“I didn’t want the foods that harm my body and defeat my spirit”

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.

Works Cited

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.

Comments

  1. I first met Julianne when I was writing my book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. She responded to a request I posted on the McDougall Forum, and we became long-distance friends. It has been a joy for me to witness her journey and transformation. Her strength and resolve inspire me, and I hope it will inspire many others! Thanks for sharing your story, Julianne!

  2. Julianne:

    Your story was inspiring, and I hope you will allow me to help you with your Mittleider garden any way I can!

    I must leave home in 2+ weeks to conduct a large humanitarian gardening training and demonstration project in the Philippines, so I won’t be physically here in the States as much in 2018, but thankfully I will have my computer and hopefully access to the internet.

    I suggest you consider joining the http://www.facebook.com/groups/MittleiderGardening group, where you will find many thousands of like-minded folks who can help answer your questions. And some even live in Kentucky!

    Best of success in continuing on the healthy path you have chosen.

    Jim Kennard

    • Thank you for the encouraging words! I joined the Facebook group a month or so ago, and love it! The feedback I’ve received has been so helpful. Just waiting now for the book I ordered to arrive! Thank you thank you for your good work and sacrifice to help us grow good food.

  3. I am proud of my sweet dear wife! She has worked hard to overcome the challenges laid before her on her journey, including a somewhat resistant, yet supportive husband.

    I have watched her, and ofttimes been by her side, as she sought to better her life by taking a WFPB path.

    Her continued trodding down her chosen path has inspired others. She has learned and prepared some amazing meals too.

    My reluctance to dive in full bore has been a thorn in her side, despite my every effort to support her in her quest. Nonetheless, she has trudged onward and I am very proud of her for both her fortitude and drive to succeed.

    I am trying to pull myself down the path this year…but it’s hard. Really hard. Hopefully, Julianne will be my loving inspiration!

    Way to go Julianne!

    • David: You are a hero to me for all your efforts! I so appreciate your kindnesses to me. Julianne is a marvel. I know you are proud of her. You two make a great couple. I’m so grateful to be friends with you.

  4. Wow, I am in awe of your accomplishments Julianne! I married into a Kentucky family, so am familiar with the food challenges you must face. I too was introduced to McDougall as a young mother and tried to implement the principles in our home. Like you, I have tried and failed many times. I also came back to plant based eating through researching for a college paper. Your eloquent writing encourages me to stay the course.

    • You can do it Judy! We have much in common, and I’d love to offer any help and support I can. My mother was a Sheherd! I wish you the best in all your efforts to achieve better health.

  5. Wonderful story. I am struggling to lose weight. I definitely need to make some changes in my diet. Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. I enjoyed your story! Thank you for sharing! I relate to many of what you said and I wondered if your spouse also ate this way once you started? How did you do meals, did you have both options or did you only make your WFPB food for all to enjoy (or starve 🙂 ). I am struggling with being true to what has been revealed as best for me while letting my family make their own choices. Thank you in advance!

  7. I have Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss on my book shelf & was also horrified at his chilling revelations about the processed food industy. Congratulations on attaining your goal & thank you for sharing your story.

  8. Wow! I love the sandstorm analogy! Your writing is so great! Thanks so much for sharing your story!:) I am a fellow food addiction. 10 on Susan’s susceptibility scale. Her messages and Jane’s we’re such powerful and amazing answers to prayer for me. After over a year of being mostly “wfpb.”. I am now doing bright line eating and am 100% wfpb. Yay!:) I totally relate to so much of your story. Congrats. Such a difficult and spectacular journey. So worth it!:)

  9. Such a well written article. I really appreciate that you have cited your sources, which I believe helps the reader to be open to considering the information set forth. I have shared your article with my sister, who worked for a university (NAU) in student affairs before recently retiring, and now devotes many hours to quilting as well as her grandchildren. Thank you for what I believe is an extremely concise, personal and interesting presentation of what I believe is the spirit of the Word of Wisdom, along with credible citation of credible science.

  10. I am very inspired by your story – you have a talent for writing, apparently – because it parallels my own. I am in the stage of realizing that this is the Lord’s solution for me and my food addiction. I live just a few miles north of you (KY side of the Cincinnati area), and it’s tough holding fast in the face of food traditions!!

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