This article is part of a series on Discovering the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Featured Author Jane Birch. 

In preparation for setting health goals for the new year, this month I am sharing various ways a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet can help you transform your life in 2016.

If you missed it, the first article in this series focused on the important question, “Why Start Now?” where I described some of the amazing blessings of a WFPB diet. Which of these benefits would encourage you to give WFPB a try?

  • Healthy and permanent weight loss
  • Increased strength, energy, and vitality
  • Prevention and reversal of disease
  • Getting off medications
  • A new level of enjoyment in delicious foods
  • Freedom from confusion about competing health claims
  • Joy in a life that honors the body, the earth, and the animals
  • Spiritual blessings promised in the Word of Wisdom

Next, I introduced three possible approaches to changing your diet:

  1. Make a plan to “baby step” your way into a WFPB diet. (I discussed this last week in Baby Steps to WFPB.)
  1. Go “cold turkey.” (This is the topic for this week!)
  1. Implement the “maximum weight loss” principles. If you are already eating a whole food, plant-based diet but you want to lose more weight, following the maximum weight loss principles is a surefire way to lose additional pounds—as long as the reduced weight is still healthy for your body. (I’ll discuss this in a later article.)

Why Go Cold Turkey?

Last week I described various ways to baby step into a WFPB diet. To be sure, this is the approach most people take. It seems against human nature to go cold turkey. Unless compelled by some dire disease, what sane person would suddenly throw out so many delicious, exciting taste sensations and restrict themselves to a diet of wholesome food?

Most of us agree we need to eat better, and many of us are willing to do so, but few of us are eager to go all the way, at least we are not in a rush! But there are some very compelling reasons for taking the plunge into the wonderful world of WFPB. In today’s article, I hope to persuade many of you to try this approach. I promise: it is not as scary as it seems. I know, because I did it this way!

I first heard about the WFPB lifestyle in the early morning of August 20, 2011. It honestly sounded crazy, but it was intriguing enough to make me feel I had to research it. After a large breakfast of egg omelets, I began my investigation. By lunchtime that same day, I was so convinced by the power of the evidence that I decided to change the way I ate. I went cold turkey. Yes, you can question my sanity, but I can testify that there are very few decisions I’ve made in my lifetime that have made me happier and that have improved my life more dramatically. Call me crazy, but I can say in my defense, I’m crazy happy with how I eat, how it tastes, and how I feel, and I’m certainly not alone!

Going cold turkey is a powerful approach to WFPB. Below are some of the most compelling reasons to take the plunge.

  1. The amazing results keep you highly motivated.

A whole food, plant-based diet is powerful! You feel better physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. But some of these benefits are not realized if you only go partway. If you go partway, you may feel the sacrifice is not worth it because you are not experiencing enough of the promised blessings. This can be discouraging. If you go all the way, you are sure to experience the benefits, and these results can motivate you to keep going strong. (See some Success Stories here.)

If you are experiencing life threatening chronic illness, going cold turkey can literally be life saving! But all of us on a Standard American Diet (otherwise known as S.A.D.) are headed toward life threatening disease, so it is only a matter of time. In the meantime, whether we are relatively healthy or not, almost everyone eating S.A.D. is affected negatively by the way they eat, whether it is constipation, acne, sluggishness, mental fog, lack of energy, weight gain, spiritual insensitivity, or slight depression. Most of us don’t know how bad we feel because we have not experienced how good it feels when our body is properly fueled and working as it should.

Going cold turkey is the quickest way to experience the most powerful results of a WFPB diet. Some people feel a difference the very day they begin! For others, it may take a few weeks or they may even feel worse at first because their body is adjusting. But no one can fully embrace this way of eating without fairly quickly experiencing the blessings. After all, this is the Lord’s promise to us in the Word of Wisdom!

  1. Your taste buds change faster.

One of the hardest aspects of switching to a whole food, plant-based diet is that our taste buds are so accustomed to S.A.D. that we have not developed the ability to fully enjoy a diet of wholesome foods. This is absolutely no indictment of wholesome foods! Even people who hate vegetables come to love them on a WFPB diet, but of course this takes time . . . and patience . . . and faith!

If your diet is full of sugar, it is going to take time to lose that craving. The same with fat. According to the Monell Chemical Senses Study, it can take up to about 90 days to down regulate your fat receptors so that you fully enjoy a diet without all the extra fat. In the meantime, the food may not taste as good as you are used to. Please note: it is not the end of the world if you “suffer” through a few days, even a few weeks, where the food is not as good as you wish it was!

Janice Stanger writes in The Perfect Formula Diet:

Major shifts in eating patterns are easier for many people to follow than are small changes. When you totally revamp your foods, your taste buds change their preferences within a few weeks. If you continue to eat your old favorites, even in small amounts, your old tastes are still being nurtured.

  1. You’ll cut the cravings.

Perhaps the hardest part of a WFPB diet is the strong cravings many of us have experienced for foods that are not healthy: candy, cookies, cupcakes, chips, cheese, donuts, ice cream, pie, rich meaty dishes, cream-covered casseroles, pizza, BBQ ribs, hamburgers, French fries, soda, and the list goes on and on. These cravings are a sign that our bodies are addicted to these foods.

If you don’t agree, try giving them up cold turkey; you’ll soon discover which foods you are addicted to.

As with any addiction, abstinence is the best and only way to completely overcome it. In a book I highly recommend, The Pleasure Trap by Doug Lisle and Alan Goldhamer, the authors write:

With rare exceptions, addiction is not a problem that yields to moderation. The most reliable solution is the extreme—complete abstinence. (p. 168)

The good news is that going cold turkey is by far the best and fastest way to overcome food addiction. Those cravings are powerful! They appear overwhelming! But the fact is, if you go cold turkey, they only last for a short time, and then they are GONE! You are FREE! As long as you never reintroduce the addictive substances, they will never truly plague you again.

Many health experts teach that it’s OK to enjoy these substances, in moderation. Unfortunately, moderation does not help us overcome our food addictions. Dr. John McDougall wrote:

Westerners are completely addicted to their steaks, cheeses, and pies. Attempts at moderation guarantee continued dependence and continued failure. . . .

Have you ever met a smoker who quit by cutting down?—I haven’t. Have you ever heard of an alcoholic who sobered up by switching to beer?—neither have I. These moderate approaches keep the addicting agent within easy reach. The only effective means to overcome these destructive habits is to remove the powerful substance from a person’s life—repeated teasing with small fixes of the drugs (tobacco and alcohol) means unending torture and a quick return to the usual levels of use to avoid the pain.

Cutting down on the portion size of fried chicken, gravy, biscuits, and ice cream is slow torture and is one of the primary reasons diets fail. Simply put, these high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar foods are just too attractive for most mortals to resist.

This is the way Mary McDougall explains it:

Every positive experience you have with safer eating is important in getting you to the day when you do decide that you are worth the effort and finally going to make the change. You may decide to start slowly by slipping in an occasional [WFPB] recipe along with your old favorites. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, except for a lot of heavy competition from those long-time favorite (and heavy) foods. Taking a part-way approach can set you up to suffer slow withdrawal symptoms—and inevitable disappointment in your results. You should not expect to gain the dramatic improvements in your health and appearance that the Program offers those who follow it strictly. When they’re given no other choice, most people adjust to the new tastes and methods of food preparation within three or four days.

There is more good news in all of this! When we completely exclude foods that are not good for our bodies, we don’t need to count calories, carbs, fat grams, or points, or worry about portion control. The WFPB guidelines are simple and eliminate confusion about what to eat. If you follow the guidelines, you can’t make a bad decision. Plus, because you eat plenty of food, you stay full. You never go hungry!

  1. Faced with sink or swim, you learn how to swim.

No one wants to sink, and going cold turkey no doubt does have some casualties, but it also produces a high level of high performing, enthusiastic, happy swimmers!

As long as you are baby stepping your way toward WFPB, you can always fall back on unwholesome foods and therefore are not forced to figure out exactly how to survive on wholesome foods. If you commit to going cold turkey, I promise you: you will figure this out! And you’ll figure it out much more quickly than by any other approach. Why? Because hunger is one of the most powerful motivators on the planet. People literally move mountains to relieve hunger! Faced with a choice of going hungry or figuring out how to live on wholesome foods, you do figure it out. Period.

How long does this take? Everyone is different. If you are a great cook and have a mature palate, you can go cold turkey without breaking a sweat. But if you are me, born without the cooking gene and without any skill to compensate for it, it may take more time. But it will not take forever. For me, it was 6-7 weeks before my taste buds completely changed and I learned to prepare foods I thoroughly enjoyed. At the time, it felt like f.o.r.e.v.e.r. But now, it seems like a mere drop in the bucket. I wish I had had more faith!

  1. Going 100% gives you the strength of adopting a new identity.

By choosing to go cold turkey, you are choosing to completely adopt a new identity as “someone who eats only wholesome foods.” This can be totally freeing! You are then free to announce your new identity to the world because you aren’t going to embarrass yourself by reversing course. You are free to stop thinking about all the foods that used to plague you. You are free to get rid of all the unwholesome foods in your fridge and pantry (assuming others in the household are on board!) and to skip whole sections of the grocery store.

When you commit to anything 100%, something switches in your brain that enables you to organize your entire life around this new commitment. It becomes very clear what you will and will not eat, so you don’t feel confused or conflicted. You are able to tell family and friends about your new diet and to invite their support. When you make it clear to them that you will continue to honor and respect their way of eating, this will help them to honor and respect what you are trying to do.

  1. This is pleasing to the Lord.

Whether we baby step our way into a healthier diet or go cold turkey, I testify that the Lord is pleased when we honor and respect the priceless bodies He has given us. He loves us. He knows the price we pay (or will pay) for the unwholesome foods we eat. He has already paid the price for our sufferings so that we can adopt this new identify, this re-birth. The Lord gave us the Word of Wisdom so we can do better, and He will help us do better. We are not alone.

The promises the Lord extends to us in the Word of Wisdom are real. Latter-day Saints from around the world who have embraced a Word of Wisdom diet testify that they have received these promises and that they are priceless. Study the promises in D&C 89:18–21. Consider how your life (and the life of your family) may change by receiving these blessings.

Would You Like to Give This a Try?

I encourage everyone who is willing to go cold turkey, to set a date to go whole food, plant-based in 2016. I promise to help you! If you are “crazy” enough to join me, I’ll soon be sharing some specific strategies for going cold turkey. These strategies will be helpful to anyone who wants to try this diet, at any level, from baby steps to all the way!

For Help Starting on a Word of Wisdom Diet

For help on embracing a healthy Word of Wisdom diet, see: “Getting Started on a Whole Food, Plant-based Word of Wisdom Diet.”

Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (2013) and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Watch the video “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film.”