By: Julianne Kravetz
Determination, willpower and resolve are all characteristics that help define moral fiber. These qualities often serve us well in life, driving success as we pursue dreams and aspirations – except when they don’t. Despite our greatest desire, determination, our best efforts, and even all the willpower we can muster, we sometimes fail. And some of us fail again and again, leaving us feeling hopeless and alone in a barren desert of despair. This was the place where I eventually found myself.
When I was a young mother, a book was recommended to me written by Dr. John McDougall. He proposed a plant-based diet for ultimate health and weight loss. He claimed that disease, illness and suffering was not an inevitable result of aging. If that were true, we could live with health and vitality – our food choices could help us avoid needless pain. To me, this “diet” was the Word of Wisdom exemplified.
I recognized the evidence of poor food choices which resulted in obesity, complications of which is the leading cause of death in this country. And yet, this was my struggle. My recurring efforts to become a “McDougaller” were taken up, then abandoned again and again. I thought then that it was just too hard, too time consuming, too inconvenient. My never-ending trudging up and down over the dunes of struggle revealed a trail of short-lived success – then failure with pockets full of sand. What would cause people to succumb to a lifestyle that would eventually lead to preventable diseases? I knew I wouldn’t consciously choose that path, and yet there I was.
A turning point for me came while doing research for a college paper. I happened upon a disturbing article written by Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter from the New York Times. After years of interviews and research, he concluded that a conscious effort was being made by food giants to manufacture addictive foods. In the article, “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” Moss claims to have spoken to hundreds of people within and without the industry who both reveal and admit to strategies that are used to deliberately formulate addictive foods. It was Moss who planted a seed of doubt and mistrust within my mind. He reports:
It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.
He describes efforts to engineer the “bliss point” in foods and explains that the bliss point “is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain.” This very principle has guided the motives of the processed food industry and led to the diabetes, hypertension and the obesity epidemic. This information infuriated me! We’ve known for decades that foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar are not good for us, but what had not been so obvious to me was the ways in which my efforts to gain better health had been deliberately undermined and sabotaged. The meaning of the 4th verse of section 89 of the Doctrine of Covenants suddenly became more evident to me:
In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
So there was more to it than my lack of strength and willpower! Highly processed and therefore addictive foods are found to have the same effect on our brains as illicit drugs and can weaken any resolve one might have to resist processed foods. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D., an expert of the neuroscience of obesity and weight loss, notes:
Foods that are in their whole, unadulterated state interact in the brain the way nature intended. In contrast, ‘edible food-like substances’ made out of sugar and flour release an unnatural flood of dopamine that hijacks the pleasure centers in the brain…. This is not a theory. A very large body of scientific research confirms that processed foods light up the very same addiction pathways in the brain as heroin and cocaine. And when food addiction researchers ask people to list the foods that they crave, that they obsess about, and that they eat more of than they planned, those foods fall into two broad categories: sugar products like candy, chocolate, ice cream, cake, soda, and cookies, and flour products like pizza, pasta, bread, bagels, crackers, and chips. It’s no coincidence that as the prevalence of refined powders in our food supply has increased, obesity rates have soared. In fact, today 80% of the 600,000 foods available on supermarket shelves are laced with added sugar alone.
Storm clouds were gathering above my desert, and there was about to be a downpour. I recognized within me the characteristics of a food addict, but instead of despair, this knowledge served me hope on a silver platter. I gorged myself with information now that I knew what pathway to explore. I could not ignore the information and evidence. The way became clear to me. I had to eliminate sugar, flour, oil and salt and fully embrace a whole food, plant based diet. I knew that popular methods to lose weight included portion control, but I began to eat more, not less, keeping in mind the principles of calorie density. I joined a support group on the Internet for food addicts where I would find an accepting, supportive and a knowledgeable network of like-minded people, and embarked on the most difficult journey I’d attempted.
Withdrawal from the addictive foods at first caused lethargy and then depression – sometimes anger as I mourned the loss of the foods I loved, but would never eat again. A sandstorm erupted, burning and stinging my eyes when I realized that daily habits, family traditions, and social interactions would change forever, and I covered my eyes to avoid getting lost in the whirlwind of popular opinion. Some would accuse me of having an extreme diet, of not living the Word of Wisdom (an accusation I found ironic). Friends pleaded with me to have just one bite of their delectable goodies – a little sugar never hurt anyone after all. But by then I realized that yes, sugar did indeed hurt. I recognized the pain of inflammation, the unpleasant aftertaste, the energy crash. I saw evidence in past photographs of the swollen puffy face when I had salt, and the crop of pimples when I had oil (who struggles with acne in their 50’s!). I recalled the tormenting voice in my head that tried to seduce me with chocolates, donuts, fresh baked bread, potato chips, whatever was in the break room – the constant debate with my inner self on whether I could rationalize indulging because of my hard work, exercise, bad luck, good behavior or whatever. I had earned it after all, right? I deserved it, right? No. No. I knew that one bite would send me back for more and more to feed the addiction, and I would spiral out of control.
For once in my life, I committed to change based on truth backed by research, evidence and experience. I had a basis for comparison, and I knew that I could never go back. I’ve lost 70 pounds so far. My energy increased, and I took up hiking, biking and other activities. When winter approached, I signed up for weight lifting. I slept better, my back stopped hurting, allergies disappeared and my mind became calm. There was no more inner debates or self-degradation. Processed foods including sugar, oil and flour lost their appeal over time. I just didn’t want the foods that harm my body and defeat my spirit.
The mirage of success appeared and became an oasis of life giving abundance and joy. Rather than feeling deprived, I feel gratitude for the delicious whole foods which sustain me and the knowledge that enlightens and motivates me. I’m still on a journey, but it’s full and rich – and it’s just getting better. The rain has fallen in my desert and it has begun to flourish and bloom.
Julianne (58) lives in Lexington Kentucky. She works in Student Affairs at the University of Kentucky where she continues her studies for a degree in Information Communication Technology. She loves hiking in the Daniel Boone National Forest and biking the many Rails to Trails routes in the Eastern US. She enjoys classical music, quilting, and has high hopes to put in a Mittleider garden this spring to feed her addiction to vegetables! She’s been married 38 years and has 5 children and 10 beautiful grandchildren.
Lovell, Joel. Moss, Michael. “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.” The New York Times Magazine. n.p. 20, Feb. 2013. Web. 2 March 2016.
2015. Electronic Thompson, Susan Peirce Ph.D. BHAG. n.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2016.