Diary of a Diabetic Chef: After 10 weeks of diet and lifestyle changes, the day of reckoning

Chef Ken Gordon would like to continue to get the message out that moderation in diet and some modest and consistent exercise can do wonders for overall health.

kengordon.JPGView full sizeKen Gordon, owner of Kenny and Zuke’s Deli, was diagnosed with diabetes early this year. He will keep a diary of his efforts to help improve his condition with diet and exercise.

Two weeks ago today, I was sitting in my car outside Dr. Martin Milner’s office, 10 minutes before my appointment. Ten minutes before we’d discuss the results of the blood test I took two days earlier.

A really long 10 minutes.

This would be the first real indication of the progress — or lack of progress — I had made since my diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes 10 weeks earlier. A really long 10 weeks. And the first real evidence, except for the 20-pound weight loss, of the success of my plan to improve my health and hopefully reverse my diabetes.

I’d been asking myself all week whether I should have been more aggressive in my dieting or exercise. The diagnosis had been a shocker, my first significant health scare. My blood numbers and insulin level had not really been all that far from Type 1 diabetes, which would have meant injections and monitoring for, perhaps, the rest of my life.

I was hoping for at least modest reductions in the numbers that measure the conditions — diabetes and metabolic syndrome — that have both changed and ruled my life for the past 10 weeks. If there were none, well, I could count on the dear doctor to suggest more stringent measures than I’d been taking so far, to include — at the very least — a more restrictive diet.

And possibly the use of a blood monitoring device, and supplements, if not pharmaceuticals, which I was loath to start taking.

I left the car, walked in the front door, signed in, then sat in the waiting room, feeling a bit like a convict awaiting his sentence. The doctor finally waved me into his office, giving away nothing with his expression. I sat.

Test results

“Sooooo … what’s the news?” I asked.

“Well, let’s start from the top,” he said, handing me three pages.

“Your cholesterol level shows amazing improvement. It was 265, 10 weeks ago, with the good/bad ratio at 5.1. Now it’s 214 and 4.3, respectively.”

“Wow,” was my response. “That’s incredible! But what about the numbers directly related to my diabetes?”

“Be patient!” Milner chided, clearly wanting to savor the moment.

“Your blood glucose level” — one of the indicators of diabetes and a number that should be under 100 — “was 185 when you were diagnosed. It’s now 107. Your glycohemoglobin A1C, which should be under 6.0, and started out at 8.1, is now 6.9. Glycohemoglobin A1C measures the long-term storage of glucose in the red blood cells, and it’s the most important marker — and slowest moving — in how diabetes improves.”

He smiled as he said it, and I relaxed a bit. Actually, a lot.

“And your triglyceride level,” a measure of fat in the blood and a risk factor for heart disease, with a number under 150 being desirable — “has plummeted from 343 to 126.”

I wanted to feel elated but wasn’t able to because there had to be some bad news coming.

But there wasn’t, and as Dr. Milner proceeded to rattle off number after number, all dramatically lower than 10 weeks before. I finally relaxed.

“The net result of this, Ken, is that — for all intents and purposes — you’ve reversed your diabetes in 10 short weeks!”

He then high-fived me, a gesture that, though I’ve always felt it was a bit silly, convinced me this was really happening.

I was pretty stunned, and I don’t stun easily. Talk about your roller coaster rides! But I’m finding out that one’s health can be like that, especially with increased age. One moment you’re healthy as can be, the next, well, not. Except this was the reverse of that.

It finally started to sink in. In many ways, the “reprieve” was almost as momentous as the original diagnosis. My treatment — a self-regulating program of radically improved diet, reduced portions, less-caloric and healthier snacking, daily but not terribly strenuous exercise, and healthy doses of vitamins my body sorely needed — seemed to have worked. But where do I go from here?

Well, certainly not back.

Feeling better

I don’t know if I feel better than ever, but I certainly feel way better than at any time in recent memory, and much more in control of my health and body. I can’t say that I look better than ever — I used to think that I wanted to look like Paul Newman when he was older, until I realized you pretty much had to look like him when you were younger, too — but my clothes are fitting better, my skin is clearer, my bulges less bulgy, and my step a whole lot livelier. My energy level, off the charts when I was younger, has started to approach that level once more. I’m more clear-headed and my mood has improved. Even my vision seems better.

I’m a lot healthier than I was when this whole thing started. But am I truly healthy? I want to lose 40 more pounds, fully cognizant that the next 20 will not come off as easily as the first 20, and the last 20 will be harder still. So what does that mean for the way I’m eating and exercising now? I guess we’ll find out.

Because now that I seem to be out of the danger zones imposed by diabetes and metabolic syndrome, the next step would seem to be finding out where I can take this. I’m still overweight and still a bit pudgy, and would really like to be slim again. I’m getting in better shape, and love the walking that has become an integral part of my everyday life. But I’d like to start running some, feel good shooting some hoops again — without the sore knees — and play some tennis with my 18-year-old son. Maybe show him a thing or two.

And I’d like to continue to get the message out that moderation in diet and some modest and consistent exercise can do wonders for overall health. A little bit of work can produce results, and a lot of work may produce miracles.

Part of me misses the steady diet of delicacies. But the countervailing feeling of lightness and energy that have been the byproducts of a more thoughtful diet have had so many benefits that the treats have become like friends from the neighborhood I moved from as a child. I miss them, but I’ve got new friends now, and new perspectives, so I don’t need to see the old ones as often.

In a way, making the changes I made is a bit like growing up. To me, it’s about behaving in ways that are less impulsive, more considered. Which is not to say that one can’t indulge on occasion, especially when one’s health is out of that danger zone.

So in that spirit, Leslee and I celebrated the night of the appointment by going to St. Jack’s for a dinner appropriate to the occasion. We indulged as we hadn’t in 10 weeks. It was a fabulous meal, full of deliciously rich foods that I know now I can never again eat in the quantities and with the frequency I used to. Not if I don’t want to go through this again.

To be honest, I did overdo it a little, but not as much as I used to. As a result, I felt a bit more than sated, but not stuffed or bloated. And because I view these foods now as treats instead of staples, they tasted even better than they would have before.

It was a wonderful end to a miraculous day!

Next: A day in the life — that was then.

Any questions about Ken’s regimen or, well, anything? Email him at kgnyport@aol.com; you can also find him at facebook.com/chefkengordon
or on Twitter; search for chef Ken Gordon