Should Paula Deen have told folks about her Type 2 diabetes while she was cooking the very foods that contribute to it? I wish she’d revealed it sooner, but I agree with her that a diagnosis of diabetes is tough. Everyone needs time to come to terms with it, and who am I, or anyone, to question Ms. Deen’s motives in not revealing it immediately, but as in politics, it’s the secret that eventually becomes the problem rather than the information itself. Ms. Dean, being a very savvy businesswoman, must have given some thought to when and how to disclose a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes so it would have the least affect on her brand–and people sense that perhaps she’s being less than honest, so judgments are flying and condemnation is high. To say that her recipes are only meant to be eaten on occasion, or that Ms. Deen has always encouraged moderation, misses the point that she’s built an empire on foods like this and on people eating those foods and serving them to their families–often!
Struggling with, and denying, a diagnosis of diabetes, as Ms. Deen most probably did, is typical for many people when learn they have it. They grapple with lifestyle changes and concerns about complications. If Ms. Dean doesn’t change her eating habits, she will surely suffer the complications of diabetes, no matter how much Victoza she takes. Pills and insulin are not magic bullets that “fix” diabetes. You can’t take them and continue with business as usual. The gift of diabetes (yes, there is one!) is it asks you to examine what you eat, how you exercise, and most importantly, how you feel. Do you understand how you respond to stress–do you know your triggers? Our involvement with food has much to say about our state of mind. Why do we reach for chocolate bars and Big Macs, or cook with pounds of butter, sugar and fat, and concoct combinations like the Lady’s Brunch Burger rather than examine why we’re sad, mad or glad?
Paula Deen is typical of the folks who get Type 2, and that’s what makes her such an important role model. But it appears she off-loaded the healthy cooking segment of her show to her sons–too bad. A great and ongoing teaching opportunity is slipping away from her and Novartis. To be honest about her struggle, to share the daily difficulties, to address and investigate why it’s so hard to give up comfort foods and feel good about simple, whole, fresh and organic food choices would benefit so many people. Rather than being a polarizing figure or the butt of jokes she could be a change-agent.
Ms. Deen has a great deal of clout with her fans, and she could reach beyond her fan-base and connect with folks who never heard of her, but are tuning in now because of the publicity. The people who follow her probably comprise the very demographic most at risk for Type 2 diabetes. She could choose to model what’s it’s like for a real, middle-aged person to deal with the daily challenges of the condition and show how medication in conjunction with healthy mental and physical lifestyle changes are the key to managing it.