Diary of a Diabetic Chef:Now, a happy reward for losing weight: new clothes

My new quest to get healthy and drop some substantial poundage puts clothes shopping in a whole new light.

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 improve his condition with diet and exercise.

I just bought a new pair of jeans!

You’d have to know me to understand what a weird statement that is to hear coming from my lips, a bit like, “I just bought an air-popper!”

Maybe weirder.

I don’t — like most men — really like to shop. Other than to food shop, which, admittedly, isn’t as much fun as it used to be, considering my Type 2 diabetes.

Clothes shopping brings to mind thoughts of stuffy department stores in which, within 30 seconds of browsing, I’m gang tackled by five salesmen better dressed than I am who insist that I can join the ranks of the well-appointed. And there’s all that clothes trying on and looking in the mirror, noticing the inches that weren’t there when I last shopped 2 1/2 years ago.

But my new quest to get healthy and drop some substantial poundage puts clothes shopping in a whole new light. Not that it’s ever going to become a favored activity … did I mention that I’m a male in my 50s? But I suspect that, like most who are starting to be successful slimming down, there’s a certain joy in noticing the current wardrobe starting to sag and the realization that one’s looks can be improved by a somewhat tighter fit.

There’s also the prospect of shopping for new clothes becoming something to look forward to as the “new me” takes shape. Not to mention all these really nice shirts hanging in the closet — most of them purchased for me by my wife, Leslee. She, like most wives, possesses substantially better taste than her husband. I never threw out those nice shirts because I knew, deep down, that I’d be able to wear them again one day.

Diabetes will do funny things to one’s destiny, huh?

So how did I get this rapidly improving physique?

It’s really no big secret, and there isn’t just one way. Most of it is common sense. Which translates to retreating from denial and starting to listen to the voice inside of you. The one that, for all those many years, has been saying, “Man, that double bacon cheeseburger with onion rings, washed down with that large chocolate shake … yum! But keep scarfing those down and I’m not going to fit into those shirts that Leslee bought me.” Or, “Hmm, maybe not such a great idea coming home and sitting for four hours in front of my computer after sitting all day at work, then downing a large dinner and dessert before a double feature on Netflix. Then going straight to bed.”

Years of arguing with that voice — rationalizing that there’s always time to diet and work out, that I feel OK and therefore must be healthy — has made me the man I am today, or at least was eight weeks ago when I received my diagnosis: 50 pounds overweight and diabetic, with cholesterol, blood pressure and triglyceride levels that would eventually lead to ailments that are truly scary and life-shortening.

It takes a long time to go from the picture of health (and plans to reach 90) to where I am now, with a less-than-rosy forecast. But so far, it seems my situation can be turned around pretty quickly, and dramatically. Mostly, it takes wanting to. Or needing to. But the change doesn’t happen overnight.

Setting goals is key. I set myself up pretty early with an online nutrition and calorie-counting program (in my case, myfitnesspal.com, but there are other good ones). It’s not prescriptive really, but it will keep you focused and give you some pretty surprising information about what you consume. It will also guide you in setting goals for calorie, fat, protein and carbohydrate consumption that will achieve measurable weight loss when combined with exercise.

I’m currently eating about 1,800 calories per day, with 30 percent of those from carbohydrates — complex, the good kind — 50 percent from protein and 20 percent from healthy fats. I usually hit it pretty close, but don’t beat myself up if I don’t. And combined with walking three miles per day — every day — at a brisk pace (about 4 miles per hour) and click, click, click … the program adds it all up and says I should be losing two pounds per week.

Actually, it’s been more like 2 1/2. My blood pressure has dropped from 168/98 to 138/90. Other tests and blood work will be forthcoming in a couple of weeks, and these will tell me how much progress I’ve made with cholesterol, blood glucose and triglyceride levels. I’m hoping it will be substantial.

Is there anything about me that makes this whole process easier, or is giving me more success than the norm? I don’t think so. True, I have some good cooking skills at my disposal. But some of my skills can be learned, and the rest make you a pro, which isn’t necessary for your purposes. And I’m very determined. But a lot of that comes from deep resources most people can draw on when they need to.

There are a couple of things I do, however, that have really been helpful. First, I focus on the present and the future. To heck with the past, or how I got into this situation, or the shape I’m in. It doesn’t matter, and it’s a downer as a motivator. Sometimes stuff isn’t my fault. Sometimes it is. But that was yesterday. Today, what am I having for breakfast?

And second, it’s important to be flexible and open-minded. There is no one way. There’s only what works. If that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t have a $100 billion-a-year fitness and diet industry and two-thirds of the nation with weight problems. There’s a lot of information out there and a lot of people giving advice. You are the best judge of what will be workable for you, and what you’ll stick to. Because if you’re not going to stick to the program, then it’s a bad program. For you.

There’s really nothing heroic about any of this, or noble. It’s just about focusing on saving your own life. Getting off that big ship you’ve been on, boarding the lifeboat and making it to shore. Where you can buy those new jeans you can now fit into.

Oh, and I bought a belt, three T-shirts and some socks, too.

Next: The challenges of eating out

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