When celebrity chef Charles Mattocks, familiar to legions of fans as “The Poor Chef,” discovered he had type 2 diabetes in 2010, he was so overwhelmed by the diagnosis he immediately spent a month going “totally overboard,” he explains. “I was a black man in my late 30s who didn’t know what to eat, what to drink – I knew nothing about diabetes,” he says. “I cut out everything and was just eating salad and water and grapefruit – basically starving myself for 30 days – until I figured out the right things to do.”
Today, Mattocks has a healthy, realistic eating plan in place that includes staying away from soda and white bread, as well as doing his best to watch his portions, keep stress to a minimum, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. “It’s not just about the food – discipline is also a factor,” he explains. “I can have something indulgent now, at times, as long as the other stuff is in place.”
The author of Eat Cheap but Eat Well who has appeared on shows such as Dr. Oz and the Today Show, Mattocks was used to spreading the word about budget-friendly eating with his tagline “What can you cook for seven dollars?” Now, he is just as fervently spreading awareness about diabetes.
In a way, says Mattocks, he has been grateful for the diagnosis: “There are blessings to having received the diabetes diagnosis. I discovered I had a real mission in my life, a real purpose with a definite meaning. It’s not just about personal health and wellness for me, it’s my calling.” Adds Mattocks, “I had to be honest with myself. Having diabetes allowed me to realize that maybe my version of healthy wasn’t really healthy, like eating a salad at a restaurant with a ton of calorie-laden salad dressing.”
His message to diabetics who are struggling? “Find something you really want to continue fighting for, and re-invigorate yourself,” he says. “Diabetes is something to be taken very seriously, but you can use the disease as inspiration, as a way to become an example to others. Don’t just be a victim, be victorious!”
And, he insists, managing blood sugars is possible on a limited food budget. “If you do your research and plan out your meals and find the best deals, you can get it done,” he says. “It’s when you don’t plan out your meal and didn’t take out something from the freezer, that’s when you head for unhealthy, expensive take-out.”
Here are a few tips from Mattocks for tasty, healthy, on-budget meals and snacks:
Make veggies and protein primary. “In my own cooking, I’m leaning toward fresh veggies and lean protein,” he says. “Try experimenting with different vegetable options like kale chips or leafy greens.” Save on fresh veggies by shopping at farmers markets or road stands when you can – you’ll pay less than half of what you pay at one of the name-brand markets. And use coupons! “I am a big fan of using coupons and finding the best deals.”
Be a smart shopper! In addition to encouraging coupon use, Mattocks instructs shoppers to come prepared with a shopping list. As he says “the more prepared you are when you get to the store the fewer impulse purchases you will make. So write out a grocery list and stick to it!” And, adds Mattocks, “shop the perimeter of the store first.” This way, in his view, you will fill your cart with healthy whole foods like fresh produce and meat, leaving less room for the “junk food fillers” and thus saving money.
Keep it fun. “I don’t want someone who is Latin or Jamaican, for example, to change their entire diet, like eating wheatgrass instead of rice,” he says, citing his own Caribbean heritage as inspiration. Instead, it’s about keeping portion size and frequency in mind. “For example, “ he says, “you can still eat rice, but keep the portion size small and don’t have it so often – have it more as a treat than putting it on the table every night.”
Spice it up: “Try different spices to keep your food tasty and varied,” Mattocks suggests. “I do a great curried tilapia that I love, with fresh veggies, onions, and garlic, baked in the oven,” he says. “Spices add no calories but lots of flavor. Frozen fish can really make your budget go farther and today’s flash freezing techniques still allow for great taste. Fresh salad makes a tasty, low-carb, low-calorie side dish. And for an easy, budget-minded salad dressing, combine lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and just shake it up!”
Cook large portions. Says Mattocks: “It saves time to cook once and eat multiple times. One idea is to make a big pot of soup at the beginning of the week or whenever you go food shopping. Freeze or refrigerate the rest. Then, when you don’t feel like cooking, help yourself to a hearty bowlful, along with a green salad. This makes a nutritious but inexpensive lunch or dinner anytime.”
Mattocks is taking his diabetes awareness message far beyond food. He has been named as a 2012 spokesperson for the National American Diabetes Association, and is telling his story, as well as those of others, in a new documentary called “The Diabetic You” that is currently being screened at various film festivals.
He is also kicking off his National Diabetes Testing Tour, which will stop at malls around the country, offering cooking demonstrations and free glucose testing, blood pressure screenings, and information from the American Diabetes Association.
As for himself, Mattocks says his friends, family, and healthcare team continue to serve as a strong support system for his mission to increase awareness as well as his efforts to take care of his own health. “They’re always cognizant about my dietary needs and I know my story has affected those around me,” he says. “Hopefully I’m setting a good example.”
Sharon M. Goldman is a New Jersey-based freelance writer who has written on health, fitness, and nutrition for such publications as Health, Self, Marie Claire, Whole Living, Yoga Journal, and EatingWell. Her family history of diabetes inspires her to learn more about how to try and stay healthy by eating right, exercising and reducing stress. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience