The Inspiration for National Healthy Eating

Walking away from a successful clinical practice and devoting her professional life to wellness was the best decision nutritionist Ann Kulze, MD, made and led to her becoming a spokesperson for Ruby Tuesday's Smart Eating Initiative.

In the business world employees are often encouraged to think outside the box; to develop new and innovative ways for achieving a goal or solving a problem. That approach to a medical career helped Ann Kulze, MD, forge a “remarkably fulfilling and successful journey.”

Today, the physician, best-selling author and motivational speaker is a leading authority in the areas of nutrition, healthy lifestyles and disease prevention.

“I always knew, for as far back as I can remember, that I was going to be a physician,” says Kulze, who developed a passion for wellness and nutrition at an early age. But she admits that during her college days at Clemson University, she never expected her academic background in nutrition and her medical career would meet.

But they have — big time.

Influenced by converging forces

Kulze graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina and worked as a family physician for 14 years. Then, an explosion of scientific information came forth that validated much of the patient conditions she experienced in her office; health and nutrition-related conditions that could have been prevented through diet and lifestyle.

“I saw this extraordinary interest in my patients when I would sit down with them and I would talk to them about [lifestyle and nutrition],” she explains. “I would ask them, ‘Tell me a little bit about your diet. Are you taking supplements?’ I could see that they just kind of lit up. And I felt that I was wasting so much time doing things that ultimately were not leading to an improvement in the health and quality of life of my patients. So, I took this massive leap of faith.”

Kulze walked away from a very successful clinical practice and devoted her professional life to wellness.

“Literally everyone in my life except for one mentor thought I was nuts,” she recalls. “And at that point, I honestly did not know where the journey was going to take me.”

New doors open

Kulze’s initial vision was that her wellness practice would focus on one-on-one, doctor-patient wellness coaching. At least that’s the way it started. But following a speaking opportunity, Kulze recognized that the potential existed to reach hundreds if not thousands of people with her wellness message through corporate wellness.

“And then I had some really good luck,” she says. “I’m not going to deny that.”

A member of the audience at one of Kulze’s wellness presentations turned out to be the chief executive officer of Ruby Tuesday, the national restaurant chain. Soon after Kulze became the national spokesperson for Ruby Tuesday’s Smart Eating Initiative, a multimillion-dollar promotional campaign to start offering healthy foods along with the restaurant’s regular menu.

“I was immediately launched into this new world with lots of media exposure,” Kulze says. “On every single table, in every one of their restaurants, there was a little tent card that had my advice and guidance.”

What followed was a best-selling “Eat Right for Life” series of books (WELCOA) that have been purchased by more than 1,000 North American businesses to help guide their employees to healthier lifestyles.

Kulze also created a host of other wellness resources including “Dr. Ann’s 10 Step Diet” (2004 Greenleaf Book Group), DVDs, CDs, grocery lists, and webinars to further deliver her wellness message. Her website is an online compendium of wellness and nutrition information.

Never would have thought

Looking back on her original leap of faith, Kulze admits that she never would have envisioned her career working out the way it has.

And that leap of faith, she says, was not only a scary time, but also it was filled with much sadness as well.

“I agonized over it for about two-and-one-half years,” Kulze recalls. “I wanted to do it, but the struggle was, you know, am I nuts to be walking away from a practice that is so successful, that gives me a healthy income stream? And the other thing was leaving my patients. I kept thinking of all the people who were so dependent on me. That was the most agonizing part of it.”

Ironically, it was a long-time patient who, when informed by Kulze of the push-pull decision-making she was going through, sat her down and helped her come to grips with her decision.

“I’ll never forget,” she recalls. “He literally took me by the hand, he put me on the examination table sitting up, and then he sat in a chair. He asked what was wrong, and I told him that I wanted to do this wellness thing, but that I was agonizing over leaving my patients. He looked at me and he said, ‘Doc, you need to follow your heart. And I can tell you right now — if you had this conversation with every one of your patients, they would tell you just what I’m going to tell you. You need to do it. We know that you know how you can help the most people.’ And that was incredibly liberating.”

Living the message

Today, Kulze lives with her husband and four children in her native Charleston, S.C. She serves on the Medical Advisory Board for the Wellness Councils of America, the Board of Directors for the Prevent Cancer Foundation, the Scientific Advisory Board for Exercise TV, and the Charleston County School District’s Health and Wellness Committee.

And, she practices what she preaches.

“I totally live my message,” Kulze says. “I always say to people, there’s no way I could speak with the passion and the energy and really the authenticity it requires to change people’s behaviors unless I lived this message. And I always tell people, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Nothing feels better than motivating, educating, and really helping people improve their own health and vitality. It’s a feeling that words cannot describe. It’s just incredible.”