By Tony Federico
Steve Cooksey has been getting a lot of attention lately, and not all of it has been good. He started his blog, DiabetesWarrior.net, after successfully curing his diabetes with a low-carb Paleolithic diet, and wanted to help other people to do the same. However, Steve lives in North Carolina, a state where it is considered a misdemeanor offense to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without being a registered Dietitian. We decided to go right to the source and to talk with Steve about his case and how it has affected his mission of spreading the word about Paleo.
For those who may not know your story, could you share why you started your blog?
After several years of being chronically sick and obese I finally I went to the doctor. They sent me to the hospital and that’s when I got my diabetes diagnosis. To make a long story short, upon exiting the hospital I started a journey to find the best diet that I could to treat my diabetes. I was thinking “I can do this”, I wasn’t going to just give up, I was going to do the right thing.
The doctor recommended a low glycemic book, which was a good starting point for me. I noticed that as I ate less carbs, I needed less drugs and insulin. I began to look around on the internet and found Mark’s Daily Apple. It really opened my eyes and I had my “nutritional epiphany.”
I found that the diabetes community as a whole ridiculed me, I was banned from Facebook groups and websites. I was just sharing my story and would speak out when I saw the American Diabetes Association page promoting the crap they push. I ended up getting banned, which was very frustrating.
So the blog grew out of this frustration?
Yes, I said, “Screw this, I’m going to do a blog!” That’s when I started PaleoWarrior.com, but I soon found that everything I posted applied to diabetics. So, in May of 2010 I started Diabetes-Warrior.net because I wanted to focus on my passion and to just make it diabetes specific.
How was Diabetes-Warrior.net doing prior to the incident with the NCBD?
I was very happy with the progress, every month had a higher number of visitors. I was proud of what I had accomplished because if people really do this (follow a Paleo diet) their numbers improve, their cholesterol, their blood sugar, so it was pretty gratifying and I really enjoyed it.
One of the criticisms that I received, and it’s not an accurate description of my website, was that it was for profit. If you look at my website, I give out free advice, answer emails, go on chats, it’s totally free. The support packages I offered were only really there for people who looked at my information and thought, “Oh my god, there is no way that I can do this!” So it was a very insignificant income stream for me.
How did the coaching packages work?
People could call me or email me if they were having a weak moment and I’d be their coach. One person described it as an AA kind of situation where I would be your partner to motivate you and guide you through any tough moments you might have.
There was a story on your case that described a situation at a diabetes seminar that may have led to your site being investigated by the NCBD. Could you describe what happened? http://www.carolinajournal.com/exclusives/display_exclusive.html?id=8992
I was going to “take it to the streets”. My plan was to go to a nutritional seminar conducted by a diabetes director from a local hospital and I wasn’t planning on saying anything at first, but she asked for us to share our questions comments, so I did. She said something that I hear all the time, and it really irritated me, it was that, “Diabetics can eat whatever they want.” It’s ridiculous, immoral, unethical, and really makes me mad because of the pain and suffering it causes. When she said that, I raised my hand and spoke up and it went from there.
What was the nature of your question/comment?
After a couple heated exchanges with the her, and some of the audience members as well, I kind of cooled it a little bit. At the end of the meeting, I handed out a couple business cards and the next day, I received an email from a lady and trying to convince me to follow a vegan lifestyle. I tried to be polite and said, “No thank you.” I’m happy, I’m over 50 and in the best shape of my life, and I’m insulin and drug free, but she tried to convince me nonetheless. She became pretty irate. The director from the NCBD told me that it was not the Diabetes Educator that turned me in, it was somebody in the audience, and while I don’t know for sure, I’m pretty sure that it was the lady trying to convince me to go vegan.
How was the NCBD complaint communicated to you?
I received a phone call from the director of the NCBD and she informed me that my website was being investigated. She was very kind, and offered me some suggestions for what I could do to address their concerns. I was told that I could take down the diabetes support packages, increase the prominence of the disclaimer page, and change places where I advised people because she said that was illegal.
Was the Q&A page an issue of concern?
Yeah, that one was a biggie, but there were others. Even something where I say, “This is my this is my diabetic-friendly meal plan”, I can’t say that, because I am giving “nutritional advice” to a group, in this case, diabetics. I could say, “This is my meal plan, this is what I do, this is what I did.” but I can’t suggest that to you. So, I could go back through and change every place in my website where I do that, but I don’t think that I should have to.
At this point, where do things stand? On the NCBD website, they posted that they had withdrawn their complaint. http://www.ncbdn.org/file_a_complaint/recent_press_inquiry/
Essentially, they are saying that I am in compliance with state law and that they have withdrawn the original complaint. In my opinion, the state has restricted my free speech. I can’t say, “You are diabetic and I think you should eat less than 30 grams of carbs per day until your blood sugar is normalized.” I’m not allowed to say that. Now, your doctor is most likely not going to say that, your diabetes educator is not going to say that, somebody needs to say that.
Did the NCBD discriminate between free advice and for-profit advice?
The state does not care if I am charging or not. All of the advice referred to in the NCBD review was free. People were emailing me, and I was answering questions for free. Over and over again, they said, “No Steve this is ‘assessing a medical problem’. No Steve, this is providing ‘nutritional guidance’. No Steve, this is ‘giving nutritional advice’.”
At this time, are you no longer under investigation?
I wouldn’t phrase it that way, I’m not a nutritionist, but I’m also not an attorney! The article said that the current complaint has been closed, but it also states that they will continue to monitor the situation.
If they found something else that they took issue with, could they reopen the investigation and pursue further charges?
Are you pursuing legal action of your own?
I am in compliance, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with it. I feel like my rights have been restricted and I’m going to do everything that I can to fight this. I don’t want to comment on anything specifically, but i am exploring all my options.
Reflecting upon this situation, would you have done anything differently?
That’s a great question, because this really gets me fired up. One of the reasons I got so mad at the ADA was because my grandmother died from diabetes complications. She always struggled with eating a low fat reduced calorie meal plan and I saw her suffer. I know that the ADA is aware that the Paleo diet is the best for diabetes. My question is, did they know about this 30 years ago? Have they been punishing diabetics with a high-carb grain-based diet knowing that it is damaging to diabetics?
When I started out, there was one lady in particular, she was 55 years old and she had been on diabetes drugs for about 30 years. I helped her to become drug and insulin free. She had to go back into the hospital to have knee surgery and she came out of the hospital back on drugs and insulin. That is going on everyday. Once a week I talk to someone who has a sad story about a relative or a friend. The pain and suffering is tremendous. There are approximately 26 million diabetics in the US alone. Approximately 250-300 million worldwide. There is a lot of pain and suffering out there and there are people profiting from it.
No, I wouldn’t do anything different. I haven’t really thought about it, but I certainly wouldn’t take a less confrontational approach. I’m proud of myself and it’s gratifying to know that I’ve helped people.
Do you think that the same interests that are profiting from diabetes treatment are also controlling what can be said about diabetes in terms of diet?
The vast majority of diabetes educators say, “Carb up and shoot up.” They tell diabetics to eat carbs. They tell a diabetic to eat more carbs.that cause them to use more drugs and/or insulin and it causes their blood sugar levels to spike and then crash. Those people are profiting because if diabetics ate like me, they wouldn’t be paying for that terrible advice.
On top of it diabetes educators and the ADA all receive funds from Big Food and Big Pharma. Some people will look at that and say that the money is not influencing our diabetes protocol or our nutritional guidelines and I personally find that very naive.
At this point, is there anything that you would like to say to anyone who has perhaps had a similar experience as you and may want to share what they’ve learned through a blog?
When people take on a lifestyle change of this magnitude, they’re going to face a lot of pressures. Their family and friends are going to disagree with them, so they’re going to get a lot of pressure to stop. One of the things that helped me was starting a blog. There are several free blogging platforms where you can go and start a blog and proclaim it. You can say, “I am going to do this, I am going to post what I eat, and I am going to do this every day, and I want my family and friends to support me.”
The other thing that was key for me was to find a reason. I yo-yo’d my entire life with regards to diet. The thing that really helped me to maintain it this time is that I had a reason. I tell people that I don’t cheat on my meal plan. I have diabetic insulin pens in the refrigerator door and I know that if I fail, I have that waiting for me. The thing is, find your reason, find your why, your purpose. My reason was that I didn’t want to use insulin and drugs like my grandmother. I knew how that struggle ended. I tell people, no matter what it is, you want to see your grandkids grow up, you want to grow old with your spouse, find what will hold you through your struggles.
Tony runs the popular site, Fitness in an Evolutionary Direction, founded the Orlando Paleo Diet Meetup Group and is an American College of Sports Medicine certified Health & Fitness Specialist. He holds a Bachelors degree in Exercise Science from the University of Florida and has been a full-time Personal Trainer, Weight Loss Coach and Exercise Instructor (Yoga, Tai Chi and Boxing) since 2005. He broke from the conventional wisdom when a client gave him a copy of “The Paleo Diet” and after an initial 30-day trial, he never turned back. Tapping into a wide range of resources, from Economics to Epigenetics and beyond, his holistic approach to exercise and diet has allowed him the opportunity to help transform the lives of hundreds of people.