a change in my life.
Q: Regarding sisters, what about hair, which is often a barrier between African-American women and exercise.
A: Pin your hair up, put on a scarf and get on the bike. That's what I do, and I'm a hair girl! Get a workout wig. It's not that deep.
And not for nothing, as India.Arie said, we are not our hair! Beside, they make so many amazing products now. I change my hair every other week, but I'm not going to get another body.
Q: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been getting a lot of press about his decision to have the gastric-band surgery to help him lose weight. What advice do you have for him?
A: I would never presume to tell anybody who's starting their weight-loss journey what to do, because every single person is different. But what I would say to him is, go on this journey only thinking about your health.
Ten years after [my] weight-loss surgery, as you can see, I have kept the weight off. Whether he decides to run for president or doesn't run for president, 10 years from now, does he want to play with his children? Does he want to be with his wife or make her a widow?
Those are the only things to consider. Your health is worth it.
I can tell you that by his choice, he has staved off stroke, staved off the course of destiny as it relates to heart disease, put up a block on adult-onset diabetes, shifted the paradigm of whether or not his hips are going to be aligned, increased his lung capacity. Just by that one decision, [he's] saved his own life, and I say, Bravo!
Q: On another note, what's on your playlist when you exercise?
A: I actually have two playlists. I have my "you got to get up and move" playlist, which consists of Prince, Michael Jackson, Rick James, Diana Ross and the Supremes - I'm a Motown type of girl. And it has my two favorite rap songs, Snoop's "Gin and Juice" and 50 Cent's "In [Da] Club."
But my walking workout music is all praise music. Because I am not supposed to be here, but God had another plan for me.