Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'm Coming Out

There has been a ton of stuff in the news and on the blogs and the Twitter this week about Paula Deen’s admission that she was diagnosed Type 2 diabetic over three years ago.  This in and of itself is about as shocking as finding out that poor Amy Winehouse died of complications from alcoholism, or that John Candy had a heart attack. No less sad, but not exactly a head scratcher.   A lot of my friends have been asking me what I think about the whole hoopla, and while I am not really interested in going too much into detail, for what it is worth, here is the short version of my opinion:

I have always been vaguely squicked out by a lot of the food she cooks.  The over the top amount of fat and sugar was too much even for me, and anyone who knows me knows I love some fat and sugar.  But like many others, the bacon cheeseburger between two doughnuts?
 The Krispy Crème Bread pudding with sweetened condensed milk?

 The deep-fried butter balls? 

That is not food, in my opinion. 

Early on in her career I found her sort of charming as a television persona, so I would tune in now and again, even though I don’t know that I ever actually wanted to make any of her food, but I stopped watching the show after a while because I felt personally that the "persona" had taken over, and felt somewhat like a caricature.   From all reports, despite her diagnosis in 2008, the food on her show never altered in its insane level of unhealthy.  Her own son has a new cooking show where he takes her recipes and tries to make them human... I caught half of one where he took her recipe for pimento cheese, and apparently in her version it had nearly 800 calories PER SERVING, not to meantion over 57 grams of fat!!  Anthony Bourdain called her the most dangerous person in America for promoting her type of food in a country plagued with an obesity epidemic especially among children.  (Now, I've seen Tony on TV eating enough Foie Gras, duck fat, and pork products at one meal to kill a small elephant, so perhaps he oughtent be quite so harsh, but still...)

I, like many others, do find it more than a little smarmy and self-serving that her public admission comes on the heels of signing a major endorsement deal with a big pharmaceutical company who makes diabetes medication.  They are about to launch a huge PR program that Paula will be the face of, which would be less annoying if she had been publically making changes since her diagnosis, or if her diagnosis were very recent and it was part of her "new lifestyle".   The whole thing seems somewhat suspect to me, and a shame, because she lost the opportunity of the last 3+ years to help her audience and other diabetics.  Not that I think she should have turned her programs into health food shows, but even being open about her own issues and bringing in SOME healthier recipes would have been a very good thing for her audience. 

 At the end of the day, my primary feeling about Paula Deengate is that I hope she stays healthy, I hope she uses her public forum to help educate people, and hopefully becomes a postive role model for both diabetics and people at risk for developing the disease.

 I do not have an endorsement deal with a pharma company.  Nor do I have the kind of notoriety that will have any public outcry from the news I am about to share…but I too was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about six and a half months ago.  I was very lucky that we caught it at my annual physical, that I was totally asymptomatic, and within three months was able to bring my sugar levels back into the normal range through diet and exercise and the help of a medication that I am not being paid to promote.  (But hey, if the Janumet people are reading this, feel free to make me an offer!)

 My decision to not share this with my Chickens until now, was calculated.  Not because I have a product to promte or because I am being paid by anyone, but because I wanted to spend some time to figure out what my identity is as a person living with diabetes.  I wanted to spend some time thinking about this blog and its place in my life and as representative of who I am as a writer, and decide thoughtfully how my new reality might impact that.  I knew that I did not want to suddenly become a “Diabetes Blog”, or to only share recipes that were “diabetic friendly”, because those are not the things that inspire  me to write, nor are those the things that I want to cook all the time.  One of the most important things for me was to get to a place where I understood how my condition was becoming a part of me and my life before sharing with all of you.

The most important change for me as a cook and an eater was the universal agreement by my doctor, my diabetic nutritionist, and my diabetic nurse educator was that there are NO FORBIDDEN FOODS.  Not one.  There is not a single thing in the world I cannot eat.  I just have to manage my portions.  I can have pie.  I just can’t have the WHOLE pie.  I can have sugar.  I can have pasta.  I just have to know how much I am allowed to have at any one time and not go above that amount. EVER.   

 I can’t do what I used to do when dieting, saving all my carb portions for the whole day for a pasta blowout or Cheetos festival.  My life is about managing my sugar and preventing spikes, so no more huge bowls of mashed potatoes for dinner.  But a half-cup of mashed potatoes next to my chicken and broccoli?  Sure!  The occasional 1 oz bag of Cheetos along with my lunch salad, or a scant cup of pasta with a ton of veggies bulking up the sauce?  Absolutely.  Is it better if the Cheetos are baked and the pasta whole grain?  You bet.  But if I want the real deal, I can have it.  I just have to balance it with my other food, and not go over my limit. Low carb, not no carb is the only way for diabetics to keep their sugars in check, and not going into deprivation-mode keeps you MUCH happier psychologically.

 I’ve been working the low-carb thing for just over six months now, and while it is really hard sometimes, it also has allowed me to get a handle on a lot of my eating issues.  I’m down 3-4 sizes, trying to focus on getting smaller and healthier as opposed to “losing weight”, judging progress mostly by how my clothes fit and how I feel, so I’m not enslaving myself to the scale.  I’m somewhere in the vicinity of 40 lbs lighter than I was six months ago, but most importantly, I have had normal blood sugar numbers for 3 months, and my lifestyle has changed for the better. 

 Part of this for me was that I am NOT dieting.  I’m not counting calories.  I’m not writing things down in a journal, or rocking a points system.  Because these things have never worked for me in the past.  They work well for some, and my feeling is WHATEVER works for you, go forth.  Just never was able to have success myself with those methods. 

Instead, as a major recovering carboholic (hence the whole diabetes thing), I’m counting and managing carbs, and getting regular exercise, and so far, that has done the trick.  I know that in the near future I will likely hit a plateau and stop getting smaller, and then I will have to start paying stronger attention to some of my other food groups or up the amount of exercise I am doing, but until that happens; eating-wise my sole focus is on my carbs.  And it is pretty easy once you get used to it.  No more than 12 total carb servings a day, no less than 10 per day, and no more than 4 servings in any five hour period.  It is just that simple. 

 One serving of carbs is 15 net grams, so as long as I eat between 45-60 grams in a five hour period of my waking day, I’m good to go.  Net carb grams is essentially the total number of carbs in any ingredient or food item, minus ½ the number of grams of fiber.  So if I have whole grain pasta, and one portion is 35 grams of total carbs, but there are 10 grams of dietary fiber, my net carbs are 30 grams, which is 2 carb portions.

 I try for at least 2/3 of my daily carb intake to be from “healthy carbs”, i.e.: skim milk, whole fruits,  whole grains and whole grain breads.  But I don’t deny myself the occasional “processed” carb or refined sugar.  Keeping these things in my diet in moderation has saved me from falling off the wagon or bingeing.  I often save one of my evening carb portions for something sweet…four squares of ultra dark chocolate is one carb, and while it isn’t a hot fudge sundae (oh how I miss a hot fudge sundae) it is real chocolate, delicious, and keeps me mentally sated.  On the days where ALL my carbs are super healthy, I feel very virtuous, but on the rare days when only ½ of them are, I don’t beat up on myself.  It is all about balance, and if I keep within my allowable portions, I know I don’t put my health in danger.

 Obviously this is the very Reader’s Digest version, but as I mentioned, I have no intention of this become a diet or diabetic blog.  You are still going to get tons of amazing “normal” recipes (wait till I tell you about the Brown Sugar Bacon Cookies!), and the usual rants about whoever has ticked me off this week.  But when I come across a healthy recipe that I think is amazingly delish?  I’ll share. 

You have to be careful with this type of eating, in that low-carb does not always equal low-calorie.  Sometimes the calories can even be higher, which seems rude to me.  But for the moment, as long as I am staying within my limits, I am good to go. 

In honor of my coming out, I thought I would share a delicious low-carb recipe, that also happens to be gluten free.  (I don’t have a gluten issue, but if you do or know someone who does, here you go!) 

 This is a new one that I found over at ibreatheimhungry.com and I have adapted it a bit.  Again, this is not a low-calorie recipe, the calories are actually about the same as they would be for regular pizza crust, but for those of us who need to do low-carb or gluten free, it is a boon.  Because flax meal is entirely dietary fiber, the net carbs are negligible.  Which means if you are craving pizza in that “I want to eat a WHOLE pizza” way and not the “I am fine with being rational and having one piece of pizza and a big salad” way, but don’t want to derail your low-carb thing, especially for diabetics it is a much safer thing to eat.  The recipe also works for making crackers, which is a great thing to bring to the next wine and cheese party, especially if you aren't advertising your need to avoid lots of carbs.  Even better, it doesn’t need to rise and comes together in about 2 minutes, so you can actually have pizza faster than delivery.  It is a great base for whatever toppings you like, great for experimenting with leftovers!

 Almost No-Carb Pizza Crust

Adapted from I Breathe I’m Hungry Blog

 1 cup flax meal (ground flax seeds, I get mine at Whole Foods) 

1 whole egg plus one egg white (the original used 2 whole eggs, but I’m saving where I can, and it doesn’t affect the end result as far as I can tell)

1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (the original used ½ c, but I found it fine with the slight reduction, and better for making crackers so that the parmesan flavor was less pronounced and didn’t interfere with any cheese you might want to eat with the crackers)

1 t kosher salt

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Press onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper about 1/3 inch thick in a circle, leaving a slight ridge around the edge.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 10-12 minutes. Should feel very firm to the touch.  Remove. Cool at least 15 minutes on a rack, but longer if you want. 

Place crust on a piece of parchment paper on a cutting board or on the back of a sheet pan.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.   Add a light bit of sauce and the toppings of your choice (anything that is likely to get soggy, like watery veggies-tomatoes, peppers, onions, you might want to pre-cook to prevent the crust from losing its crisp).

I want to try doing just toppings and cheese and sauce on the side for dipping, but I like a really crispy crust.  As is, with sauce and not too much topping moisture, you should have a crust that is firm enough to pick up, but still pliable.  Slide the pizza (still on the paper) onto the center rack of your oven.  Bake for another 14-18 minutes at 400. Your toppings should be bubbling and your crust should be crispy on the outside.  Remove by pulling the parchment gently towards you and sliding the pizza back onto the cutting board or back of a sheet pan.  Let rest 5 minutes before cutting.   I like to do this at higher heat and directly on the rack because it helps ensure the crust stays crisp on the bottom.

For this pizza, I used about ¼ c of marinara sauce, 1 leftover turkey meatball that I diced up, about ½ a fresh mozzarella ball, sliced thin, and some fresh basil.  Because the crust is whole grain, it is filling, so this 10 inch pizza is enough to serve 2 people pretty amply, which would make it both rational in terms of calories and very low carb. 

Please understand, this is not going to have the taste or texture of regular bread dough.   It will remind you more of a soft nutty whole grain cracker.  So if you are having serious PIZZA cravings, you might find it disappointing.  But the flavor is good, and if you are open to it being its own thing, I think you will like it.  You can experiment and add herbs or other hard cheeses to the dough, try it with golden flax meal instead of brown, whatever you want!

 CRACKERS:  To make crackers, press or roll the dough thinly as you can on a greased cookie sheet.  Drizzle or spray with a small amount of olive oil.  If you want toppings like poppyseeds or sesame seeds or herbs, sprinkle them on top.  Score with a knife into the size crackers you want, I usually do squat rectangles.  Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, or until they feel very firm to the touch.  Cool on a rack before breaking into crackers. 

The last thing I will say is this...if you are at risk, either because of family history or a weight problem, get tested.  If your doctors says your sugars are pre-diabetic or getting close, get some help and change your eating before it becomes full-blown, because words like Chronic and Managable are not equal to Fun and Delightful.   There are plenty of skinny people who get Type 2 diabetes, and plenty of obese people who don't.  But know your numbers, and if you need to, make some changes.  Even the difference of losing 10 pounds or changing your diet or getting some exercise can make a world of difference.  I was on the high side of normal sugars for about five years, and if I had made some of these changes then, I might have avoided it becoming full-blown altogether.  Dumbass me.

Stay tuned later this week when we talk about some molecular cocktails and those Brown Sugar Bacon Cookies.  In honor of poor Paula Deen and everything she is going through this week.  Because if you are going to save one of your precious carb portions to have just one cookie, you definitely want bacon in it.  I'm not saying, I'm just saying.  (And Paula?  You can't deep fry it or put it between two doughnuts, 'kay?)

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. Good for you, Stacey. All around. Healthy mentally and physically is pretty much da bomb.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing! I can't wait to give it a try. I recently found out i was insulin resistant, though not diabetic. I've been working out and eating well for months but haven't dropped an ounce. In the last couple of weeks, I've been working to adjust my diet, limit carbs and balance them with lean proteins all the while not depriving myself. it's a learning process, but I've seen movement on the scale for the first time in months on end and I feel better!
    Please continue to share any winner recipes you find! I think a lot of people can benefit from them, even if they aren't diabetic. of course, I think we'd all enjoy anything involving bacon, just the same!

  3. Thank you for an amazing post. I agree with you on Paula Deen and I am inspired by your revelations about your own diabetes diagnosis. I am going to schedule a long overdue check up for myself to address my own weight issues and have my blood checked.

    And I want to thank you again for the blue silicon oven mitt that I won on your site several months ago. I think of your generosity every time I use it...and have no more burned fingers!

    All the best,

  4. I'm sorry to hear about this diagnosis, Diabetes is not an easy disease to live with. But I'm glad to hear you're being smart and healthy about it!

    Paula Deen pisses me off only because she missed such an opportunity to enlighten her fans, I mean she has a HUGE fan base, about how to eat as a diabetic! There is no reason one can't have a fattening meal every once in awhile, and there's no reason not to enjoy all sorts of foods, out WHY wouldn't she throw in some healthy, low glycemic meals!!! Educate! I just don't understand.

    Best of luck to you and your health!

  5. Great post! Congratulations on the lifestyle changes that are making you healthier and fitter. I was diagnosed with insulin resistance in November. My doctor gave me 3 months to make changes to see if my numbers would change. In that time frame I too have chosen to eat "lower" carb and have lost 20 lbs. I will find out Monday if I have to start medication or if I've delayed that.

    I thought for sure when you said pizza crust, I'd see that one made from cauliflower that is going around like wild fire on blogs and Pinterest. Thanks for sharing something different.

    Best wishes to you as you continue to work on your health!

  6. I'm in the pre-diabetic stage and the thing that I find the most annoying is not the diet changes but the fact that I have to constantly plan the timing of the next meal. Like if I'm getting ready to go out and won't be home for 6+ hours, I have to remember to take food with me or pre-determine where I can forage for food in order to avoid those sugar spikes/drops. Traveling is the worst because you have to plan for all kinds of situations. I look forward to seeing your low-carb recipes. I have a question about the pizza crust--what happens if you don't let the crust cool before you top it and put it back in the over?

    1. So for me, the key to this crust is that you want to limit possibilty of sogginess or drying it out too much. It is a delicate balance. By cooling the crust it firms up enough to support toppings, and doesn't overcook. But you don't have to let it cool completely, just let it firm up a bit.

  7. I appreciate you 'coming out', but like you said, it really wasn't necessary. You have a wide range of dishes and recipes that you share so if you give us one heavy-laden with fat and sugar it's not a big deal. But Paula has no range. I too used to watch her because of her personality. But I have never been tempted to try any of her recipes and I would never buy one of her cookbooks. She's a sweetheart but she branded herself a little too specifically.

  8. I was diagnosed with insulin resistant PCOS in 2006. Since then it has been a volley to balance my life, hormones & blood sugar to keep me out of the diabetes classification. Thank you for sharing!

    And to give back... If you haven't tried it, Dreamfields makes a wonderful tasting pasta that I use to supplement a bowl full of fresh veggies topped with a lemon juice based dressing...

  9. Even the NYT Food section article acknowledged that Paula appeals to a certain group of cooks who want comfort food and not nutrition lessons. As for the Krispy Kreme burger, I took that one with a chuckle when I saw it. There are plenty of great food shows, blogs, recipes for healthy eating, and while I've never been a huge fan, I didn't expect to see her eschewing butter and sugar on her show. After all, she hocked hams in commercials. That said, I've been a type Two for about six years and I've managed to balance my eating needs with my health. Not always fun, but amazingly enough I don't enjoy candy or cake nearly as much as I used to now that I rarely eat that much sugar. For a self-confessed sugar junky, that represents real change.

  10. Thank you for sharing, as always you share from your heart and I greatly appreciate it!

  11. I agree with you Stacy on how Paula Deen missed an opportunity to use her notorarity for a good cause. However I am not sure the public would have completely received her message with open arms. Often times some people are looking for someone (McDonalds or PD) to blame for their problems. Because at the end of the day, Paula nor her sons are forcing the public to cook her food. It is a choice.

  12. As usual- you made your point while being informative and funny. Glad to hear you've got your numbers under control and are feeling great. I am a Paula Deen fan- but I agree with your point, it would have made a bigger impact if she came out before the endoresment. Just sayin'...
    all the best-

  13. Thank you for this. I was diagnosed prediabetic last May. My doctor told me to walk an hour a day and, "Watch your carbs and sugars." I've looked online to see what is good and what to avoid, but everything is a big jumblegobblygook. This helps TREMENDOUSLY! (I've lost a total of 43 pounds and have gone from an 18 to a 14!)

  14. Thank you! I used to be in love with all things Paula - but the more I followed her, the more her persona seemed to be a little less genuine & a little more cultivated. I enjoyed your recipe & intend to give it a go.

  15. I'm preparing on baking some muffins for my nan and she's a diabetic.
    . Sugar is integral towards the muffins actually working, so does anyone know any fantastic alternatives?

    My web page ... Derek Cleveland

  16. I am really late to the ballgame on this post, but I had a question. I am pre-diabetic too and found your explanation of your carb-watching method helpful.

    I'm wondering if there are any tools for watching net carbs that you like?