Paula Deen is currently in the middle of undergoing an image makeover.
The former Food Network star, known for her outspoken demeanor and love of butter, is readying herself for her Dancing With The Stars debut, tonight, September 14 at 8 p.m. on ABC. The 68 year-old celebrity chef, the oldest woman to compete on the show, is paired with professional partner Louis van Amstel. Together, they will waltz, rhumba, and (apparently) nae nae against a mixed bag of celebs that range from megastar Chaka Khan, to reality show queen Kim Zolciak Bierman, to actor Gary Busey.
Deen, who has — according to sources — turned part of her Savannah home into a dance studio, is completely serious about succeeding on the show, despite being named the long shot with 100-to-1 odds (Australian animal activist BIndi Irwin seems to be the one to beat, with 4-1 odds of a win.
The chef, who makes her television debut for the first time since Food Network refused to renew her contract in 2013 after a 2013 deposition stated that she had used the n-word, is looking confident in promos for the show.
Deen tells New Times that the journey to the mirror ball is not one to be taken lightly.
"I am really doing this show for my family, friends and team members. I try to start each day with light stretching before rehearsals. It is so awesome what stretching can do to your body before you start moving. I am practicing four to six hours a day and have a fantastic partner."
Looking leaner than she's ever been, she says, "anyone can take off weight, but keeping it off is the biggest challenge that one faces. You have to really make a decision to keep practicing all of the positive changes that you have made. That does not mean denying yourself, just incorporating moderation into your life."
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Though Deen is still enjoying eating better, there's one food she absolutely cannot live without (and it's not butter). The Southern cook says that she simply must have potatoes.
Deen, who also released a book that eschews her famous butter-laden Southern recipes called Paula Deen Cuts The Fat, says that all that practice has made her fall in love the art of the dance. "I certainly did not go into this competition as a dancer, but I really love it now. Louis is an amazing teacher and he has me ready for premiere night." Her favorite dance, by the way? "The shag."
The new book features 260 healthy recipes, including leaned-down versions of calorie-laden favorites like mac & cheese and fried chicken. In the intro, the reformed chef says that when she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2009, she thought she had been eating in moderation but was wrong. Deen calculated that just by enjoying sweet tea, she was drinking at least two cups of sugar a day. After changing her lifestyle, however, she confesses she would find it hard to go back to her old ways. "I probably couldn’t even drink a glassful now; it would seem like I was drinking syrup."
To Deen, it all comes down to three simple tips to remember for a healthier lifestyle: "walking, moderation, and awareness". Dancing for six hours a day helps, too.