She may be a TV star and bestselling author, but Paula Deen had a fairly typical reaction to her diabetes diagnosis: “I was shocked, and thought the test was wrong,” says the 65-year-old star of the Food Network show Paula’s Best Dishes.
But the test was not wrong, and Paula has since embraced her role as a positive, encouraging voice for the 28.5 million Americans living with diabetes. “Of course, there were people who judged me. But I don’t let the naysayers bother me,” Paula says. “I’ve had some tough times but I truly believe that positive thinking leads to good things. I decided I wasn’t going to let diabetes stop me from enjoying my life.”
That may sound like a monumental task for a woman whose life revolves around food. But while Paula admits she’s had trouble cutting back on her favorite sweet tea, she says modifying her recipes to make them more diabetes-friendly has been relatively simple. “My sons, Bobby and Jamie, have been lightening up my recipes for a while and have shown me a few tricks,” she says—cutting back on salt and boosting flavor with fresh herbs, for instance, and switching from full-fat dairy products to low-fat versions. “One of my favorite secret weapons is fat-free Greek yogurt, which is rich and creamy and can be used as a substitute for full-fat sour cream. Bobby showed me that. I just love it.”
Such compromises—along with a heavy dose of portion control—are what make it possible for Paula to carry on such traditions as the Deen family Sunday dinner and continue to enjoy her Southern favorites. “I don’t feel deprived because I still eat the foods I love on special occasions; I just don’t eat as much. Instead of overindulging on a big piece of cake, I’ll have a bite or two.”
Most challenging for Paula has been incorporating exercise into her life. “I’ve never been one to love exercise, but recently, I’ve been walking at least a mile a day,” she says. “Once you commit to adding a little physical activity to each day, before you know it, exercise will become part of your new daily routine.”
The changes she’s made have left Paula slimmer—she’s down two pants’ sizes—and even more determined to make a difference in the lives of others with diabetes through her partnership with Novo Nordisk on Diabetes in a New Light. “People have been asking me for diabetes-friendly recipes for years,” she says. “I’m just glad I now have the chance to share them. I want to encourage others to better manage their own diabetes in any way I can.”