"Call me the Happy Diabetic!"
Chef Robert Lewis thought type 2 meant the end of good eating. Boy, was he wrong!
Chef Robert Lewis is a man on the go. When he’s not working as a director of training for 60 restaurants in the Midwest, he is either traveling around the country as a keynote speaker for Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a non-profit organization that helps people, well, do just that, or demonstrating his healthy cooking skills for folks like Al Roker, Indy racecar driver Charlie Kimball and fitness guru Richard Simmons. But there was a time when this Culinary Institute of America graduate was in terrible health and thought his days of cooking—and eating—delicious food were behind him.
“Why was I so tired—even on vacation?”
Back in 1998, Robert noticed he wasn’t feeling like his energetic self. “I was constantly super-tired and sluggish, very thirsty, going to the bathroom every chance I could—something was just not right,” remembers the Iowa-based chef. When these symptoms persisted even during a relaxing family vacation, he knew it was time to make an appointment with his doctor.
That’s when he found out he had type 2 diabetes. “I think there was some shock, but more so, I didn’t really understand the condition,” he admits. His primary care physician handed him a bunch of pamphlets and introduced him to a dietitian, who rattled off a list of foods that were best to avoid.
“Being a chef, that probably wasn’t the best way to get me motivated! I feared my days of good eating were over.”
“I thought I could cure diabetes by eating less cereal!”
For the next six months, Robert struggled with his diagnosis. “I didn’t take my medicine, I wasn’t big on checking my blood sugar and I thought I could cure diabetes by eating less cereal. Basically, I was in denial.”
But everything changed when his wife, Cindy, enrolled him in a three-day crash course on diabetes at a local hospital—an event Robert refers to as his “diabetic spiritual awakening.” “From that moment, I knew it was time to take some ownership and get on it.”
“Accepting my diabetes made all the difference”
By networking with dietitians specializing in diabetes, Robert discovered a new method of cooking—better yet, “as I worked through my ups and downs, I came to realize that the selection of foods I could eat was vast and included many of my favorites. This motivated me to create delicious diabetes-friendly dishes that were also easy to prepare.”
He soon found he wasn’t the only one hungry for tasty low-sugar, low-carb fare. After doing a demo at a women’s health and wellness conference, he was swamped. “There were about 50 people huddled around my booth who wanted to buy my cookbook,” he says. “And I thought to myself, A cookbook…now that’s a good idea!”
Today, Robert—dubbed “The Happy Diabetic” by his family because he’s always cheerful—has authored three cookbooks and continues to spread his love for healthy cooking. “I meet people every day who are hopeless about diabetes,” he says. “They think they have to change their lifestyle immediately, and many find themselves feeling confused and discouraged. I want them to know I’ve been there, and that healthy food can—and should—be delicious!” Not to mention slimming: Robert has lost 25 pounds and boasts an A1C of 6.5!
Try some of his recipes here!