Paula Deen: A Recipe for Living with Diabetes

A little over a year ago, one of America’s most beloved cooks (and biggest fans of butter), Paula Deen, 66, announced she had Type 2 Diabetes. The news came as a shock to fans who attempt to emulate the charming, award-winning cook’s Southern cooking style in their own kitchens. And had many wondering how Deen – a self-professed lover of Southern cuisine – would be forced to change her diet.

For Deen, the experience was frightening.

“You know, at first I was scared that my entire life was going to change and that having diabetes meant I couldn’t enjoy the things I’ve grown up loving, like Southern food. But I’ve learned that it is possible to manage diabetes and still live a full life,” she says.

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Here’s what Deen learned after living with diabetes for a year and how the disease has impacted her life.

Small changes…big rewards

Deen says rather than make sweeping drastic changes to her lifestyle, small, easy-to-digest bites made more sense. “When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I was shocked but decided it wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying my life. I knew I needed to make a few changes, but rather than change my whole life around, I looked for simple things each day that would help me stay on track.”

“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, y’all – but I just do it differently,” she says.

Over the past year, Deen has improved her health by exercising more, changing the design of her plate and seeing her doctor on a regular basis. “And, you know, I’ve seen big results and I couldn’t be happier,” she says.

A new plate

One of the most significant dietary changes Deen made to improve her health and manage diabetes was her dinner plate (along with her breakfast and lunch plates, too!)

“I’ve changed the landscape of my plate. I’ve learned that what’s on my plate and portion size are real important. I’m careful about how many carbs I’m eating and I make sure to double up on my veggies at every meal. Moderation is key,” she says.

Deen has also modified some kitchen habits.

“I’ve cut back on salt by using more fresh herbs, which adds richer flavor in my dishes. And I’ve switched out full-fat dairy products for low-fat versions,” she says.  

She also gave up sweet tea. “We Southerners love our sweet tea! I do miss it from time to time but have really enjoyed making lighter dishes, too.”

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Deen also started moving a lot more. “I have started exercising more, which is easier than I thought it would be,” Deen says.

She walks about a mile a day on the treadmill and around her neighborhood. “I used to hate exercise but now my sneakers have never seen so much action, y’all.”

Deen says she also checks in with her doctor regularly and takes her medication as directed. “This really helps me stay on track with my daily routine and ensure my diabetes is under control.”

A dramatic weight loss

Over the past year, in addition to transforming her approach to portion sizes, she transformed her relationship with the scale. She dropped an impressive 40 pounds, which were part of the total 178 pounds she, her husband and two grown sons shed.

“You know, I’m feeling really great. I am focused on maintaining a healthier lifestyle and keeping my diabetes under control by eating healthy, exercising, and taking my medication. A big part of this has been recreating some of my favorite meals to make them diabetes-friendly. Y’all have got to try some of these recipes. They’re delicious and you can get them at,” says Deen.

Walk in her footsteps

Deen’s message for people living with diabetes is that “you can still enjoy life and delicious food while keeping your diabetes under control.”

“You know, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Take a one-day-at-a-time approach to making lifestyle changes and remember that making simple, small steps can really have big results,” she says. “Food is such an important part of family traditions and it’s real important to understand that you can still enjoy those family recipes with some slight modifications. The spirit and flavor can still stay intact with some small changes that make them diabetes-friendly.”

Since announcing she has type 2 diabetes and partnering with Novo Nordisk on Diabetes in a New Light a year ago, Deen decided she wants to give people a chance to share their own stories and be recognized for the positive changes they’ve taken to manage their type 2 diabetes.

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“This past year I’ve learned that making small changes to manage my diabetes can really add up in a big way! It’s important to stay positive, and that’s what I want other people with diabetes to do,” she says. She’s focused on offering hope and trying to make a difference for people with type 2 diabetes so she’s now launching the Seeing Diabetes in a New Light contest to encourage others to share all the positive things they’ve done and commit to making one more small change to help them better manage their diabetes.

“It’s about celebrating their success so far, and committing to doing a little bit more to get their health under control,” says Deen.

Six winners will be chosen to go to magical Savannah, Georgia, and spend time with Deen doing some of the things she does every day to manage her own diabetes. “We’ll enjoy lunch with some of our Diabetes in a New Light dishes and they’ll take a guided walking tour of the city.”

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