The ever honest Paula Deen starts her interview with a confession: She ate a McDonald’s sausage and biscuit for breakfast.
“It’s hard to enjoy something like that when the guilt is sitting on your shoulder,” said Deen, who was in town for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. “Don’t you just hate a conscience?”
Deen’s conscience has been her guiding light for the last year. The queen of Southern Cooking has reformed her eating habits to get her diabetes under control. The change has definitely worked. She’s lost close to 40 pounds in just over a year and traded in her size 16/18 pants for a size 12.
“I still feel like a fat ass,” said Deen, while lounging in her suite at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel with staff and family members, bustling about getting ready for festival events. “I need a chin lift so bad.”
One thing is certain: Deen is not giving up her favorite fried chicken and butter. She’s just eating less of it. Forget the fancy, fad diets. Deen is preaching the simple, old-fashioned diet message of moderation. When she eats fried chicken, now it’s just a wing. Breakfast is a piece of multi-grain toast with peanut butter, and she skips the butter. Dinner her first night in South Beach was a Caesar salad and New York strip steak. Her cheat was a piece of bread, something she tries to avoid as much as possible.
“Now, I’m eating normal, whatever normal is,” she said. “It just takes so much less to fill me up.”
Deen doesn’t deny the changes have been challenging. When she can’t handle temptation, Deen admits to spitting on food or dousing it with black pepper to keep herself from taking a bite.
Coming to terms with diabetes wasn’t easy for Deen, who says she lived in denial and ignored the diagnosis for over a year and a half. But after agreeing to an endorsement deal with drug maker Novo Nordisk that she announced in January 2012, Deen got serious.
“I knew I couldn’t just talk the talk, I had to walk the walk,” Deen said. “I had to become responsible for myself before I could help anyone else.”
Now Deen is hoping she can inspire others and make them realize that a diagnosis of diabetes doesn’t mean you have to stop living. She visited the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine to talk with patients. Novo Nordisk launched the website www.diabetesinanewlight.com featuring lighter versions of Paula’s recipes. They are also sponsoring a contest where people can win a chance to visit Deen in Savannah, Ga.
Deen’s son Bobby is her inspiration. In his new cookbook Not My Mama’s Recipes, everything is under 350 calories. Like any proud mama, Deen can’t help brag that it’s the No. 1 cookbook on the New York Times bestseller list.
“He’s given Mama some recipes to use to try to get the rest of this weight off me,” Deen told the crowd when she and Bobby hosted the festival’s kick-off event Thursday.
While she’s broadened her recipe mix, don’t expect to see dramatic changes on Deen’s cooking shows.
“It’s entertainment. I’ve never told somebody to eat fried chicken, biscuits and gravy every day,” Deen said. “I probably have worked in more light dishes, but I don’t know if people would tune in if I did nothing but salads.”