Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

After Type 2 diabetes revelation, Paula Deen keeps it real

With her cooking show and her pharmaceutical deal, Deen sends mixed messages.

Associated Press

With her cooking show and her pharmaceutical deal, Deen sends mixed messages.

Last week, I reported a story about TV chef Paula Deen's announcement that she has Type 2 diabetes and her decision to promote an expensive drug — while continuing to present high-carb, high-fat favorites on TV.

I wondered how this news was playing among diabetes professionals and patients. Among the people I spoke with was Grace Lau, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

After talking with Lau, I started thinking that even if Deen isn't a perfect role model, she might be an accurate one.

Deen has taken a lot of heat for not revealing her diagnosis until she signed a commercial deal. She says she learned she had Type 2 about three years ago, but kept it to herself while cheerfully adding sticks of butter and dollops of mayo to her TV recipes.

Few diabetics get a deal with a major pharmaceutical company. But Deen is far from the first person with Type 2 who's been slow to talk about it and slow to embrace strictly healthy living.

Lau said many of the patients she sees would rather not even think about diabetes.

"Some people are ready to make a major (lifestyle) change, but that's a minority. Some people have it 10, 20 years, but they're still in denial.''

Even if the only reason Deen is talking is because she's got a deal, her silence is understandable. Type 2's connection with obesity has stigmatized the condition and those who face it. (Which is ironic, given that more than a third of American adults are obese.)

Plus, it's a complicated disease, and there's a lot to keep straight.

"Very often, when patients come to class, they think everything sugar-free is okay,'' Lau said. "So they'll pig out on three scoops of sugar-free ice cream and think it's okay. But it's still high in carbs.''

Exercise — Deen says she has started walking — improves insulin sensitivity, allowing more dietary flexibility. The key, Lau explained, is monitoring one's blood sugar throughout the day.

Deen, who appears noticeably thinner, says she only rarely eats the kind of high-carb, high-fat food she makes on TV. She says she preaches moderation.

So does Lau.

"We focus on moderation,'' she said. "Ideally, it's not recommended they should have fried chicken all the time, but it's real life, and diabetes is something people have to live with all the time.''

And what about Deen's promoting a diabetes drug? Healthy living can arrest Type 2 in its early stages. But even the most diligent may need drugs eventually.

"For some patients it's a good incentive to work hard and stay off medications,'' Lau said. "But we also make sure patients understand that if the doctor says you need the meds, you are not a failure.''

I wish Deen weren't sending such mixed messages.

I hope people do not interpret her actions to mean that diabetes is not a serious condition. Maybe it isn't as feared as cancer or heart disease, but it should be.

According to the federal government, diabetes is the nation's seventh leading cause of death, and that's probably an understatement. Diabetes makes you more vulnerable to other deadly conditions, such as heart disease, and it might be those complications that get on the death certificate, not the diabetes that set the stage.

Speaking of complications, I really hope that Deen is able to quit smoking, which is terrible for everyone, but particularly harmful to diabetics.

But lifestyle changes often come slowly. At least in her public persona, Deen seems to be keeping it real. And that might be her best tool if she intends to be a helpful role model for people with Type 2.

"Paula Deen is Paula Deen,'' Lau said. "And if she says, 'I'm going to make a 180-degree change,' nobody's going to believe her."

After Type 2 diabetes revelation, Paula Deen keeps it real

01/27/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates


    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]