When Giancarlo Caldesi was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2012, it spurred him on to dramatically change his ways.
Giancarlo with his wife Kate
In 2012, I was told I had Type 2 diabetes. At the time, I remember not feeling well at all. I was tired, my eyes were sore, I had blurred vision and intense thirst, despite drinking lots of water, and was making regular visits to the loo. I was overweight and tubby around my belly.
As a busy chef and restaurateur, I knew my lifestyle – and, in particular, my carb and sugar-heavy diet – was to blame. Most days I’d drink around 12 cappuccinos, with two sugars in each, up to lunchtime. Then, I’d have an enormous portion of pasta for lunch. I loved puddings, too.
When I was told I had diabetes, I dramatically changed my diet and began regularly exercising. In four years, I’ve lost 2st and managed to get my HbA1c from 79mmol/mol to 40mmol/mol.
When I found out my blood sugar levels were back within the normal range, and my Type 2 diabetes was in remission, I felt disbelief. I thought, ‘that’s brilliant’.
Now I’m 3 inches slimmer around the waist, and the symptoms have gone. I’m a very determined person.
Nowadays, my diet is very different. In the mornings, I have two eggs, sometimes with a slice of gluten-free bread (two years ago, I found out I am highly gluten intolerant), or perhaps scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and a black coffee. I never eat pastry.
In fact, I have no refined sugar whatsoever anymore – I made that decision overnight, and I’ve stuck to it. The reality is, though, to eat healthy food, you have to think about it.
The majority of supermarkets aren’t friendly environments to shop in – it can be difficult to tell what’s good for you and what isn’t, so it’s a learning process.
I travel a lot, and that’s part of the struggle – it can be really frustrating.
I was inspired to teach wheat-free, low-sugar and veg-packed dishes at my cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi, which I opened with my wife Katie in 2005 (we met in 1996 and now own two restaurants together – Caffé Caldesi in Marylebone and Caldesi in Campagna in Bray).
We cook with fewer carbs and do a lot of vegetarian dishes, like caponata from Sicily, fish dishes like seabass with cherry tomatoes and chilli, garlic and parsley. We also make some lovely soups and teach people how to make my gluten-free pasta, which goes down especially well.
I eat out as much as I used to before, and we have takeaways as a family (Katie and I have two sons, aged 14 and 16). But, I eat moderately and tend to avoid coffee shops and patisseries unless I know they have something healthy on offer.
One thing I’ve learnt is to have less on your plate. If I’m at a restaurant, I tend to keep it low carb with fish or a salad as a starter, then for a main course, I’ll go for fish, chicken or beef. I stick to what’s on my plate instead of having more than one portion and, if I have pasta, I have it as a starter rather than a main course.
Unfortunately, nothing can replace a good plate of pasta, but motivation comes from results, and results mean a lot. For me, the result has been losing weight and feeling much better. You have to be so determined, but at the same time, you can’t be a prisoner within your own skin. You have to indulge sometimes, you can’t suppress that.
It’s important to get out of the box from time to time – and enjoy it. It’s like when you go to a party and you let your hair down. That’s fine, but when you see how you feel the day after, maybe next time you’ll let your hair down, but not quite as much.
This article first appeared in Diabetes UK's Balance magazine.