01/23/2013 at 03:00 PM EST
When Paula Deen finally stopped living in denial about having type 2 diabetes at the end of 2011, she cut down on carbs, cut back on portions-, doubled up on greens and dropped 40 lbs. Her family followed suit.
First, son Jamie, a dad of two, lost 45 lbs. by "eating like a 6-year-old," he says. "Six-year-olds eat the right portion sizes!" Next, Paula's 300-lb. husband, Michael Groover, faced a choice: schedule knee replacement surgery or lose weight. Because "I'm not fond of knives," he says, he shed 60 lbs. on a strict, doctor-supervised regimen.
Meanwhile, Paula's younger son Bobby had faced his own demons 12 years earlier. "I didn't look or feel good, and I decided to get in shape," he says. "Exercise changed my relationship with food, and I began to search for a balance."
Now the First Family of Food – they have 16 cookbooks, a magazine, three hit TV shows on air, six restaurants and a line of fresh and packaged food products due this spring – is influencing the next generation.
"My grandsons would choose a carrot over a cookie," says Paula. "If it wasn't for the fact that they love butter so much, I'd question if they were really mine."