Liz Kuhn admits to sometimes craving steak and pizza, which are off-limits on her diet.

But the 50 pounds she has lost and the other benefits she has gained since adopting a whole-foods, plant-based eating plan motivate her to avoid temptation.

"Like a lot of people, I was kind of driven to it through desperation," Kuhn, 54 of Clintonville, said of her diet.

She made the decision to try it after struggling to control the symptoms of Crohn's disease with harsh medications. The chronic digestive disorder drastically improved with her new diet-which is free of meat, dairy, gluten and sugar.

"This has pretty much, in my opinion, cured me," Kuhn said.

Many others have found success treating and even reversing chronic conditions, from heart disease to diabetes, with a plant-based diet, said Pam Popper, a nutritionist and executive director of The Wellness Forum in Worthington. The forum offers educational programs on nutrition along with fitness classes.

"A lot of people play around with diets out there, but they don't make significant enough changes to get results, and they conclude that the diet doesn't make any difference," Popper said. "We have to adopt the right diet in order to see people get better."

She advocates eating from four food groups: legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables; limiting meat consumption; and avoiding oil, sugar and processed foods.

The diet is strict, without question, but Popper said it's far from repetitive or boring.

"The prevailing thought is people like me are living on tree bark and foraging in the woods," she said. But that's far from the truth, she noted. "We'll go for weeks and not even have the same things."

The Wellness Forum's executive chef, Del Sroufe, prepares made-to-order meals for members and has developed a catalogue of more than 400 recipes.

He gathers inspiration from around the world, looking for ways to make whole foods exciting. Sroufe has reaped the benefits of his healthful cooking approach. "For me, losing weight was the obvious advantage," he said.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. Finding a plan that fits each individual's lifestyle is an important consideration, said Julie Kennel, a registered dietician and program director of the Department of Human Nutrition at the Ohio State University. So before switching diets, she advised, people should ask themselves whether they can maintain the changes.

"If it's so extreme that they can't keep it up, they blame themselves," Kennel said. She agrees with the notion that diet can be used to treat and prevent some health conditions, but advises using caution when eliminating any of the major food groups. She recommends consulting with a registered dietician before making any big changes.

"If the diet is asking you to give up a whole food group from the traditional food pyramid, you really need to explore why," Kennel said. "We have the food groups for a reason."

But Popper, who teaches hot yoga classes and looks years younger than her true age (54), passionately heralds her diet, saying it works wonders for herself and others.
"I'm in my 50s, and I have nothing wrong with me," she said. "I take no medications, I'm really athletic, and I have the energy level of a 19 year old."