Hometown: Portland, Maine
For those living with diabetes, every day can be struggle. Progress in the form of better A1c control and an overall healthier lifestyle doesn’t come overnight. Each day presents new challenges, and learning how to overcome those challenges helps to achieve one’s ultimate goal—progress. Ward, diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, knew that the journey ahead of him wasn’t going to be easy and that, “the whole process of controlling diabetes is a work in progress.”
Growing up in a family restaurant gave Ward an appreciation for food. By age 13, he became the weekend sous chef. Since then he has worked as a chef manager and catering chef in New York City and Boston. “Falling in love with cooking came with watching Julia Child making a Yule log cake, with spun sugar flying everywhere. Or for that matter, watching Ms. Child cook anything.”
Ward’s love for cooking and fine food made it difficult to transition to a diabetic-friendly diet. “For the first weeks, I spent too much energy being distressed about what I should and should not eat. I moaned about spaghetti and meatballs. I would have killed for some rice with my chicken,” he says. “I looked into diets that severely limited the carbohydrates you eat. I found them dull and boring. I chose to eat proteins and salads so much that my eyes rolled back in my head at the sight of a cucumber. I was completely miserable at mealtime. I am a chef. I create wonderful things for people to eat and my diet was boring. Mentally I was starving to death.”
In a culture where mealtime has become a way to unwind from our busy days, indulging in our favorite foods offers more than just sustenance, but comfort as well. “What had been one of the great pleasures and passions in my life was now the misery of my existence. I hated going to the table,” he says.
Along with any new diagnosis, the bombardment of information about it can seem overwhelming and it wasn’t any different for Ward. “Being diabetic took over my life. I bought books with the carbohydrate and fiber content of every imaginable food product. I read as much as I could about diabetes and discovered that it’s possible to control the disease by watching what you eat,” he says. “I read that I should have so many carbs for breakfast, so many for lunch, etc. It felt like more information than my poor brain could handle.”
Finding the knowledge is one thing but retaining it is another. Diabetes brings a lot of new factors to the table: medications, exercise, diet and lifestyle. Trying to reel in all that information can be stressful, but in time, everything starts to make sense. “I began to memorize and record the carb content of everything I ate,” he says. “To my surprise the books have become part of my reference library. When in doubt, I still consult them to double check.”
Ward didn’t let the diagnosis control his life or change who he was. “I had forgotten that I was a chef. I had to learn to cook for myself, and others, all over again,” he says. “I started to put flavor and color and texture back on my plate. I found ways to make what I eat fun again. I found things that I could gorge on if I wanted without raising my glucose levels.”
After some trial and error, Ward found he was gaining control over his disease. “My numbers are so good that my doctor assures me that I can have absolutely anything I want for a special occasion. Problem is, I am still a work in progress. It is good to know that I can, but I am not to the point that I will,” he says. “From diagnosis to today, where I genuinely enjoy eating and living again, it took a while, thanks to some work and thought. It didn’t happen overnight and it was worth the journey. It became clear to me that there are only more good things to come and I can hardly wait.”
Ward writes a blog on taking back his life and the dining table from diabetes at The Decadent Diabetic.