Experimenting on the Word: One Chubby Lady Tests the Word of Wisdom

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by Brenda

Like many people, this desk working mother of four arrived at a point where her lifestyle and eating choices were taking a toll on health and well-being. Meat at every meal, ice-cream more nights than not, Diet Pepsi swigging to wake up and then keep going was rather obviously hitting the bottom line, in more ways than one. There was much rushing around done but none of it exercise.

Ruby's Diner Hickory Burger

As the cholesterol numbers rose and the scale inched up a real sense of futility began pervade my thoughts and I found myself praying for help. Fad diets were not the answer, I love food too much and none of them worked long term. Research into nutrition was studied but the afternoon munchies still overcame me most days.

I knew the Lord cared deeply about both my spiritual and physical well-being and so the answer had to be in the Gospel. Over several months, line upon line the truth began to distill.

Near the beginning of this heavenly tutorial a wonderful missionary was assigned to serve in our area. He was bright and happy and excited to be here. He was like so many others who pass through with one major exception, he was a vegetarian.

This anomaly brought much attention to this young man from both members of the Church and non. Texans consider themselves the top carnivores on the planet. If it isn’t meaty, chicken fried, and served with gravy it “aint worth eat’n!” In my experience many Mormons would make pretty good Texans. This fact caused the poor Elder no end of ridicule and comment, some of it humorous and some that was flat out unkind. The observation of this behavior caused me to ponder the love affair that so many us have with meat.

As these thoughts were percolating through my consciousness it became time for my temple recommend interview with the Branch President. When we got the question about following the Word of Wisdom I hesitated. I don’t drink tea, coffee, or alcohol. I don’t use tobacco or illegal substances but did I fully follow the Word of Wisdom? After a short conversation in which my temple worthiness was confirmed I left that office and set out to study and then test the entire Word of Wisdom.

That search led me to all kinds of information and commentary but the most useful was found in the scriptures themselves and in the words of a latter-day prophet.

Farmer's market, Jul 2009 - 11

With our vegetarian Elder in mind I first read about meat.

D&C 89:12-13 “Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”

This idea of infrequent consumption of meat was echoed in the Joseph Smith translation of Genesis 9:11.

“And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.”

Now, for those of you who are ready to whip out the “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God” quote hang on to your hamburgers. I am not saying that the Word of Wisdom advocates complete vegetarianism but it certainly asks us to eat meat sparingly. Somehow I don’t think sparingly means just two meals a day instead of three.

Then I dove into the discourses of Brigham Young who had much to say about the Word as well as many other pragmatic suggestions for good health and long life.

“If the people were willing to receive true knowledge from heaven in regard to their diet they would cease eating swine’s flesh. I know this as well as Moses knew it, and without putting it in a code of commandments.”

Darn it, there goes the bacon.

“It is difficult to find anything more healthy to drink than good cold water.”

But Brigham what about Diet Pepsi? I have to have it to keep up my frantic life pace.

“Instead of doing two days’ work in one day, wisdom would dictate to our sisters, and to every other person, that if they desire long life and good health, they must, after sufficient exertion, allow the body to rest before it is entirely exhausted. When exhausted, some argue that they need stimulants in the shape of tea, coffee…or some of those substances which are often taken to goad on the lagging powers to greater exertion. But instead of these kind of stimulants they should recruit rest. Work less, wear less, eat less, and we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we now do.”

With all this in mind I set out to really test how I had chosen to interpret these parts of the Word of Wisdom.

I eliminated caffeine completely. It was a tough first two days but I knew Brigham was right on this one. Stimulants are stimulants, I would rest when I got tired instead.

I also banned pork from the menu. This was a huge course change, I mean last Thanksgiving I made a bacon blanket for our turkey. It was delicious but if I was going to test this it had to go.

Water would be consumed in most cases for thirst and meat eaten sparingly. That part was intimidating because it seemed all the main dishes I regularly cooked had meat as the main ingredient. Luckily I found there are easy substitutions that can be made. Zucchini slices instead of pepperoni on homemade pizza, it is awesome, and mushrooms instead of beef in stroganoff.

Fish and poultry became my “sparingly” consumption once or twice a week and I also learned about eating less processed food, sticking to whole grains and the like. This did not require me to shop at Whole Foods, take yoga classes, or become an expert on raw sugar. It really wasn’t that hard and the family got on board pretty quickly.

Jogging on a bright November morning

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also took latter-day prophets advice to exercise regularly. I started by walking and then added weight training. My football playing teenage son was a wealth of information and technique in this area.

I am now several months into the test and the physical  results are pretty amazing. In general I feel better and my energy has increased. The work load that used to leave me exhausted every night is now manageable, my mind is clearer and emotional state more even-tempered. The most recent visit to the Doctor revealed much lower levels of cholesterol, blood sugar and the stubborn weight that has plagued me the last decade or so is slowly but surely coming off.

Interestingly, I’ve found that when I don’t eat red meat and pork I stay cooler, which is a blessing living in the south. When I have wavered and consumed red meat at a meal I find myself wanting to stay in front of the air conditioner all day. It makes me wonder if that is one of the reasons the Lord advises us to eat it in the winter.

The application of the testing parameters is not executed perfectly every day because sometimes I’m a wimp, but I’ve found that through prayer the Lord helps me get back up and keep trying. Here’s hoping this is one of those weaknesses that will eventually become a strength, but if not I know that I want to do as the Lord has instructed and I will keep at it because the blessing always outweighs the sacrifice, rather literally it seems.

Said Brigham

“Prepare to die, is not the exhortation in this Church and Kingdom; but prepare to live is the word with us, and improve all we can in the life hearafter, wherin we may enjoy a more exalted condition of intelligence, wisdom, light, knowledge, power, glory, and exaltation. Then let us seek to extend the present life to the utmost, by observing every law of health, and by properly balancing labor, study, rest, and recreation, and this prepare for a better life.”

It is clear we must take care of the spirit as well as the body to be the most useful instruments in the hands of the Lord. He asks us to experiment on His word and that includes those parts of the Word we like to ignore so we can enjoy our steak and energy drink.

The conclusion I’ve drawn from my on-going experiment is this, the Lord cares about His children both spiritually and physically. He has given us a road map to be healthy and happy. Certainly there is room for individual interpretation and revelation on how to interpret it, but if this chubby lady can test the Word and reap the ever increasing blessings then anyone can do the same.

What health benefits have you gained from living the Word of Wisdom?

How has the knowledge that the Lord asks us to adopt healthy habits helped you?

About Brenda

Brenda (Truth, Beauty, & BLT’s) is the mother of four tremendous children and wife to a very patient and witty man she lovingly calls “Buns”. She enjoys flying kites, thinking about things that make her brain hurt, and is pretty good with a slingshot. She spends her time searching for truth, beauty, and humor wherever she can find them.

18 Responses to Experimenting on the Word: One Chubby Lady Tests the Word of Wisdom

  1. Shawna says:

    Good for you for making some positive changes in your life style. Whenever I’m faced with a new fad diet, I always ask myself “How does this compare to the advice given in the Word of Wisdom?”.

    Recently one of my friends asked me to compete in a triathlon. At first I pretty much laughed in her face, but then I thought, Why not? Wouldn’t it be cool to be the kind of person who does a triathlon? Realistically I will start with a smaller goal, but it’s amazing how that change of perspective has helped me to exercise regularly and give up most of the sweets.

    • Brenda says:

      Setting small goals for exercise has been so helpful to me. I started with walking and now I am training for my very first 5k next month. A year ago I couldn’t run more than a block but adding a few minutes of jogging at intervals while I walked has done amazing things.

      That perspective change is so important. It would be awesome to be able to complete a triathlon! I wish you the best in your training. :)

    • Jane Birch says:

      I love this story! I’ve read it several times and find it very inspiring. I also appreciate the comments people are making and the way the Word of Wisdom keeps inspiring so many of us so many years after it was revealed.

      I’m finding there are Mormons all over the world who are making fundamental changes to their lives because of the Word of Wisdom and reaping great blessings as a consequence. I’ve started a website to feature these stories: Discovering the Word of Wisdom. I invite others to contribute their stories to this site, if they are willing to share.

      Our bodies are sacred gifts from our Heavenly Father. I know He is pleased when we care for them, and He will help us obtain the health we need to fulfill our missions on earth. I have been greatly blessed, both physically and spiritually, as I’ve followed the counsel in the Word of Wisdom more closely.

  2. templegoer says:

    Lovely to find some comments from Bro. Brigham that I can get down with. That has built my testimony. It’s great to see rest validated within a church context, sometimes it feels like we are required to flog ourselves to the point of dropping, the work never stops and it’s never enough. It takes an assertive soul to stop before health draws the line for us. As a lifelong migraine sufferer, I’ve learnt that I have to manage my health, but I’ve met with a lot of misunderstanding.
    I’ve recently had a great experience in obeying medical advice, which was congruent with the Word of Wisdom. I was advised three years ago that I would face a lifetime of uncomfortable medication in order to manage severe osteoporosis of the spine, and that in order to prevent it deteriorating I would also need to work very hard on physical activity. I’ve worked hard to become more active, which we all know is challenging when there are family responsibilities, but I’ve been able to reverse the deterioration and now have normal bone density for my age. I feel that I have been greatly blessed to have access to the medical care I’ve needed, and I feel the Word of Wisdom has helped me to understand that I needed to take action and exercise self control. It’s a great discipline for life, joining body and spirit as being of value to Heavenly Father.
    I’m full of admiration for your achievement Brenda, particularly when it’s counter to the prevailing culture. Did that missionary have many dinner appointments?

    • Brenda says:

      I’m so inspired by your story templegoer, what a testimony that even when we have health challenges the Lord gives us tools to help improve our situation.

      I wonder how much of the “work till you drop” mentality come from our American culture? As church members we are asked to lengthen our stride and be anxiously engaged but the there is also so much out there that teaches us to take care of our bodies and not run faster than we are able. “Work less, wear less, eat less” is true wisdom.

  3. Wendy says:

    That poor missionary-he must have been hungry most of the time if he couldn’t eat most of what was available.

    Thank you for writing this piece and sharing your experiences. It takes a lot of courage and commitment to change your lifestyle like that, especially coming from two cultures where food is such a focal point. (You have a double whammy, what with being LDS *and* living in the South!) The Southerners love their meat and we Mormons love our casseroles and desserts. (When was the last time you went to any kind of church meeting presided over by women that didn’t include “refreshments”? That’s right, never! Even our Young Women presidency meetings end with a plate of brownies or cupcakes, and there are only 4 of us in attendance.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, you have made huge changes in your life despite the opposing forces which sometimes relay the wrong messages about food and our dependance on it. I really like how you looked at your health from a gospel standpoint and went into it sincerely wondering if the scriptures could help you solve this problem. You have proved yet again that answers to the important questions in life can indeed be found in the scriptures. Thanks for your thoughts and, as always, for your good example: it’s one I could definitely try harder to follow! My justification that the Word of Wisdom says nothing about Double Stuff Oreos is starting to wear pretty thin…

    • Brenda says:

      It’s so true in my family and certainly in the church food is equated with love. When someone dies, is born, is sick, has a celebration, when we have meetings, or even just when we are thinking about someone we bring food and usually it is not healthy stuff. What else could we do to change that dynamic?

      The only way I have been even half-way successful at this is because it is part of the Gospel. The knowledge that this is what God wants me to do is what makes the difference. Although those double-stuffs do find there way into my hand once in a while.

      • templegoer says:

        I try to square the circle by taking something fruit based- a tart or cake or crumble with fruit in it, or when visiting take some really nice fresh fruit in season. I have to say, my kids hate that about me.

  4. Michelle B. says:

    This is wonderful stuff. Thank you for sharing your journey. I imagine you would probably really enjoy a blog I have been reading for a couple of years, and which has sent me on a similar journey. It’s called “Word of Wisdom Living.” It is very well-written and has great ideas for applying many of the things you mention in this post.

  5. Jeanna says:

    I’m slowly starting a similar transition, largely because I recently taught my six-year-old daughter about the Word of Wisdom. Instead of focusing on the usual (the alcohol, drugs, etc.), we focused on the meat, veggies, grains, etc. It was wonderful! … Except that now she’s always correcting us. “But that has meat! We should only use it sparingly!” Sigh. Now I’m having to practice what I preach. :) Little children can be awesome for making us a little more honest sometimes.

  6. Emily says:

    This is great!! A bit back I had a conversation with my brother. He pointed out that how are we eating meat sparingly when it is a part of 2/3s of our meals typically. Wasn’t there even a somewhat recent study stating that the only religious people more healthy than the Mormons are those who eat even less meat? Great experiment, again! I even think I can use part of this in my lesson on Sunday!

  7. Tiffany W. says:

    What a nice read today. I had to giggle though at the pork comments by President Young and your decision to forego eating it. In Saudi Arabia, pork is illegal and so we were pork deprived for 18 months. It was really hard and I didn’t notice any tangible benefits to it. We aren’t heavy meat consumers, but do enjoy pork on occasion. In fact, after living in the Middle East, I contend that the real way to broker peace in the area is to end the ban against pork! –joking of course!

    Anyhow, I have spent more time with my family and primary teaching the principles of good, healthy eating from the Word of Wisdom as opposed to focusing on the do nots. We all could stand to eat better.

  8. Bonnie says:

    I am starting tomorrow on my own life plan and reread your words for encouragement. Last year I lost 45 pounds but then backslid and ended up eating peanut clusters by the pound, regaining a lot of that. I am more determined, especially since the health problems I had begun to overcome have returned, but even more so because I have discovered what I can’t do, what I’m not prepared for, because I have not been a good steward over my body. It is a great opportunity, this great commandment, adapted for the weakest among us. I can do better.

  9. Maybelline says:

    How has the diet come along? I always thought following the Word of Wisdom was the most sensible diet plan.

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