Diabetes advocate and media spokesman Charles Mattocks utilizes various media and communication means to promote his message of awareness for type 2 diabetes as well as being living proof that making lifestyle changes can improve peoples’ lives, and work towards staving off complications.

By: John Parkinson, Clinical Content Coordinator, DiabetesCare.net

One weekend a couple of years ago, Charles Mattocks was feeling really fatigued and noticed he was making frequent visits to the bathroom. Already known publicly as the Poor Chef, Mattocks had written a cookbook, Eat Cheap But Eat Well, and had made several TV appearances promoting his book including being seen on everything from network morning talk shows to Martha Stewart to CNN to Dr. Oz. Mattocks, a former actor who had garnered an Emmy nomination for his role in the television movie, The Summer of Ben Tyler, was comfortable being in front of the camera.

Not wanting to chance anything, Mattocks decided to go to a health clinic. Instead of being diagnosed with some type of infection or something easily treated, Mattocks got the news that would change his life’s direction—he had type 2 diabetes.

His evolution from the Poor Chef to diabetes advocate began with an inward look as he started making lifestyle changes. Already involved with food, and working out with weights, Mattocks was not ready to begin taking medication. Instead, Mattocks decided to lose weight by modifying his diet and exercise routine. His own self-awareness was the first part of his evolution. Several months after being diagnosed, he lost between 15-20 pounds.

As part of his own education about diabetes, he realized there were some gaps in the public’s knowledge of the disease. Mattocks knew with his acting background he could do public speaking and educate the masses.

Since that decision, Mattocks has utilized various media opportunities and communication means to spread his message in helping to raise awareness about type 2 diabetes and inspire people to work towards better health. He has recently wrapped up writing a cookbook with the American Diabetes Association, co-authored Diabetes and Healthy Eating, a kids book, speaks at diabetes events, and is in the midst of finishing up a documentary, The Diabetic You, which he hopes to wrap up later this year.

One of the themes of the documentary is the ravages of complications. For example, Mattocks spent time over in India filming the toll type 2 diabetes has taken on the citizens in that country. One of the problems in India is a lack of awareness. Similarly, he says the African-American population here in the U.S.—another group that has a greater risk of type 2 diabetes—could benefit  from more public education on the topic.

Mattocks believes there are so many people who could benefit from lifestyle changes, yet in both the United States and overseas, many providers put an emphasis on medication first for patients. Mattocks wants to bring about a greater emphasis for healthier lifestyle modifications.

While he acknowledges type 1 and type 2 are different, he also believes there should be more inclusiveness in the diabetes community and industry to unite everyone who has the disease. He cites a lack of public health policy or even public service announcements (PSAs) as examples.

As part of his advocacy, Mattocks was working with Shire Regenerative Medicine earlier this year where he partnered with the company on the Diabetic You mobile tour. Shire sponsored the tour which included stops in Arizona and Southern California. Mattocks did cooking demonstrations and an array of experts spoke about complications of diabetes.

He has also pitched a show idea to an L.A. production company where people with type 2 diabetes try to stop the progression of diabetes by modifying their lifestyles.    

With numerous ongoing advocacy projects, DiabetesCare.net wanted to sit down to speak with Mattocks about them as well as understand his evolution in going from the Poor Chef to diabetes advocate.

DiabetesCare.net: Can you talk about your experience in finding out you had type 2 diabetes?

It was terrifying. It happened over a weekend. I was at home and I was going to the bathroom frequently. I was trying to self-diagnose myself. I decided something was going on, and went to a local clinic. The doctor told me I had type 2 diabetes. I thought it was going to be a bladder or urinary tract infection.

It took me about a week to come to grips with it. I remember the doctor telling me he could put me on medication and I thought to myself, ‘this can’t be right. My numbers weren’t that high as compared to some.` After reading up on it, I thought I should have been told to change my diet immediately, lose weight, exercises and follow-up with my doctor; that should have been the first clinical advice I received.

I have often thought about what if I had just taken medication and where I would be now in the progression of my diabetes. And I also think about how many people around the U.S. and the world who have been diagnosed and decided to take the medicine without knowing about the benefits of lifestyle changes. That is what opened me up to becoming a diabetes advocate.

DiabetesCare.net: Speaking of advocacy, you have evolved in going from being known as the Poor Chef to diabetes advocate. What are your overall diabetes advocacy goals?

I want to be one of the biggest faces in diabetes. There is not a lot of support amongst the various agencies or advocacy groups. The message is not out there the way it should be. Diabetes takes more lives than AIDS and cancer combined. Yet, we don’t have a public health initiative to discuss preventing type 2 diabetes. If you look at the PSA and awareness campaigns for cancer, you have tons of celebrities who are spokespeople.

I want to bring about a unifying and educational message to the people. I want to be that face to help get the message out to help bring people together to change the face of diabetes. I want to encourage people with type 2 diabetes to change their lifestyles, and inspire those with type 1 to keep up the fight and keep maintaining because collectively they are a great example of proactive disease self-management.

DiabetesCare.net: You have talked about the importance of extending your advocacy to the African-American community. What are the unique challenges they have in terms of diabetes?

Mattocks: I think one of the biggest areas is educational awareness. What we know about diabetes in the African American community is that it’s referred to as “sugar.” However, we don’t know when our parents or our grandparents have it. We don’t talk about it or know much about it. In addition, many of the African-American communities are inundated with foods that contain sugars and salt.  

Generally speaking, there are a lack of quality supermarkets in African-American communities, but a lot of fast food restaurants and liquor stores. And our diet is based mainly on what is right outside our homes. I have people tell me they can’t get to a store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables.  

For example, I was at an ADA event in New York City earlier this year, and I spoke to a woman who lived in a Brooklyn neighborhood where there wasn’t a supermarket near her—in New York City! Not being able to get fresh fruits and vegetables or get information is what is holding people back from changing their lifestyles and diets.

DiabetesCare.net: Can you talk about your lifestyle before and after your diagnosis?

Mattocks: Before my diagnosis, my diet was bad; I was eating a lot of processed foods and carbs. I went to the gym, but I never did any cardio. I had some extra weight I needed to shed. I immediately lost about 15-20 pounds. I changed my drinking habits from soda to water. I stayed away from fried foods, and I ate a lot of salads, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

I walk a ton, and I also run. I will do some workout tapes. This is one of those things you can do in your home; a lot of people are intimidated by the gym, so tapes are good to do.

DiabetesCare.net: Are you currently taking any medications for your diabetes?

No, I have never taken any medications. Fortunately for me, I was able to find out I had diabetes very early. I made immediate changes. For some people, they often find out later in the progression of their type 2 diabetes.  

Now that doesn’t mean that I reversed it or it’s gone, all it means is that right now, I’m hanging in there. That  also doesn’t mean that one day I won’t be on medication. It’s a daily fight, and one I take pride in.

DiabetesCare.net: Can you talk about the Diabetes and Healthy Eating kids book?

Mattocks: This literally came together in a matter of months. I wanted to talk to a younger audience about diabetes. This a great book for children who have friends that may not understand it. The book is about talking about diabetes, including diabetes definitions, and eating right.

As a black male in my late 30s, I never knew anything about diabetes until I was diagnosed. If I had a nutrition class when I was in elementary school or even in high school, I may not have eaten the foods that led me up to being diagnosed.

While type 1 is a totally different disease, I think the conversation needs to be had between parents and their type 1 children.

DiabetesCare.net: Can you talk about the Diabetic You tour bus tour with Shire Regenerative Medicine you did earlier this year?

Mattocks: I had seen the blood mobile buses, and you see them everywhere. And I thought, `how come they don’t have one of them for diabetes?` 

I teamed up with Shire and we created this particular tour around diabetes education and understanding diabetes-related foot complications. We had people in the diabetes medical field who were able to educate people and answer questions regarding overall health, nutrition, and foot complications. A lot of people don`t know about diabetes complications. They are not aware they can get foot ulcers, for example. The tour was a tremendous success.

DiabetesCare.net: What is The Diabetic You documentary you are shooting about and are there any other media projects you have going on?

Mattocks: The documentary is filmed both here in the U.S. and internationally and covers the ravages of diabetes in the form of complications. An important segment of the film was done in India. We went over there to find out why so many people were being affected by the disease. Obviously for people with diabetes and those within the film, it`s a never-ending story.  There are some people in the film who have had serious complications. I hope to finish it within the next three months. We have Participant, a film company interested in acquiring the film.

I am also looking at a television show called, Reversed, which is a diabetes-based reality show. It is similar to the TV show The Biggest Loser. It is not about reversing diabetes, but about reversing the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual baggage of the disease. My idea of reversed is slowing down the process of diabetes and going into a different direction. If you are able to reverse diabetes, it’s about making lifestyle changes, it’s about having a more positive attitude and outlook. If you can do some of the lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, you can come off of medications, and you are not progressing to the point where you are looking at having serious complications.  

Mattocks is going to be doing another RV tour in various U.S. cities starting in the fall. To find out more about his upcoming tour, or other projects, go here. To purchase his book Eat Cheap But Eat Well, interested readers can go here.