Christopher Biggins is a beloved British actor and entertainer boasting a career spanning 50 years. The pantomime king’s most well-known roles include Widow Twankey in the pantomime production of Aladdin and Lukewarm in the sitcom Porridge. He also won I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here in 2007. When Christopher was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2010 he was understandably concerned about how this would affect his professional life. But nine years later and after making significant dietary changes, Christopher has lost weight and now pays studious attention to the foods he eats.
This Diabetes Week (10-16 June), of which the theme is redefining diabetes, Diabetes Digital Media spoke to Christopher about his diagnosis, motivation, advice for others with the condition and why a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is far from a death knell, it is an opportunity to make lasting healthy changes.
A new outlook
Christopher is notably optimistic when discussing his type 2 diabetes. But that isn’t to say his journey has been easy. His diagnosis was a life-changing moment, and he cancelled a performance at the Edinburgh festival soon afterwards to take stock and reevaluate his health. In hindsight, he says this is a decision he didn’t need to make, but adds that when you are first diagnosed it’s easy for panic to set in. However, Christopher has one salient piece of advice for someone newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes:
“If I knew someone who’d just been diagnosed with type 2 and the fear of doom was put on them I would say ‘don’t panic’. As long as you’re aware of what you eat, things can only get can better.”
Last year the 70-year-old visited a medically supervised health spa in Germany and ditched sugar, losing a stone in the process. He has since made beneficial changes to restrict his sugar intake further and hasn’t looked back once.
“When you’re diagnosed you of course don’t realise that sugar is everywhere. I used to drink fresh orange juice in the morning, which is like drinking two pounds of sugar. Now I drink coconut water, and I don’t get cravings.”
He added, “Now I pick items up in the supermarket and I look how much sugar the food contains. If it contains 54% sugar, for example, then I put it back. On a daily basis I do this now, whereas before I didn’t.”
A misconception within diabetes circles is that type 2 diabetes is a chronic, progressive disease, but modern research is disproving this theory. Eating a healthy, real-food diet and getting regular exercise can help people lose weight, improve their blood glucose levels and, most impressively, even come off medication and put the condition into remission.
For Christopher, staying positive regarding his health goals is paramount. He admits to sometimes having challenging days regarding his diet, but says that the ability for people with type 2 diabetes to transform their health isn’t as commonly discussed as it should be.
“I don’t think people are aware that you can make substantial changes if you have type 2 diabetes,” he said. “Obesity and type 2 diabetes are crucial areas that [the NHS] should make people more aware of.”
Christopher has struggled with knee problems in recent years, but this has only strengthened his weight loss motivation further. “Having type 2 diabetes makes you aware of all the pitfalls, and the problem is that being overweight involves pushing down on that knee, so I’ve had quite a few problems and I’ve seen a lot of doctors, chiropractors and specialists. My local GP is very pleased with my weight loss progress.”
Towards the end of our interview, Christopher candidly mentions a friend who pays minimal attention to the foods he eats. His friend’s reason for rejecting dietary changes is because his motivation isn’t there. For Christopher, the difference is crucial: he has motivation. “I personally don’t want to die,” he said. “So I want to help my body.”
If you’ve been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes then visit our Diabetes Forum for support and experiences from over 300,000 members. The Forum also has success stories from people who’ve achieved significant health improvements, recipes, meal plans and provides an open platform for those looking to share their stories.