For the first time in my more than 50 years on the face of this earth, I am going to have a real Thanksgiving.

Of course, I've always celebrated the fourth Thursday in November with family and friends and football and parades and turkey and way too much eating. But this year will be different - this year the focus will be not on food but on actually giving thanks.

Why? Because six months ago I was diagnosed with diabetes. Not "pre-diabetes," but the actual pricking your finger every morning to monitor your sugar levels and taking medicines and changing your eating and lifestyle kind of diabetes. I am not alone. More than 8 percent of the U.S. population - that's about 26 million people - also have diabetes.

For me, the diagnosis came unexpectedly, and was one for which I would never have imagined I would be thankful. But truly I am.

In the past six months I have learned how to monitor my glucose levels, what my A1c levels mean, what to eat and when to eat it, the need for exercise and the importance of making (and keeping!) regular doctor appointments. I have learned that sugar and carbohydrates are not my friends. I have learned that losing more than 80 pounds has been good for my diabetes as well as for my knees.

Family, friends and co-workers have complimented me on my weight loss. They tell me I look good. While that is nice to hear, it is not important to me. I have come to realize that how I take care of the inside of me is much more important that what I look like on the outside.

All of which leads me to this: gone from my Thanksgiving celebration this year are the candied yams and the mountains of stuffing and mashed potatoes and the pumpkin pie with gobs of whipped cream. Of course I will be making all of that for the guests I will entertain that day. But I will not partake.

I will, however, substitute overeating with gratitude.

And, what am I thankful for? First and foremost, my health. I used to take for granted what feeling good and being healthy really means. Not anymore. I know well-being is a gift from God that needs to be appreciated, safeguarded, treasured. I am thankful that I have this opportunity to show God that I do indeed value my health.

I am thankful for my doctor. She not only discovered I was diabetic, but took the time to explain to me what my diagnosis means and to teach me what I can and cannot eat. She impressed on me the seriousness with which I must confront this disease. She and her team of nurses have done an excellent job of monitoring my health. They have done an even better job of cajoling, encouraging and sometimes even threatening me to change my unhealthy behavior.

I am thankful for family and friends who have shown their care and concern for me. They offer well-meaning advice. They inquire as to how I am feeling. They remained loyal as I experienced a gamut of emotions processing and coming to terms with my diabetes.

I am thankful for this second chance at feeling better and living a longer, healthier life. I am thankful that I have been stopped on what could best be described as a self-destructive path of bad eating and bad health habits. I am thankful that I now care about myself again.

Indeed, this will be a very thankful Thanksgiving. And, most importantly, it is now a holiday that I will not relegate to a once-a-year observance. Everyday will be a kind of Thanksgiving Day for me as I give thanks to God for my new outlook on life.