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Diabetic Chef offers talk on surviving the holidays

by: Submitted photo Chris Smith, known as The Diabetic Chef, will talk at Legacy Meridian Park Hospital in Tualatin on Nov. 17.

Chris Smith, known as 'The Diabetic Chef,' will be at the Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center on Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. to discuss lifestyle and eating habits that can be easily utilized for diabetics, but won't alienate them from family and friends at the dining table.

'The first Thanksgiving after I was diagnosed, there were people who prepared special food for me. I was separated with food because of my illness,' Smith said. 'The idea is we can all eat this food; it's healthy for you, and everyone's going to benefit.'

Smith was diagnosed with diabetes in 1993 while he was still a culinary school student.

'I was tired all the time, but I could justify my fatigue because I was working 80 hours a week, externing in New York City at one of the best restaurants in the world,' Smith said. 'I was thirsty all the time, literally drinking three to four gallons of liquid a day, going to my doctor constantly over a seven-month period for the treatment of a stomach ulcer that did not exist. In the last six weeks before my diagnosis, I lost 30 pounds, leaving me at 105 pounds…I'm five-foot-ten. I thought I had cancer.'

Smith prepared himself for the worst, but when he was informed that he had diabetes, doctors told him that this is one of the few diseases that can be controlled.

'I'm a very optimistic person, so to be told, 'Once you become educated, this is something you can manage,' I was relieved; thankful that I knew what this was and that I was able to understand how I could be a part of the solution, how to be proactive in managing my diabetes.'

Before the year was up, the chef was traveling, speaking to members of the diabetic community, sharing how to manage the disease and utilize recipes that are designed to please the whole family.

'You're not just feeding the person with diabetes,' Smith said, who is currently writing his third cookbook and has had articles published in the Better Homes and Gardens Diabetic Living magazine for the past eight years.

'It's not accurate to say that diabetics can't have sugar,' Smith said. 'What we have to be aware of is the amount of carbohydrates we consume. That's the key to understanding (how to manage the disease). I think what my style of cooking does is confront a huge mindset that exists today, which is that diet food tastes terrible. I don't like the word 'diet.' It's a lifestyle. It's about different types of food and moderation.'

Smith said the holidays don't present a particular strain on his commitment to healthy or balanced eating habits, but this is not the case for many people, diabetic or not.

'I enjoy food. Everybody enjoys food. I like to taste a lot of different things, but for me, personally, I eat until I've had enough and I'm full,' Smith said. 'If that means only half of my plate is cleared off, I'm okay with that. It's not complicated, but it's something I have to do for the rest of my life. All of us have to manage our lives if we want to live healthy.

'Lots of people have (diabetes) and they're not fully aware of what they can and can't eat, how to prepare foods in a healthy way and how to maintain (that habit). This is not a disease that manages you.'

The event will be held at Legacy's Community Health Education Center in Tualatin, 19300 S.W. 65th Ave., room 117. To register, visit legacyhealth.org and follow the Classes and Events link, or call 503-335-3500.

'You can enjoy the holidays. This doesn't have to be a cloud over (the occasion). Enjoy the foods that you have,' Smith said. 'But I'm going to challenge people to go outside and take a walk, really be active. Instead of just watching a football game, go outside and throw a ball around. That's a benefit for the family and for everyone's personal health.'

For more information on Smith and his work, visit TheDiabeticChef.com.