Paula Deen, a celebrity Southern chef known for her unrestrained love of butter and sugar, is no stranger to the media. She received a flurry of bad press recently when she revealed that she had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes three years earlier. Shortly thereafter, she became a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk’s Victoza. Following these developments, some critics said that she was a poor role model.
I beg to differ. Paula is well liked by her fans and, as a diabetes spokesperson, she can inspire other type 2s to emulate her success in controlling her disease in recent months. I chose to interview Paula Deen because she is a classic type 2. She could be any one of us, too busy making a living and raising a family to focus on her own health. Like many mature type 2s, she woke up one day with diabetes and realized that she had not been taking care of herself.
People often look for inspiration to those whom they see as being similar to themselves. Paula, whose life is so well known and who has faced our challenges, is a powerful example of what can be accomplished with determination, family support, and a good medical team.
I began the interview by asking Paula about her concerns when she was diagnosed.
DH: Were you fearful when you were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?
Paula: Diabetes is not something that runs in my family, and it wasn’t something I knew a lot about. Sure, I was fearful. Any diagnosis of a disease does that to us. I was scared that my entire life was going to change and that having diabetes meant I couldn’t enjoy the Southern foods I’ve grown up loving. But I decided I wasn’t going to let diabetes stop me from enjoying my life. Rather than completely cutting out the foods I love, I’ve found ways to lighten things up and cut back on portion sizes. Like anyone, I indulge from time to time-nothing is completely off the table-but I just do it differently.
DH: Have your views on food changed with your diagnosis, and have you had to exclude favorite foods from your diet because of it?
Paula: It’s all about moderation, y’all. I can still enjoy the foods I love, but I have less of them. My dinner plate just looks a little different now. You know, I’ve been doubling up on my greens and cutting back on the sodium. I look for ways to keep the flavor while reducing the stuff that’s not so good for you.
DH: Have you changed some of your favorite recipes to accommodate your diabetes diet?
Paula: Yes, I have. Along with my sons Bobby and Jamie and through Diabetes in a New LightTM, we’re lightening up some of our favorite dishes to be diabetes-friendly. We’ve also created some brand-new recipes exclusively for the campaign. You can find some of them on the website, DiabetesinaNewLight.com, and sign up to receive additional recipes and tips on a regular basis.
DH: How do you manage an exercise program with such a busy schedule?
Paula: I am used to a crazy schedule and just have to squeeze in the time for a walk every day. Sometimes I go outside and just walk back and forth until I get a good workout. When I can get on my treadmill, I try to walk for at least 30 minutes. I used to hate exercise and never made time for it, but now, like all of these little steps, it’s part of my routine.
DH: Those little steps become part of the little changes that create bigger changes overall.
Paula: Right. You really can start off slow, walking 15 minutes in the morning or 15 minutes at night. I have also changed the “design” of my plate. When you look at my plate, there’s less carbs and bigger servings of salad and vegetables. So it’s just those small changes that you start to make that can really add up to big results.
DH: What does a typical day with your diabetes look like?
Paula: I keep up with those little changes and do the best that I can for that day. I get up, eat smaller portions, make better food choices, get some sort of exercise in, and take my diabetes medication once a day.
DH: How did you decide to go on Victoza, for which you are now a spokesperson?
Paula: Both my doctor and a friend who is a physician’s assistant thought Victoza might work well for me. They talked to me about how it could help manage my blood sugar, and I felt really good about trying it. Everyone should talk with their own doctor to see what might work for them.
DH: With all these changes that you made with your exercise, the “design” of your plate, and going on Victoza, will you share how much weight you’ve lost?
Paula: Last time I was at my doctor’s office, the scales showed a 32-pound loss, and my blood sugar numbers are also in a healthy range. It shows that small changes can really make a difference.
DH: Will Bobby come out with a diabetes-friendly cookbook, or do you plan on keeping all the recipes and books on the website?
Paula: Bobby does have a cookbook coming out. All the recipes in his new cookbook will be less than 350 calories. For now, people can get our lightened-up, diabetes-friendly recipes on DiabetesinaNewLight.com.
DH: Do you feel a lot of pressure being a celebrity in the diabetes community?
Paula: Oh, of course! Any time you’re a celebrity, you’re under that microscope. But I learned years ago that if I just continue to be myself, all good things follow. This past year I really learned what a great support system I have in my family, friends, and fans, and how much strength I get from the people I love. My fans have shown me so much support, and I am so thankful for them and for my family.
DH: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Paula.