After years of living in denial about her diabetes diagnosis, Food Network star Paula Deen revamped her lifestyle and her pants size. In this week's issue of PEOPLE, the queen of southern cooking reveals how she lost more than 30 lbs., shares her healthy get-slim recipes, and her son Jamie's own 40 lb. weight-loss story. "It's not easy to lose weight," Deen admits to PEOPLE.
For the love of butter, is this the same Food Network chef who famously sandwiched a burger topped with a fried egg and bacon in between two doughnuts? Since she publicly announced in January that she has type 2 diabetes, "I do think differently now" about food, says Deen, 65. "The architecture of my plate has changed. I double up on greens – whether it's salad or vegetables – and my carbs are just a spoonful." For dessert, "I'll have a bowl of sugar-free ice cream with strawberries and blueberries on top." As for that doughnut burger? "I certainly don't recommend eating a doughnut cheeseburger more than once in your lifetime!" she tells PEOPLE.
That piece of advice may come too late for critics who condemned her, not only for pushing calorie-clogged cuisine in light of her diabetes diagnosis. Deen's health revelation was also conveniently timed to a drug endorsement deal she landed for an undisclosed sum. "I was surprised by the depth of hate," says Deen of the backlash. "This is not something I chose. I had been given lemons and I had to try and make lemonade – without sugar!"
Deen's healthier approach to her diet has helped the 5'6" cook shed more than 30 lbs. in six months and dropped from a size 18 to a size 10. More importantly, it's built up her confidence. "I feel a thousand times better," says Deen, who also gives herself daily injections to control her blood-sugar levels. "I have more energy, I sleep better. The weight loss has made my health issues better."
Just acknowledging those health issues is a huge leap. "I denied my diabetes for so long because I didn't want it to be true," admits Deen, who was first diagnosed three years ago. "My doctor said to lose weight. So I gave up sweet tea but I continued to eat as much as I always ate. I thought, 'I'm not really obese.' So if I wanted two biscuits, I ate them. Every day I thought, 'I hope my medicine works.'"
When she hosts a family dinner for her husband of eight years, Michael, 56, her sons – Jamie, 45 (who recently dropped 40 lbs.) and Bobby, 42 – and her three grandkids, health comes first. "We love fried pork chops, but I never cook them now," she says. "We cook our pork on the grill." Her love affair with butter, however, lives on. "I still use real butter," she admits, but now adds only a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon to her grits.
Paula's next challenge is quitting smoking. "I think about quitting every day," she says. "Maybe one day I'll be ready. I pray that I will."
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