Wednesday, January 18, 2012

FitCity: Paula Deen

Wanna know my thoughts on the Paula Deen brouhaha?  Head over to my post on FitCity!  I'd love for you to share your opinion over there, too!


It’s the Big News these days- Paula Deen has come clean with her diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes.  She was diagnosed 3 years ago and is now trying to make a major overhaul to how she is perceived in the public eye as she goes from being the Queen of Butter and Sugar to an advocate for healthy living and diabetes medication. 

I can understand the social outcry over the news about Paula Deen’s condition.  It feels like a marketing move rather than a recognition of changes that need to be made.  It feels like the corporate sponsorship with this diabetes medication is more important than Paula actually being a positive and healthy influence on her followers.

Paula Deen built her fame on her Southern charm and Southern cooking.  Recipes ranging from fudge made with Velveeta to deep fried lasagna were commonplace on her Food Network program.  I have watched enough episodes to know that “moderation” or “healthy substitution” or “steamed veggies” were words that didn’t come up.  Ironically, I used to watch Paula’s show at the gym, on the treadmill, and often found that the butter and sugar and other ingredients inspired me to do just a bit more work. 

I don’t know how many people watched Paula’s show and would then do everything she did.  I know that I have roots in the South and know some Southern families and many of those people do enjoy country fried chicken smothered in gravy and consider Velveeta to be a food group of its own.  I also know that many of those people know full well that fruits and vegetables that grow are healthier when eaten raw and not from a factory and not drowning in butter, salt, bacon, and cheese.

But don’t we already know what the right and wrong choices are?  Is there anyone who was watching Paula and following her recipes who thought they were being healthy with those choices? 

It all boils down to one of those “soap box” themes for me.  Personal Responsibility.  Where is the personal responsibility?  Where is Paula saying, “My diet has been horrible for years and now I am paying the price.  If you make changes now, you might save yourself from this diagnosis.”  Where is Paula saying, “Not only have I given up my sweet tea and started walking a mile each day on the treadmill, I am also completely overhauling my diet and focusing on ways to live a more active lifestyle overall.” 

If Paula Deen came to me and asked me to help her fix this mess, I think the first thing I would advise is that she step up and accept responsibility that the choices she has made and the foods she has promoted are not healthy.  Those are indulgences that should be saved for an annual family reunion or holiday gathering.  I would encourage her to partner with nutrition and fitness experts who would help her with a complete overhaul of her diet and activity level.  I would ask her to make the menu in her restaurants a healthy one- dropping the fried foods and butter laden dishes and overly sweetened desserts.  I believe Paula Deen has a real opportunity to influence change and she is, instead, choosing to focus on managing diabetes with medication and very slight modifications to diet and exercise.

I also think that I, as a mom and wife, need to continue to lead the way in my own family.   I am a reasonably smart woman and know, with or without Paula Deen having diabetes, that fried foods aren’t healthy.  Sugary treats aren’t healthy.  Fake cheese isn’t healthy.  I know that a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables is best.  I know that daily activity and an active lifestyle is best.  I know that replacing sugar with artifical sweetener isn’t the best option.  I know that overloading with regular cheese in place of fake cheese isn’t the best option.  I know that sautéing in oil isn’t the best replacement for deep frying.  I know that playing Just Dance is better than watching TV on the couch.  I know that taking the family for a hike is better than sitting the family down for a movie-and-popcorn marathon.

Interestingly, at the same time that Paula Deen’s news hit the social networks, a new report on the obesity epidemic was released.  1/3 of adults and 17 percent of children are obese and the numbers show no sign of improving.  Apparently, there is still a large part of the population who doesn’t have the resources, knowledge, or concern to make healthier choices.  And maybe this is where Paula Deen’s biggest mistake lies.  Instead of stepping up and trying to live a truly healthy life and encourage others to make life altering and saving and improving changes as well, she is instead advocating that sometimes you just end up with Type 2 Diabetes and look at this great medication you can take to help manage it. 

We are each responsible for our choices.  Paula Deen doesn’t determine my understanding of healthy living.  I am responsible for learning and sharing what I learn and encouraging my family and working through my personal struggles to do better with the knowledge I gain.