Diary of a Diabetic Chef: Journey toward better health will continue

It's been six months since my diagnosis for Type 2 diabetes. Six months of change, evaluation and more change. And six months of this weekly column.

diary.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 treat his condition with diet and exercise.

It’s been six months since my diagnosis for Type 2 diabetes. Six months of change, evaluation and more change. And six months of this weekly column.

When I started, I was the walking picture of ill-health-to-be. I just didn’t know it yet. I was 50 pounds overweight, with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood glucose levels. But I didn’t feel so bad and, with a strong dose of denial thrown in, it might have been a few more years of a downward health spiral before I had a heart attack or needed daily insulin injections.

But I’ve managed to turn my health around, and I’m happy that this weekly column seems to have helped inspire others. I’ve also written for other publications, lectured for health organizations, done interviews to promote healthy lifestyle choices and formed connections with organizations that help those with health challenges. All great, but really all motivated by my need to save my own life. All of it helped keep me honest and on track. I don’t know if I would have made the same remarkable progress without others watching.

Having to report publicly on my health each week has been a huge motivator. I’ve dreaded the prospect of having to admit gaining back a couple of pounds, cheating on my dietary goals or missing a day of exercise. I’ve felt I’ve had both a cheering section and a panel of critics watching my every move for inspiration or a misstep. I’ve heard from all sides and have tried to answer each hooray and criticism. The support group of readers, media, friends, customers, business associates and family have given me no small amount of inspiration and energy. Everyone has had something to say about my appearance. Strangers come up to me at food carts and ask, “Really? Can you eat that?”

It seems there are so many people with some investment in my behavior now, either because they care about me or because they are modeling their own behavior on mine. I think that a great number of good deeds and courageous achievements have personal experience as their motivation.

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Continuing coverage of Ken Gordon, owner of Kenny and Zuke’s Deli, who was diagnosed with diabetes early this year and spent six months turning his health around.

I can’t deny that I would never have gone down this path or achieved the success I did as fast as I did, had I not been so frightened in the doctor’s office last Jan. 12. And I guess that’s a big point. I’m not trying to make a buck writing a diet book or a self-help manual. My journal of my attempts to improve my health resonates with some readers not because it tells them what to do, but because it tells me what to do. It has helped me live in a healthier way than I have been, buy some more time and feel better. Like all of us.

This was to have been my last column of the six months’ worth that I originally committed to with The Oregonian. And it is, at least in the weekly format. But The Oregonian has asked me to continue the column once a month, to appear the last Wednesday of every month, starting in August. I have accepted their offer.

In the meantime I have a few people to thank, starting with my editors at The Oregonian. When I wrote them just over six months ago offering to chronicle my experiences turning around my health, they knew me as a local chef and restaurateur who had written a couple of opinion pieces and a few letters to the editor. Not exactly the journalistic qualifications that you expect for a weekly columnist on the cover of each Wednesday’s Living section. But they must have seen something of value, and they enthusiastically took me up on my offer and have shown tremendous support.

Thanks to Dr. Martin Milner, my naturopath and head of the Center for Natural Medicine, who has served as my doctor, adviser, lifestyle coach, dietitian, mentor, friend, critic, food taster and sounding board. To say I couldn’t have done this without him is a vast understatement.

Finally, the greatest thanks are for my wife, Leslee Lewis. She’s been my own personal, live-in editor. Her 20-plus years in the health and fitness fields and her unquenchable thirst for knowledge about diet, physical well-being and the environment have so completely informed my behavior and views on health that it’s impossible to know which are mine and which are hers put into my own words. Bless her for manipulating me into going to see Dr. Milner in the first place and for her restraint in saying “I told you so” for all the things I now do that she’s been telling me to do for years.

I wish you all well on your personal journey toward better health, and I’ll keep you posted on my own from time to time. See you next month.