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As one of the best-known personalities in the world of cooking, Paula Deen is an inspiration when it comes to making mouthwatering meals. And now, after Deen and her family lost a collective 200 pounds, she’s a major inspiration in the world of fitness too!

The loveable 66-year-old Food Network star shed 40 pounds from her frame (trading in her size 16/18 pants for a size 12), while husband Michael has lost more than 100 pounds, oldest son Jamie got rid of an excess 45 pounds, and youngest son Bobby said goodbye to more than 30 pounds.

Deen is hoping to inspire others with her new diet mission; her cookbook The New Testament (out fall 2013) will include go-to healthy recipes and tips on eating right. Plus, her son Bobby is making her proud with his cookbook, From Mama’s Table to Mine, featuring meals under 350 calories (it even hit No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list).

To find out exactly how Paula and family managed such an amazing slim-down, we went one-on-one with the queen of Southern cooking herself.

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SHAPE: First off, congrats on your weight loss! Tell us how you came to the decision to lose weight along with your family?
Paula Deen (PD): Years ago, when I overcame my agoraphobia, I woke up one day and made the decision to change my life. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I knew the time was right. My family all lost their weight in different ways; there is no one right way. For me, my doctors told me that fighting my diabetes would be easier with less weight, so it was a natural decision. I realized, like we all do, that you have to listen to your doctor.

SHAPE: How much total weight have you lost and how long did it take to lose it?
PD: Over this past year, I’ve lost around 40 pounds and I really feel great.

SHAPE: How did you change your diet to achieve this? Tell us about the types of foods you ate.
PD: I really changed the landscape of my plate—I filled it with more greens and less starches. In the South, there’s a perception that we’re all about fried food, when in reality, we’re about fresh food. My table is always filled with great vegetables, and I really have been eating more of them—more veggies and more salads—and loving it.

SHAPE: Did you change anything with your workouts? Give us the scoop on your exercise routine.
PD: I made a conscious effort to work out on my treadmill and when I can’t do that, I really try to walk 30 minutes a day. It is a great time for me to be with my husband Michael or my friends or just have some quiet alone time.

SHAPE: How about the rest of your family—how much weight did they lose, and what was their strategy? 
PD: My husband Michael has always had a wonderful appetite and he put himself on a shake/meal program that helped him lose more 100 pounds! Jamie lost over 40 pounds, and over the years, Bobby has put himself on a fitness and food routine that has helped him lose more than 30 pounds. No one in the family did the same thing, which is a great example that there is no ‘one’ way, but if we can do it, you can do it.

SHAPE: Did any of you need to sacrifice anything you really loved?
PD: I gave up sweet tea, which I had loved for years, realizing that I was drinking so much sugar each day. I began to enjoy flavored teas—peach, lemon, passion fruit, and I even discovered a mint julep flavor—that had less sugar or was sugar free. These really hit the spot.

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SHAPE: How do you all feel after the weight loss? Would you say you reached your fitness goals?
PD: I have never felt better. Of course I will go up and down a few pounds each month, but overall I feel so good. I keep working on my health and wellness so I don’t feel like I can ever 'reach' my goals—I just have to keep 'living' them.

SHAPE: What advice would you give to anyone looking to get healthier, or to someone who has tried different diets—maybe even crash diets—in the past but didn't have luck?
PD: Honey, there is a reason that they’re called ‘crash diets’ because anything that is an extreme is too hard to maintain on a regular basis. It is much easier to go steady and slow and make small changes—at least for me, all these small changes have added up.

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