Source: USA Today
NEW YORK – Paula Deen, the warm, down-home cooking star known for her Southern recipes loaded with butter and sugar, says she decided not to talk about type 2 diabetes when she found out she had it three years ago. But beginning today, she's going public in a big way.
Paula Deen spreads word about diabetes in down-home manner
By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
Paula Deen is announcing that she has type 2 diabetes. She is modifying some of her recipes with sons Bobby, right, and Jamie.
"I made the choice at the time to keep it close to me, to keep it close to my chest," she told USATODAY in her first interview about the disease. "I felt like I had nothing to offer anybody other than the announcement. I wasn't armed with enough knowledge. I knew when it was time, it would be in God's time."
Deen, 64, star of Food Network's Paula's Best Dishes, built her career by making calorie-rich, indulgent recipes such as fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and rich desserts, the kind of foods that can contribute to obesity, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
She says her delay in talking about the disease had nothing to do with fear about hurting her reputation. "That was not why. My knowledge about the disease was very limited. But now I'm coming with good information, something that can help and bring hope to other people. It may sound cliché, but it's the God-honest truth."
Facts about diabetes:
Almost 26 million people have diabetes; 18.8 million people diagnosed and 7 million undiagnosed.
People are at a greater risk of type 2 diabetes if they are overweight or obese, have a family history of the disease, are 45 or older, are not physically active, had diabetes while pregnant or are African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian American or Pacific Islander.
The long-term complications of the disease can include heart attacks, blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage and amputations. Source: American Diabetes Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
On Monday, Deen was in New York, preparing for interviews to talk about her new role. Wearing a turquoise blouse that matched her bright blue eyes, she greeted everyone she met with her megawatt smile, hug and "Hi, y'all."
Today's announcement comes after a couple of years of speculation in the tabloids and lots of buzz on the blogosphere over the weekend.
She is giving details now as part of the launch of a campaign, Diabetes in a New Light (diabetesinanewlight.com), in partnership with Novo Nordisk, a maker of diabetes medications. She uses the company's Victoza, a once-daily, non-insulin injection that may improve blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes when used along with diet and exercise.
Deen says that when Novo Nordisk representatives first approached her, they challenged her to make some of her recipes more diabetic-friendly. They didn't know she had the disease, and she said to them, "How did you know I had type 2 diabetes?"
For the initiative, Deen and her sons, Jamie and Bobby, have created lightened-up versions of some of their classic recipes for people with the disease. The family is appearing in a new ad campaign for Victoza this month. Yes, she's being paid for her new role with the drugmaker, Deen says. "Talking about money is garish. It's tacky. But, of course, I'm been compensated for my time. That's the way our world works."
She knows that she may be facing criticism and be the brunt of jokes after her announcement today. "I don't care what the haters and naysayers say. If they make jokes about me, I'll laugh because they'll probably be funny."
She says she's "at peace" with her decision to share the fact that she has the disease and with her career celebrating classic Southern recipes. "I have no regrets."
Almost 26 million adults and children in the USA have diabetes, government statistics show. There are two major forms: type 1 and 2. Type 2 accounts for more than 90% of the cases. Factors that increase the risk of developing type 2 include a family history, obesity, inactivity and age.
In people with diabetes, the body does not make enough of the hormone insulin, or it doesn't use it properly. Insulin helps glucose (sugar) get into cells, where it is used for energy. If there's an insulin problem, sugar builds up in the blood, damaging nerves and blood vessels.
Type 2 diabetes is like "Russian roulette" when it comes to whom it's going to strike, Deen says. "It's about heredity. It's about age, lifestyle, race. I'm the only one in my family who has it. My grandmother cooked and ate like I ate, and she didn't have it."
Deen says that when she first heard she had the disease in 2008, she was surprised and "a little sad because I thought my whole life was going to have to change, and I like my life."
But after a conversation with her own doctor "and Dr. Mehmet Oz, one of my precious friends, I realized you can live a full life." Deen says her blood sugar "is good. It's under control."
Besides using the medication, Deen is walking a mile or more a day on the treadmill and no longer drinking sweet tea. "That's a big trick for a little Southern girl. I calculated how much sugar I drank in empty calories, and it was staggering. I would start drinking tea at lunchtime and drank it all the way to bedtime."
She hasn't made a lot of other changes in how she eats and cooks, because "I've tried to use moderation since I hit a certain age."
She has dropped a size in clothes since the diagnosis. "I wasn't trying to lose weight. I don't even own a scale. I go strictly by the way I feel and the way my clothes feel." When she's out and about, people often say to her, "Gosh you're not nearly as fat in person." Her response: "Well, thank you, I guess."
"TV really packs it on you. They say you look 10 pounds heavier, but I think it's more like 30."
Deen's rags-to-riches story is the stuff of novels. Born in Albany, Ga., she married her high school boyfriend and had two sons. Her parents died when she was a young mother, and afterward, she struggled with agoraphobia and sometimes had panic attacks when she left the house. In 1987, the family moved to Savannah, and she continued to struggle emotionally.
"All I did for two months was lay in bed and cry. Every day was filled with hopelessness," she says.
Then one morning, the Serenity Prayer "jumped in my head, and I thought, 'I'm supposed to be asking God to give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.' "
In 1989, she had $200 to her name when she launched her own catering business, The Bag Lady, preparing gourmet lunches to sell to people at downtown businesses. Based on that success, she opened her own restaurant, The Lady, at a Best Western in 1991. The next year, she and her husband divorced. A few years later, she moved her restaurant to another location and dubbed it The Lady & Sons.
In 2002, she got her own show on Food Network called Paula's Home Cooking (now titled Paula's Best Dishes); in 2006, she was the host of Paula's Party. She has won two Emmy Awards, written 14 cookbooks and has her own bimonthly magazine, Cooking With Paula Deen. In 2004, she married Michael Groover, a harbor pilot on the Savannah River.
Deen says she's not going to change the focus of her cooking shows because of diabetes. "I suspect I'll stick to my roots but will say a little louder, 'Eat this in moderation.'"
"You don't want to make a steady diet of just lettuce. You don't want to make a steady diet of fried chicken."
She cooks the foods featured on her show only for the six weeks of the year when she is taping the show, but "I don't cook that way every day." She doesn't have fried chicken regularly, but "when you want fried chicken, nothing will take the place."
The same is true for some of her other favorite dishes. "I don't want to spend my life not having good food going into my pie hole. That hole was made for pies."
Her sons agree that her typical meals at home are different from the ones on the show. "When we go to her house, we eat a lot of seafood, chicken on the grill, big chopped salads," says Jamie, 44, who helps manage the family restaurant and business.
Bobby Deen, 41, star of Cooking Channel's Not My Mama's Meals, which offers healthier versions of his mom's classic recipes, says, "Although my mother does cook traditional for 30 minutes each day (on TV), she only eats that way in moderation and encourages her viewers to do the same."
Geralyn Spollett, president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association, says Deen will give people with the disease hope and perhaps motivate them to take care of themselves. "By telling her story, Paula is showing that diabetes can affect people from all walks of life."
Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and nutrition blogger at yourlife.usatoday.com, says Deen makes "people feel good about eating high-calorie foods, but we're all responsible for the choices we make. There's no point in blaming Paula Deen or any other celebrity cook for our weight issues."
Says her son Jamie: "I hope people will recognize Mom as a fighter, a guiding force in their battle with whatever it might be.
"Mom has faced many challenges. She had agoraphobia, and it took a year for her to get in the car and drive around the block. Now she can stand up before a crowd and talk for an hour." He hopes his mother's story will inspire other people with diabetes to get take charge of their lives.
Paula Deen wants to encourage people who are at risk to be tested. And for people who already have diabetes, she wants them to know that "there are little things they can do every day" that will help them manage the disease.
"When it's said and done, the one thing I want to leave on this earth is hope. I have felt hopelessness, and it's a terrible feeling. Hopelessness will destroy you. I want to bring hope to other people."