Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dear Paula Deen

Dear Paula Deen:
We don't know one another, but it turns out we have something in common. Something we both kept quiet about--but for different reasons, apparently. I waited about 10 months before coming out with my diabetes, mostly because I wanted to wait until I had spent enough time working on changing my diet, making exercise a (mostly) daily part of my life, and losing a big enough chunk of weight that I felt I could offer something to others going through the same thing.

Apparently you waited until you got a juicy financial deal with a big pharmaceutical company.

Okay, I realize that I'm sounding pretty sanctimonious. In fact, I started writing something this morning about the circus you've created in the last couple of days. Then I erased it all because I didn't want to pile on. This diabetes stuff is scary and everyone handles it differently. Who am I to judge? Plus, I truly don't want to become "diabetes girl."

But all through the day, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. And late this afternoon when I saw that clip of you with your sons on The Chew I'd had enough.

Your diagnosis came three years ago. Yet, for the past three years--knowing (I assume) the impact of diet on diabetes--you continued your very public fat fest, promoting a caricature of Southern food. Hey, not even just Southern food. You have an upcoming episode on Feb. 2, "Cravin' Italian," that features "Cheesy Pizza Dip with Pizza Crust Dippers." What are the ingredients? Cream cheese, Canadian bacon, regular bacon, Italian sausage, pepperoni, and pizza crust dough. Oh, how about that "Smashed Potato Cake" on the Jan. 17 show, "Lovey Dovey Dinner?" We've got potatoes, of course, butter, Cheddar cheese, sour cream, and bacon. Yum. And kiss of death. I heard you recently on the NPR show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," as you described the food in your kitchen and fridge--cakes, roasts, who knows what else... If it was for comic effect, congrats, you got your laugh. But if it was real, God help you.

Look, Paula, adult-onset Type 2 diabetes is associated with all sorts of health issues, not the least of which are heart disease and stroke. I would guess that you're not only taking your diabetes medication but probably cholesterol meds and baby aspirin as well. This is serious stuff.

You've said that you believe that these high-fat, high-carb foods are fine in moderation. Okay. I get that we all need to indulge periodically. I do it. I did it a bit today, having a few French fries and a couple of bites of a bratwurst at lunch. Then I pushed it aside and gave it to my friend to take home to her kids. I enjoy a small piece of chocolate. Last week I ate a tiny piece of my mom's lemon cake. Butter? Sure, a small bit periodically. Cheese? Yep, an ounce on toast (yes, I weigh it). Pizza? Uh, no. We have to count our carbs, remember? Fried chicken? Biscuits? Cheesecake? No, no, and no. No! Not anymore.

Paula, get real. You have diabetes. I have diabetes. Some 25 million people in this country have diabetes. We're talking total lifestyle change. You can't seriously have thought it was cool to keep pushing butter and cheese, bacon and sausage, plush desserts and deep fried foods on viewers knowing that these contribute to a frightening epidemic of obesity which, yes, leads to diabetes.

I have written that I think of diabetes as my disease of self-indulgence. I can't say that it's also yours. Maybe your family has a history of diabetes. Maybe it was just bad luck. But you've built an empire on promoting over-the-top fatty food. When people think of you, that's the association--fair or not. Karma? Perhaps. But, I think you might have come clean long before your big-time financial deal and taken the opportunity to turn your many fans onto healthy eating and exercise. It could have been your Oprah moment (not that she's much of a role model in this area these days...).

You might take your new pharma windfall and not just donate to the American Diabetes Association, but also spread that largesse on organizations that educate children and families on nutrition, healthy cooking, and exercise.

In fact, let's talk about this new source of income. Basically, the way my doctor explained it to me, my goal should be to lose enough weight that I can get off the medications and manage my diabetes through diet and exercise. I'm grateful to have medication for now, but I am working so hard to put it in my rearview mirror. I'd love to get some pharma money, too. In fact, I reached out to one company to inquire about writing about lifestyle and diet issues on their website to help people with diabetes make changes in their lives so that they can get off the meds. You can imagine that heaping big serving of silence I got. I congratulate you on figuring out how to become their spokesperson. But, after three years, I would have thought that you would have worked hard to get off those meds already. Looking at you today in that big lavender tent blouse, though, it doesn't look like you've been making a big effort to work in that direction. I truly hope you're not one of those people who believes that the meds alone will keep you healthy.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Who knows where I'll be three years after my diagnosis. Maybe I won't be able to keep this up. Maybe despite my best efforts my body will still degenerate. I have said that I keep the image of an anvil swinging over my head to motivate and focus me. Perhaps, instead, I'll replace it with that image of you--still overweight, hawking diabetes meds--to keep me going.

Dear Paula, I know you have to maintain the Deen machine, but if you really want to get some credibility (and improve your health), you'll do more than promote your "Diabetes in a New Light" program. You'll do more than push pills. You'll show us by example.

And, now, back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

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