One of the least interesting things about Charles Mattocks might be that he is Bob Marley’s nephew. One of the most interesting things is that the man famously known as the “Poor Chef” is the creator of a reality show about diabetes airing in July.
“Small changes can save your life if you’re a diabetic,” Mattocks says. “This show is about that and about reversing the person you are so that you can be the best you can be. Everybody’s got a story, and for more and more people, diabetes is a part of that story.”
Mattocks says he is not capitalizing on the growing numbers of diabetics in the United States in order to get a show. The idea for the show, called Reversed and airing on Discovery Life, comes from the time diabetes became a significant part of Mattocks’ own story. In 2010 he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The diagnosis was more than a surprise.
“It was total shock,” says Mattocks, 46. I didn’t know anything about diabetes. I thought I was going to die when I was diagnosed. It was terrifying. Now, I think I’m a pretty educated guy and if I didn’t know anything I wondered what it must be like for other people.”
After performing as an actor in television and film, including the title role in the movie The Summer of Ben Tyler, Mattocks made a name for himself as the “Poor Chef.” Prompted by his son, Mattocks wanted to show people they could eat well even if they didn’t have a big food budget. He wrote Eat Cheap, but Eat Well, and appeared on numerous television shows such at Dr. Oz and Today demonstrating his recipes. Then came his type 2 diagnosis.
“I wasn’t fat, I wasn’t unhealthy,” Mattocks says “But then I looked in the mirror. I started to think about what I was doing. I was making music and drinking soda and eating pizza and putting salt on everything. Eating fried rice, fried chicken. I realized I didn’t have a good diet.”
While Mattocks was on metformin for the first nine months after his diagnosis, he changed his lifestyle dramatically and was taken off medication entirely, treating his condition only with diet and exercise. But, his realization and experience with diabetes inspired him. Mattocks created a low budget documentary called The Diabetic You (along with a website and TV show) chronicling his own experiences as a newly diagnosed diabetic. He then turned his attention to trying to garner more attention for raising awareness about diabetes. Together with syndicated radio talk show host Dr. Asa Andrew, Mattocks created Reversed.
The first 10-episode season show puts five people with type 2 diabetes together in a single house—sort of in a Real World-type setting. While they are receiving massages and enjoying expertly cooked meals trailed by cameras and emotional ups and downs in a palatial estate oi Jamaica, each person faces their own challenges and receives Mattocks’ help in learning how to better control their diabetes.
“I’m almost like a den mother, if you will,” Mattocks says about his on air role in the show. “I’m there for them. Someone can turn to me and confide in me so I can help.”
Mattocks says the title of the show is a misnomer. The show is not based on a competition, and does not have a goal of actually reversing type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise.
“It’s about reversing behavior and slowing the forward progress of the disease,” Mattocks says. “It’s about helping people take better care of themselves.”
The primary sponsor of the show is MannKind, maker of inhaled insulin Afrezza. While Mattocks is grateful for the sponsorship, he’s nonplussed that more pharmaceutical companies aren’t sponsoring programs such as Reversed, or doing more aggressive and memorable outreach to educate people about diabetes.
“I’m not sure why more companies aren’t calling [to sponsor the show],” Mattocks says. “These companies spend billions of dollars marketing diabetes care. Show me the last message you recall seeing. Show me one that was good, or that you can even remember.”
That sort of thinking—to reach people with diabetes and people at risk for diabetes and urge them to take better care of themselves—was a prime motivator for Mattocks to create Reversed. And, while the rationale is noble, some have criticized the show’s goals.
In an article in the health magazine STAT, reporter Rebecca Robbins took the show, and Mattocks to task as being little more than a platform to sell Afrezza, hawk pricey stays at the island getaway where it was shot, and perhaps even push false hope for a reversal of type 2 diabetes.
Whether the show is considered to be more salesmanship than motivator for improvement, Mattocks says he is committed to raising awareness and improving education so people are better informed.
“I want to fire people up,” he says, echoing ideas put forth by his famous uncle, whom he only remembers once, when he played soccer with him in a hallway. “We are not taught about diabetes in elementary or high school. People have to know. They have to know how to take charge of their lives so they have more of a chance.”