In Depth

Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi: Before and after type 2 diabetes

Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, PHC 2019

Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi discuss how a passion for Italian cooking and for health can be used to combat a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

The Caldesi couple present their story, together with nutritionist, Jenny Phillips, at the Public Health Collaboration conference in May 2019.

Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi together run restaurants in Marylebone, London and Bray, Berkshire, and have authored a range of cookery books. Their latest book, The Diabetes Weight Loss Cookbook: A Life-changing Diet to Prevent and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes, was developed in collaboration with nutritionist Jenny Phillips, Dr Jen Unwin and Dr David Unwin.

Katie and Giancarlo met in 1997 and bonded over her love of his Italian cooking and his love of her painting.

Katie Caldesi

Katie opens the talk, telling us when she met Giancarlo, he had “mad energy” and was full of life. They were married in Tuscany, in 2005, under the lenses of TV cameras. The couple won awards for their books; however, Giancarlo’s health began to become an issue.

Katie tells a story of how her husband, who had been driving home, had called her, saying: “something really scary has happened, my vision has suddenly gone blurry.”

This was in 2011, and this resulted in Giancarlo being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It didn’t strike the couple as a big issue at first but Giancarlo’s health steadily worsened.

His dietitian had said to reduce pasta portions a bit and to cut back on sugar.

Giancarlo’s feet hurt, he had put on weight, he was hangry (hungry and angry), he would devour a fruit bowl, has always tired (and asleep if he wasn’t eating), he couldn’t play football, and he was always rushing off to the loo.

In 2014, Giancarlo had gained weight and was then weighing 108kg (17st). His HbA1c level had also climbed from 49 mmol/mol (6.6%) at diagnosis to 79 mmol/mol (9.4%).

Katie shares how he had IBS at the time and was also overweight from partying, eating and cooking. After reading the book ‘wheat belly’, they both decided to give up wheat. Katie experienced no significant change in her health, but Giancarlo felt ‘amazingly better’.

Giancarlo had struggled with arthritis and his knuckles were swollen. Since cutting down on wheat, his hands completely changed within three days.

At this point, Katie took up the recommendation of seeing the nutritionist, Jenny Phillips. Jenny ran blood tests and concluded that Giancarlo needed to stop eating wheat right away.

So, Italian chef Giancarlo could no longer have pizza, pasta, no more sugar in his cappuccino, and no more buns or bread. He tried gluten free pasta and bread but really didn’t take to it.

“Luckily I like a challenge,” Katie says, “so I started cooking all sorts of things he could have with his pasta sauce.”

They used almond flour to make bread and cakes and started eating lots more vegetables. Fortuitously, around the same time, they were commissioned to write a cookbook called ‘Around the World in Salads’, which was therefore very good timing.

Katie adds, “coincidentally, and we didn’t actually know it at the time, we were actually following a low carb diet.”

Giancarlo Caldesi

Giancarlo takes up the microphone next.

“I’m 67 years old and I can stand on one leg. You may wonder why I say this.”

Giancarlo then explains how the neuropathy he had meant he couldn’t feel his feet. He illustrates how he used to walk with difficulty without being able to feel his feet, he would need help getting up from seated and also needed to have his shoelaces tied for him.

He states how he sees the problem that people can have is that they accept what they can’t do and forget what they used to be able to do.

Giancarlo discusses how, with a performance car, you take care to put in the right fuel, so why do we not do that with our own selves, he asks.

While it took Giancarlo 16 months to lose 3 stones, he notes that it took him three years to adjust his mindset as to the way he wanted to live his life.

Giancarlo walks us through the struggle of trying to avoid the temptations of sweets and desserts when visiting shops.

He then shares the terrifying moment he had when driving. He’d stopped for petrol and bought a bar of chocolate, intending just to have a square, but ended up eating the 100g bar.

Feeling satisfied he continued his journey, and on the motorway his vision only showed the lights he could see. So, he eased off the accelerator, tried to keep cool, guided the car left and managed to stop safely.

Giancarlo uses the story to illustrate how we need the right knowledge to choose the right path to health.

It’s food that got him into trouble, he says, and it is food that has got him back out of trouble.

Giancarlo says his own strategy is based on:

  • Getting the right quality of food
  • Having the right quantity of food
  • And incorporating the right amount of physical movement

He shares that his biggest regret was not knowing that certain foods were damaging for him in the first place.

Jenny Phillips

Next to the microphone stand is nutritionist, Jenny Phillips.

Jenny starts by talking about Giancarlo’s health and that the tests he had indicated problems with the wheat he was eating.

Jenny tells us how Katie was able to transition typical Italian, carbohydrate-based foods into low carb versions, and they then developed the idea of writing a book together.

Helping to take things a step further, they also met Jen and David Unwin. From this point, they brainstormed the messages for the book and how to incorporate the delicious recipes.

Jenny shares how useful it was to have the science aspect in the book and how readers have praised this aspect.

The human body has two types of fuel, Jenny says. You can run on glucose and you can also run on fat. You can eat well, but eat less often.

Jenny mentions how Giancarlo did not like having breakfast, and now he doesn’t feel like he has to. He knows now that by eating the right food, he can go longer without eating and can burn body fat for energy.

“Some people think that if you don’t have carbs you’re going to keel over, and it’s just not true,” she adds.

Jenny shares a page from the book that helps people to evaluate how well they feel on carbs. She explains: “It’s not just about low carb and no other way, it’s about the quality of food and eating right for your type.”

Jenny shares a visual of how high carb foods can be replaced with lower carb alternatives.

“Think like an italian”, she says. It will involve more time in the kitchen but rather than seeing cooking as a chore, if you can embrace it as a hobby, it is less tiresome.

Katie then presents the book they have all three done together with the help of Jen and David Unwin too.

She shows a selection of the dishes from the cookbook and shares how they now offer low carb options in their restaurant.

Giancarlo then closes the talk sharing how he no longer feels the need to graze and how a quality treat in small portions can be a saving grace.

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