First, a bit of background: I'm owner and chef of Kenny & Zuke's, arguably one of Portland's most popular outlets for fatteningly delicious and rich comfort foods, and a lifelong aficionado of a salty, fatty, sweet and calorie-laden diet.

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.

First, a bit of background: I’m owner and chef of Kenny & Zuke’s, arguably one of Portland’s most popular outlets for fatteningly delicious and rich comfort foods, and a lifelong aficionado of a salty, fatty, sweet and calorie-laden diet. (I’ve always sincerely believed that bacon and cured meats should be their own food group and occupy a dominant spot on the food pyramid, right below whole grains.)

So my Jan. 12 visit to Portland naturopath Martin Milner — at the urging of my wife, and my first doctor’s appointment in seven years — for a routine physical came as quite a shock.

After analyzing my blood work-up, Dr. Milner informed me that my cholesterol levels and triglycerides were high, and that I also had borderline high blood pressure. This I already knew. What he also told me, and was news to me, was that I was diabetic. Type 2. Me, whose idea of moderation was cutting back at breakfast from six slices of bacon to four.

After a half-hour of self-pity and a couple of “what’ll I do’s,” I took account of my life and made some crucial decisions. First, I was going to beat this thing. This was not born out of false heroics or gratuitous boasts, but out of pure necessity and self-interest: I intended to go on living. Second, I realized that I’m perfectly suited to tackle this problem. I’m determined, almost to a fault. I’m optimistic. (Being in the restaurant business for 34 years is pretty much the definition of optimism.) And, I’m a project-oriented person by nature, having opened or helped open 11 restaurants to date, and thrive on challenges.

Except now, I was the project!

Within an hour of my diagnosis I devised a plan: I would embark on the first diet of my 57 years on this planet. Now, as a somewhat accomplished chef, I figured that if anyone could make a diet taste good and be satisfying, it would be me. And though I had quit my three-fourths-pack-a-day cigarette habit seven years ago, I was recently backsliding with a few smokes here and there. That stopped immediately. As for exercise, I’d always done it sporadically until I got bored by the routine, hurt myself or got too busy. Not anymore. Now, it would be a 2-mile brisk walk daily, to start with. Every day. Plus some vitamins and fish oil and various anti-oxidants.

The goal, to lose 40-50 pounds, get healthier and reverse the diabetes in a span of six months to a year. Max.

I’d like to take you with me through this journey. With descriptions of my regimen, the progress and backslides in my condition and efforts, maybe some recipes, some discoveries, some tips. The effects on my marriage and family and friendships. Some recommendations for eating out and satisfying substitutions for the things I crave. Some doubts and revelations.

I believe that who I am and how I’ve lived make me uniquely qualified to write this. First, we caught the disease in its fairly early stages. I’m also not, to put it bluntly, too far gone. I’m overweight, but not severely. I’m out of shape but remember what it was to be in shape. I love food, and I’ve never been on a diet and, in general, disdain them and refuse to do completely without the foods I love.

This will not, in fact, be a “diet,” but a change in the way I eat, the way I look at food. Part of why I’m doing this is to get myself in good enough shape to indulge in the occasional burger or side of bacon or pastrami sandwich, though in perhaps a smaller portion size and less frequently. I think there are a lot of people with whom this will resonate. People who are in my condition, or on their way there or a bit past it.

The starting stats (Jan. 12)
Weight: 239 pounds (already down to 228.5)
Cholesterol: 265 (LDL 144, HDL 52)
Triglycerides: 343
Glucose: 185
Ideal (according to the Mayo Clinic):
Cholesterol: Below 200 (LDL 100-129, HDL 60 and above)
Triglycerides: 150 and below
Glucose: 70-100
Note: LDL is the bad cholesterol, HDL is the good stuff

Why do this? I think it will help some people. Give them a perspective they can relate to. Perhaps encourage them to examine their condition and lives a bit. The key is moderation — not deprivation — and it’s OK to indulge once in a while. Just not daily and grossly.

There’s a risk in going public with my condition, à la Paula Deen, whom I’ll deal with in another column. Can I really now extol a lifestyle of health and moderation while continuing to serve delicious, fat-laden food at Kenny & Zuke’s, and expect my business to continue to grow and prosper? On one level, I feel a bit like Hugh Hefner endorsing abstinence. But I think it’s not a contradiction, and that a healthy diet and occasional indulgences can coexist. But we’ll delve into this and other questions in future columns.

I hope readers will find the columns entertaining and helpful in dealing with their own health and dietary challenges. Each of us has different issues, but we all share the dilemma of how to remain healthy and live long lives while still enjoying the things we love.

I think both are possible.

Next: The new me: What I can, can’t, will, won’t and have to eat: Part 1.

Any questions about Ken’s regimen or, well, anything? Email him at [email protected]