'Orange Is the New Black' 's Lea DeLaria Reveals Diabetes Diagnosis – and a 50-Lb. Weight Loss

"I've got my energy back. I feel like me and everything is great," DeLaria tells PEOPLE

Photo: Walter McBride/Getty

When Orange Is the New Black star Lea DeLaria made an appearance at a New York event Thursday night, she was dramatically thinner than when we last saw her in season 2 of the Netflix show.

And the brash, fun-loving comic revealed the key to her weight loss while holding on to her fierce sense of humor.

“What you need to do is, first contract diabetes. Two, take the medication that they give you for diabetes,” she told PEOPLE at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center’s annual dinner at Cipriani Wall Street, which honored award-winning Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor and included attendees such as Neil Patrick Harris and Laverne Cox.

Due to the illness and medication, DeLaria said her weight began to drop last fall.

“I lost 50 lbs. since September. I lost 25 lbs. since the SAG Awards [in February] – it’s crazy!”

The newly engaged actress said she’s dealing with her new reality as a type 2 diabetic, which includes a reduction of carbs and sugar and a need for both shots and pills to manage the condition.

“[I was] told that you can either eat potatoes or have beer,” DeLaria, 56, said. “So I went with beer. So here I am. It is what it is.”

The actress, in bubbly good spirits Thursday, recalled the tough time she endured before her diagnosis.

“I feel great,” she said. “But I went through a year of going, ‘Why do I feel so bad?’ When you watch me in the show and I do that crazy dance with Uzo Aduba” – who plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren. “That staggering thing I did, I was 50 lbs. heavier, and I did 12 takes on that.”

“I’ve always been really energetic, but for a year I was feeling really weird, I didn’t know what was going on. Once we did the blood test and we understood what was going on, it was great,” she explained. “And now I’ve got my energy back. I feel like me and everything is great.”

While DeLaria is adjusting to the changes, her fiancée, Chelsea Fairless, is feeling pangs of jealousy.

“One: I have no appetite. Two: When I finally do get an appetite, I take two bites of it. Three: Anything I eat comes right out again because of the medication,” DeLaria said. “My fiancée is like, ‘You’re living my dream!’ It ain’t my dream – I’d rather eat a steak, let’s be honest.”

Even before slimming down, she said, DeLaria was always focused on health rather than beauty standards.

“I hate that. When I lecture at universities I always say, ‘Look, I got laid just as much as I did when I was 50 lbs. heavier than I am right now.’ So, frankly, you’re beautiful no matter what your size is,” she said. “This obsession we have with thinness in our industry and in the world needs to [go away].”

DeLaria, known for her role as tough-talking Big Boo on the Netflix hit, has never shied away from speaking her mind.

“I’ve been an advocate for queer people my entire life. I’ve been a professional lesbian for 33 years, and what’s important now that I’ve leaped into the mainstream – I was moderately famous, now I’m kind of worldwide famous – all I’ve ever wanted to do is change the world and get laid,” she said.

She adds that she and her “best friend,” Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, “feel the same way about things. We will use what celebrity we have to change what goes on in our queer community.”

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