Deen Reveals Type 2 Diabetes: Criticism Abounds

There are 300 recipes for macaroni and cheese on the Food Network’s Web site. I’m using mac-n-cheese here as a symbol for all of those starch- and fat-laden comfort foods we love and like to occasionally indulge in.


Mac and cheese with two cheeses. Three cheeses. Four cheeses. SEVEN cheeses! Mac and cheese with ham…with bacon…with corned beef. With heavy cream (four cups in at least one recipe). With Tater Tots.

The recipes were from such celebrity chefs as Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri, and Emeril Lagasse (who once had an episode called “Pork Fat Rules.” BAM!). And, oh yeah, Paula Deen. Who, admittedly, deep-fries mac-n-cheese.

But people are only complaining about Paula Deen cooking starch- and fat-laden foods. Why? Unless you live in a cave, you probably heard last week that Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Three years ago. Therefore, she should have stopped cooking those decadent foods. Immediately! Fessed up. Admitted her sins.

And her critics are crawling out of the woodwork: “5 Paula Deen recipes that could give you diabetes” proclaims one headline. (Psst! Food does NOT give you diabetes!)

Quick! All of you who immediately reconciled yourself to your diagnosis and knew exactly what to do raise your hands!

Hmmm…I don’t see any hands out there.

“Chef Paula Deen hid diabetes, pushed high-fat food,” read the headline over an Associated Press article. (BTW, she isn’t a trained chef.)

That article also noted: “Government doctors say that being overweight (as Deen is), over 45 (as Deen is), and inactive (as Deen was) increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.” Didn’t say a word about beta cell dysfunction and genetics.

NBC News’ chief medical editor, Nancy L. Snyderman, called Deen’s behavior “egregious” and said Deen should immediately have changed her recipes (and lost her audience?). Snyderman, by the way, is board-certified in otolaryngology and specializes in head and neck cancer. Is that part of the endocrine system?

Now, Snyderman believes you should just not get Type 2 diabetes in the first place. I agree with that. But it’s not always possible, as was proven in the Diabetes Prevention Program, when all the help in the world couldn’t totally prevent Type 2 diabetes.

“Did Paula Deen’s diet cause her diabetes?” was the headline on a “Health on Today” blog.

Now this writer, Linda Carroll, I like. She went to an endocrinologist for background, writing:

Three factors push a person toward diabetes, said Dr. Robin Goland, an endocrinologist and co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

The most important factor is genetics — whether you’ve inherited a susceptibility to the condition.

‘Now I’m not recommending this, but if you don’t have those genes working against you, you could gain weight and not exercise and your blood sugar would stay normal,’ Goland said.

The other main risk factors are being overweight and not getting enough exercise. Your risk also increases as you age — Deen is 64.

(Note: Deen turned 65 on January 17.)

Where am I going with this? I don’t watch Paula Deen’s shows (nor many other Food Network programs, although I’m rather fond of Alton Brown). I don’t buy her cookbooks. If I want to cook Southern, I make my family recipes. Unaltered. (But I don’t make — or eat — them often.)

But that poor lady just walked right smack dab into a hornet’s nest when she announced she has Type 2 diabetes. Take the way you feel when, in your little world, you encounter a sanctimonious, self-righteous person who knows nothing about diabetes telling you what you should and should not be doing and multiply it by…everybody. Including talk show hosts, comedians, ill-informed doctors, pundits — and more — blasting it out over the airwaves. What if darned near everybody you met on the street, or who was eating in a restaurant with you, knew who you were?

A former Indiana First Lady has diabetes and, several years ago, I asked her if I could write about it. Her answer? “No,” because she wanted to be able to eat an elephant ear at the state fair without criticism. Hey, I couldn’t argue with that. Her secret is still safe with me.

People, Paula Deen tapes about 30 days annually. That’s less than 10% of the year. Plus, she cooks it. That’s it. That doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Nobody has you tied to a chair, shoveling it down your throat. In fact, I’d say that if Deen ate that way all of the time, she’d weigh a ton instead of being just a little bit “fluffy.”

Another part of the criticism is that she’s now a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk. Tsk! Wouldn’t all of us like to make money from diabetes? It might help pay for all of those meds, supplies, doctors’ visits, healthful foods, and such.

But Deen did not approach Novo. And, ironically, Novo didn’t even know Deen had diabetes when it approached her to participate in its new online program, “Diabetes in a New Light.”

“We really just wanted to ask her, ‘Hey, Paula, do you think we could challenge you to change up some of your recipes and make them diabetes-friendly,” Novo spokeswoman Ambre Morley was quoted in one article as saying. “And her reply was, ‘How did you guys know I had diabetes?'”

My take on all of this?

So Paula Deen took three years to out herself. No big deal. It took me a bit of time to learn about diabetes. Imagine being a celebrity and expected to know it all. It sure beats what Dick Clark did, when he came out about having diabetes (when he teamed up with the American Association of Diabetes Educators and Merck & Co. to publicize diabetes’ effect on the heart) and didn’t know a darned thing about it.

Imagine being expected to tell the world you have Type 2 diabetes before you’ve had time to reconcile yourself to the fact that your life has changed. Took me nine years. How about you?

I think she should be allowed to cook however she wants. Maybe work in a more healthful recipe here and there. She got her audience by cooking the way she does. And she does tell people to eat it in moderation.

I see nothing wrong with her getting paid for altering recipes. So what if it happens to be a pharmaceutical company (which didn’t even know she had diabetes when it approached her)? If Paula Deen’s name gets people in to learn more about diabetes and how to eat in a more healthful manner, so be it. Even if it does promote Victoza on the site. Diabetes medicines are a good tool for keeping your blood glucose under control if diet and exercise cannot. Type 2 is progressive. Eventually, you’ll likely have to add medicines and, possibly, insulin, to keep your glucose under control. It’s not your fault. It’s just the way it is.

So what’s your take on all of this brouhaha?

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  • muffy57

    I feel so sorry for Paula Deen. The flak she is taking is ridiculous. I read where one doctor said that diabetes is curable. I wanted to scream. I’m T2 and i use an insulin pump. Just leave her alone. Thanks for posting about her.

  • Cathy R

    Thank you very much for this article. I was sad to see how many people were attacking her after she came out. I didn’t know that the company had approached her rather than the other way around.

  • Patty

    I read over a year agao that she was diabetic. I agree it takes time to accept it took me well over a year and I still have to adjust. I am doing better just when I think i have it figured out it now longer works and I have to try something else. I agree when people tell me oh you can’t have that. I see red almost immediately. (stress level up) I know what I can have. the portion size is the main thing. Hang in there Paula, unfortuantly everyone has an opinion even if they don’t know what they are talking about. After 15 years I am still learning.

  • Dorene Kleba

    I was diagnosed 10/2009 and still am not sure what I am doing,,,God Bless, Paula….

  • cde

    You said it!!!! Amen.

  • Pam

    So what is the big deal, I cook for my family but don’t eat the same since I am diabetic. she has great recepies if you like that kind of food. It’s not her fault if you eat that and become diabetic I don’t think she should change a thing about her show it’s still up to us to be adaults and choose what is right for us and our bodies. I just enjoy watching her…………

  • Bob

    I really like Paula Dean. I don’t care how she cooks. Like the article clearly and I feel correctly states “That doesn’t mean you have to eat it.”

    I love to cook. I have adopted some meals for my condition (type 2) but others, I just eat less of.

    My sugar has gone up slightly over the last 4 years and I will need to again loose weight to being my numbers down.

    I do not take medication so I will adapt a different eating style to bring my numbers back into line.

    I don’t blame her a bit for taking theree years to come out. I didn’t have that chance since I was hospitalized so I just told everyone “I am diabetic and my doctor and I have discussed my treatment.”

    When people at dinner ask me if I can eat what I am eating (you know the searching of a diabetic’s plate without being able to count what is on it.). In about 45 seconds I count the carbs protein and fat on everyone’s plate. I then compare my plate to theirs and the questions seem to stop immediately and perminantly. Try it sometime and see the reaction.

    Heck if we go to national health care, Paula Dean’s show might be taken off the air due to increased national medical costs because people ate too much. Food is food how much you eat of what type determines your health. Not what was cooked. ūüôā

  • John Moore

    Anyone who regulates their life by what they see on television is in real trouble. They need help.

  • Sharey Travis


    This is the first thing that you have written that I don’t like. It is just like our politicians criticizing everything. The important thing for those of us with Type 2 diabetes to take care of ourselves in the very best way that WE CHOOSE to. Why worry so much about Paula and everyone else. I have more to do than worry about everyone else. Please write a nice article and apologize for this one. I love this magazine and all these blogs.

    Sharey Travis

  • SandyB

    So Paula has diabetes… and what is the deal? She just joined a huge group in the U.S. and around the world. I am more concerned about her cardiovascular system with all the saturated fat and who knows how many years with Pre-diabetes which promotes heart disease. I am disappointed that a slow change in her recipes did not happen, BUT we are adults who can modify our own recipes and monitor our portions; remember what is often demanded by the public to keep your TV show and restaurant. I am tired of the casual blame game and critism from those who (I would guess) have no clue of her medical history or search for a healthier lifestyle (I would hope). Educate yourself and others AND motivate others by being healthier by example. I have been blessed with DM2 for ten years and no meds so far; it makes me strive to be healthier because I see the complications of others every day I work, so “Go Girl, lead by example with Novo’s help”.

  • SandyB

    OOPS. criticism, sorry no spellcheck.

  • Steve

    It took me 10 years to come to grips with my T2 diabetes. Bad genes and heart surgery did me in. Then I was hospitalized in 2007 for a non-related ailment and the doctor took me off all oral meds except Metformin, ’cause he said it was no use flogging a dead pancreas. He put me on insulin (which I hated because I didn’t understand it’s benefits) and five years later it’s still the best thing that has happened to me, diabetes-wise. I eat differently than I used to, walk 5-6 miles most days (at least 10,000 steps) and I’m in pretty good control.

    I understand why Deen took three years to come to grips with her T2. I’ve never cared for her show or her food, but like the author said, no one made anyone eat it.

  • pepper

    When the Paula Deen story broke, I thought, wonder what Jan Chait has to say about that? I knew you’d see the whole situation clearly and put into words the way I was feeling about it. I hope Paula is hearing as many good things from people as she is hearing bad…

  • Pam

    I like Paula Deen and many of her recipes are diabetic friendly if you pay attention to what you are eating. Some recipes are specifically for special occasions, and some can be changed around to be a bit more healthy.I think she has a lot to give, if she is given the chance.

  • Hopeless

    I HATE DIABETES! I was diagnosed with diabetes over 20 years ago. It does run deep in my family. I have never been able to control my bad eating habits. Thus, never had my blood sugar under control. The toll it has taken on my health (my life) is despicable. The worst thing about it is all the criticism. Everyone telling me what to do. Embarrassing me in public. Always watching to see what I put on my plate. I have let diabetes destroy my life. I now live on disability and food stamps. My children and friends don’t want much to do with me. I wouldn’t wish diabetes on my worst enemy. And I don’t have an ounce of fight left in me. But, I can tell you this. If anyone out there thinks that blaming the diabetic is somehow going to help them wake up and start taking better care of themselves. Think again. You may just be pushing them closer to the grave.