Earlier this year when famed Southern chef Paula Deen came out of the type 2 diabetes closet, her fans and critics were outraged. How could someone who’s knowingly had diabetes for several years still appear on our TVs to show us how to melt stick after stick of butter in to everything from chocolate cakes to crab cakes? Not that there’s an obesity epidemic going on, or anything.

There’s always a silver lining, and for Paula that meant being able to be more proactive in her treatment. That includes losing weight, which is one of the best things a diabetic can do for their health. In an exclusive interview at PEOPLE, Paula celebrates a 30 pound loss that dropped her pant size from an 18 to a 10 in the six months since her health announcement.

Before her big confession in January, Paula was in denial about her disease, according to Michelle Tan who did the interview. She says that Paula didn’t think her diabetes was a big problem and that she didn’t need to do anything about her diet.

How wrong she was; and in doing so inadvertently lead so many of her fans down a similarly unhealthy path.

In the interview, Paula says she’s now more aware of food – which diabetes or not isn’t a bad thing for a Food Network chef. She’s kissed away her beloved mashed potatoes and now swears by baked fish and Greek salad. “The architecture of my plate has changed,” she said, explaining that she doubles up the greens with salads and veggies and limits carbohydrates to a mere spoonful. No more doughnut burgers either, she calls that concoction a once-in-a-lifetime indulgence.

She echoes many successful weight loss stories, saying that “a few small changes, they can add up to big results.”

Like many diabetics, Paula’s weight loss and revised approach to eating have provided her with more energy, better sleep, and a greater overall feeling of wellness.

Paula may have removed her family’s favorite fried pork chops from the menu, but her next vice is to stop smoking. She said she prays every day that she’ll be ready to quit one day.