Debbie Allen Says She and Denzel Washington Connect Over This Healthy Habit

Since 2011, Grey’s Anatomy fans have known actress Debbie Allen by another name: Dr. Catherine Fox (née Avery).

For over 10 years, the Texas native has played the razor-sharp urologist, and is now returning for the series’ 20th season, which premieres tonight. And, at 74, Debbie is balancing her many responsibilities—including starring, executive producing, and directing some Grey’s episodes—with ease, just as she’s been doing since she was a teenager.

“I was [voted] Most Versatile in my high school class in Houston, Texas. I was dancing, I was a majorette, I was one of the homecoming queens. I was always multitasking,” Debbie exclusively tells Women’s Health. “That path has kind of followed me. I always did more than one thing.”

And Debbie is prioritizing her health more than ever, even partnering with Prevent Blindness to launch the Gr8 Eye Movement in September, which brings awareness to serious retinal diseases like diabetic macular edema and diabetic retinopathy.

The cause is close to Debbie’s heart, as she’s pre-diabetic herself, and lost her father when he was just 63 years old due to complications from diabetes.

“It just kind of ravished my family,” she says. “There are millions of people out there that don’t even know they’re at risk.”

Now, Debbie explains how she’s staying as healthy and busy as ever—even with the help of fellow star and friend Denzel Washington. More on that—and the upcoming season of Grey‘s—below.

Debbie keeps her diet and exercise routine simple.

When it comes to health, Debbie keeps it simple, eating a low carb, low sugar, and high protein diet. She and her friends will even trade health information to ensure they have the best routine possible—including Denzel, whom she said called her the other day to discuss water intake.

“I had Denzel Washington calling me on-set the other day, telling me, ’64 ounces a day! You gotta drink 64 ounces!'” she recalls. “I’m like, Honey, calm down. I can’t. I’ll be going to the bathroom every two minutes!'”

Debbie adds that he followed up the next day to ask if she was following his advice. And while she may not be getting the entire 64 ounces, Debbie says that it’s important to drink as much as possible, especially as you age.

And, although she’s no longer dancing as much (in addition to Grey‘s, Debbie is also known for her work as a star and choreographer on Fame), she says her students at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy keep her legacy going.

“My daddy would always tell me, ‘Keep dancing, Deborah K, and you’ll be okay!'” she adds.

She takes inspiration from her mom.

A major inspiration for her health journey, Debbie says, is her mother Vivian, who is currently 100 years old. From a young age, Debbie says she’d help her mom, who’s a poet, collate her writing; the experience quickly taught her the value of hard work, she said.

“I think it’s a measure of my strength that I’ve stayed so active and energetic about what I’m doing,” she says.

Debbie works on projects she’s passionate about.

But perhaps the most important piece of health advice Debbie shares is to “remain joyful.” Being excited about the projects she’s working on—including Grey‘s and the Gr8 Eye Movement—keeps Debbie excited and active, which helps to ease her stress levels.

Debbie is currently focusing on the upcoming season 20 of Grey’s Anatomy, which she says will be “starting out of the gate pretty hot,”

The episode will pick up right after last season’s finale, in which two interns, Lucas (Niko Teho) and Simone (Alexis Floyd), went rogue during a surgery. Debbie’s character Catherine will come down pretty hard on the two, with Debbie adding, “They’re going to see just how much trouble they’re really in.”

Of course, in real life, Debbie is nowhere near as intense as Dr. Catherine Fox.

“I try to be joyful because stress is a big part of people’s health—or not. It’s about how you manage stress,” she says.

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