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Twelve years ago, local physician Dr. Ann Kulze left her busy Mount Pleasant family practice, dedicating her life’s work to educating the public at large on healthy eating habits and lifestyles. Today—five books, 150 web videos, and countless speaking engagements later—the wellness guru charges on, spreading her mantra to eat right and live life, right now
Dr. Ann Kulze wants to be obsolete. However, her obsolescence depends on ensuring every person in the world knows what to eat in order to live a healthy, long life. It’s a good thing she’s as focused as Winston Churchill and has the kinetic energy of Halley’s comet. “Dr. Ann,” as the seventh-generation Charlestonian is known locally and around the country, is a force. She’s a physician, a wellness expert, a sought-after motivational speaker, and an author. Sitting in the lovely Pitt Street home she shares with her ophthalmologist husband, John, she’s talking about the results of the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2012 Food & Health Survey—and she’s thoroughly exasperated.
“The average American says it’s easier to do their taxes than it is to figure out how to eat healthfully,” she says. “Nutrition confusion is rampant. People are trying to sort through mixed messages coming from the media and the food industry. It’s no wonder they’re confused!”
Twelve years ago, Dr. Ann was so concerned about the lack of clear information that she left her busy family practice in Mount Pleasant to dedicate her career to wellness education. “We have so many epidemics to deal with right now—obesity, preventable chronic disease, astronomical health care costs,” she says. “Where there is crisis there is always opportunity. I was fortunate to have the ideal academic credentials and work experience, along with a deeply rooted passion for teaching people how to be healthy through diet and lifestyle.” Kulze, who’s from a family of a dozen physicians, graduated with honors from Clemson University with a degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition, and was valedictorian of her class at MUSC, says she ran with it without ever looking back. “It has been an amazing, joy-filled, remarkably rewarding journey.”
In 2001, Kulze began that journey as a one-on-one wellness coach and found herself giving a talk to the PTA at Buist Academy, which her four now-grown children—Liz, Frazier, Jack, and Lucie—attended. That small talk planted a seed, helping her realize that she could impact many more lives by speaking to groups in addition to individual counseling. The natural next step? Publish her advice. So she wrote Dr. Ann’s 10-Step Diet (Top Ten Wellness and Fitness, 2004), which earned rave reviews. Her message and method were so well-received that it wasn’t long before she was asked to share them at larger and larger functions. After seeing Dr. Ann speak at a private retreat, Ruby Tuesday founder Sandy Beall was so moved that he approached her to be the national spokesperson for the restaurant chain’s Smart Eating campaign. In 2003, she accepted and found herself on a media tour that included radio and television appearances and a feature in Time magazine. She served as the Ruby Tuesday spokesperson for healthy eating for 18 months, a partnership she looks back on with fondness. Today, she completes about 25 speaking engagements a year, tucking more than 300 under her belt since she left private practice, including interviews with Dr. Oz on his Oprah and Friends radio show.
In 2010, Dr. Ann’s career made a quantum leap when she teamed up with the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA), one of the country’s most respected workplace wellness organizations. Together they’ve spread her message to the masses, publishing books including her best-selling Eat Right for Life series, and most recently, Weigh Less for Life and selling them to large companies looking to encourage their employees to live healthy lives. In fact, the magazine-style guides—full of simplified science, straight talk, encouragement, and even funny pictures of great white sharks swimming in white rice and sugar (two of the appetite-promoting “Great White Hazards” she denounces)—have been purchased by more than 1,000 organizations, including some of the nation’s top medical centers.
“I know of no other publisher that could have more quickly gotten my books into the hands of hundreds of thousands of individuals in the workplace in such a short period of time,” says Kulze. “As a wellness expert who is trying to make a difference on a large scale, I am convinced, at least for adults, that the workplace is the most effective context for instituting lasting behavior change.” The ever-peppy health promoter even has a trophy-bearing PowerPoint slide to illustrate her point. “With workplace wellness everyone wins!” she explains. “Employers enjoy lower health-care costs, a boost in productivity, and improved employee morale. Employees get the opportunity to improve their health, happiness, and quality of life on the time and the dime of their employers while decreasing their out-of-pocket health-care costs and boosting life and job satisfaction.”
“Dr. Ann presents the rules for healthy eating in ways that are easy to remember,” says Valerie Petit, vice president of Human Resources at Florence Savings Bank in Florence, Massachusetts, who has participated in Dr. Ann’s live webinars. “Now we give her books to our employees, and they really love them. She has become a part of our culture.”
Take one look at Kulze and you know that she “runs the talk,” as she likes to say. She exercises every day, unless she’s sick. “Which is once every 20 years!” she laughs. More recently, this lifelong runner has diversified her fitness regimen to include swimming, spinning, walking, yoga, kayaking, and paddleboarding. “My commitment to fitness is fueled by the scientific knowledge of its extraordinary health benefits,” she says, “but even more so by my personal feeling that fitness is its own reward.”
Maybe the most encouraging thing about Dr. Ann’s strategy is that she suggests people build a healthy life around simplicity and enjoyment, not discipline. “Salty, crunchy things are my weakness,” she admits. “I’ve learned not to fight it, but to give in to it with control and intelligence.” Kulze says that most every day, she indulges in “prudent portions” of wholesome multi-grain chips (Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips are her favorite) dunked in a healthy dip, such as salsa or hummus. “If I see that my weight bumps up by even a pound, I substitute a large organic carrot,” she says.
If the mention of organic carrots has you standing defensively in front of your plate of shrimp and grits, you may be interested in what this native Charlestonian has to say about Southern cuisine: “I grew up with Southern food, and I love it,” Kulze notes. “Sure, there are some culturally entrenched habits that aren’t good for us, but lots of traditional Southern foods are excellent super foods. It just depends on how you prepare them.” Fried chicken, high-fat sauces, and biscuits don’t make the cut, but seafood, complex grains, and steamed greens are among the traditional Southern fare that is Dr. Ann-approved. She even has healthy recipes for salmon croquettes and egg and tomato-gravy on grits on her website.
What’s up next for this passionate powerhouse? “Fortunately, because of WELCOA’s incredible marketing, I don’t have to go on book tours,” she says. “That frees me up to pursue new projects and forge new relationships to get my message out.” She’s working on her next book, Eat Right for Life: The Family Plan, with WELCOA and creating a library of educational videos that can be readily streamed on the web. “Otherwise,” she says, “I’m going to keep speaking, giving seminars, doing personal wellness coaching and radio shows, and writing books to share with as many people as I can how fun, easy, delicious, and rewarding healthy eating really is.”
10 Guaranteed Weight-Loss Tips
Dr. Ann says if you commit to these 10 changes, you’re guaranteed to lose weight, improve your health, and feel better. For the science behind the advice as well as healthy recipes and free resources, visit www.drannwellness.com.
■ Switch to extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). Use EVOO for room-temperature, low- heat, and cold-food preparations. This healthy fat is filled with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant chemicals in combination with monounsaturated fatty acids that provide numerous cardiovascular benefits.
■ Choose 100 percent whole-grain breads, cereals, and grain products over their refined counterparts, such as white bread and rice. Refined carbs can cause weight gain and increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, while whole grains have been shown to improve metabolism, promote heart health, decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes, and provide protection against many forms of cancer. Look for “100 percent whole grain” or “100 percent whole wheat” on the package.
■ Switch to water. Period. Sugar-fortified beverages like sodas, fruit drinks, and sports drinks offer zero nutritional value and increase your risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
■ Eat a serving of beans daily. Beans are packed with health-boosting nutrients and have been shown to lower your cholesterol, protect your heart, decrease your risk of some cancers, stabilize your blood glucose and insulin levels, and aid in weight loss.
■ Sleep at least seven hours a night. Inadequate sleep drains energy and boosts appetite. Recent science shows that sleep loss can increase your risk of weight gain, diabetes, high-blood pressure, and depression.
■ Control your portions! Portion control equals weight control. With the exception of fruits and veggies (more is better), a good visual guide for practicing portion control is to keep meal sizes to what will fit in your own two hands cupped together.
■ Don’t skip meals—especially breakfast. Skipping meals slows metabolic rate, compromises your energy, and sets you up for excessive hunger, which leads to excessive snacking, dietary indiscretions, and binge eating.
■ If it’s processed, don’t eat it. Always choose whole, fresh foods over their factory-made, processed counterparts.
■ Include a small handful of nuts (about one ounce) in your diet daily. Nuts supply healthy fats, a full complement of minerals, vitamin E, fiber, B-vitamins, and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols. Science supports that they are helpful for weight loss, diabetes protection, and lowering inflammation in the body and can lower your risk of death from heart disease by a whopping 30 to 50 percent!
■ Eat dark, leafy greens daily. They are unequivocally the nutrient Goliath, providing more beneficial compounds per unit calorie than any other food.
Dr. Ann’s Southern Shrimp & Grits
2 cups water
2 cups 1% milk
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 stick Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend
1 cup stone-ground grits
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 1/2 lbs. fresh or frozen shrimp, peeled
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. ketchup
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Juice of one-half lemon
Place water, milk, salt, and Smart Balance in a heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil. Slowly add grits, whisking constantly with wire whisk. Bring back to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer whisking every five minutes until cooked (about 25 minutes). Add additional milk as needed for desired consistency.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add oil, and sauté the bell pepper and onion until tender. Add shrimp and cook over medium/high heat, stirring until shrimp are pink (about four to five minutes). Reduce heat to low. Add Worcestershire sauce, garlic, ketchup, and mustard. Stir, cover, reduce heat to very low and simmer for seven minutes. Serve immediately over grits.