“My wife and I felt a yearning to know God better”

josh-wagner-familyBy: Josh Wagner

A little over a year-and-a-half ago, my wife Jamie and I felt a yearning to know God better. We began praying for help to make significant changes to be closer to Him and experience more of the gifts of the Spirit. We had no idea the Lord would answer those prayers by telling us to change how we eat.

This is how it happened: a little after Jamie and I started praying for this, we were reading scriptures with the kids while we ate dinner (we’ve learned that combining meal and scripture time reduces the chance that the kids will run off while we read). As was typical in our house (and most American houses), we were eating a protein-centric dish named for the meat it was built around.

On that particular day, I chose to read this section of holy writ which says the Lord wants us to joyfully use the things of the earth—plants and animals—to sustain and enrich our lives. But then comes this stern warning: “For unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion” (v. 20). A clear message from heaven pierced my mind to the core, “The way you eat meat is excess and extortion.”

This freaked me out. I somehow recognized it as the answer to our prayers to be closer to God but it scared me because Jamie did most the cooking. I didn’t want to say to her, “God told me we should stop or significantly reduce our meat intake so you need to change how you cook for us.” That just didn’t seem like a conversation that would end well.

So, I sat on the revelation. For two months.

From time to time, a voice in the back of my head would remind me that we needed to make this change but I would just put it off. Finally, one day, I came home from work and Jamie seemed nervous to tell me something.

She began timidly, “I’ve been watching some documentaries today and I would like to make some changes.” She’d watched a few of the various Netflix exposés on the food industry as well as this excellent TED talk on being a weekday vegetarian. She was resolved to dramatically cut our family’s meat intake but was scared to tell me because she didn’t know what I’d think!

I was so relieved. I told her what I’d felt while reading the scriptures at dinner two months earlier. We were both so happy we’d come to the same conclusion through different means and felt that we were truly following God’s will for our family.

Since then, we’ve continued learning more from science and from scripture about the best way to eat. Line upon line, precept upon precept, we have developed a new diet that follows what we Mormons call The Word of Wisdom, a revelation from God about how we should eat. It is the reason most participating Mormons do not use alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. But in addition to prohibiting that stuff, it also advocates a diet based on grains, fruits, and vegetables; and says we should eat meat “sparingly.” It even suggests that God would be pleased if we only ate meat in times of emergency.*

As we’ve mostly cut meat out of our diet with a few exceptions, we’ve been very blessed. The Word of Wisdom ends with a series of promises that we’ve realized in our lives:

“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow in their bones….” We definitely feel that our bodies are stronger and healthier and simply sturdier. As we’ve satisfied our hunger with nutrient rich whole grains, vegetables, and fruits instead of meat, our constitutions have improved.

We’ve also received spiritual health in the navel. I imagine a baby whose navel receives all needed nourishment from the umbilical cord that connects to his or her mother. Taking the Word of Wisdom at face value has strengthened our umbilical connection to God and filled us with grace and spiritual strength.

“And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures….” This is where the Word of Wisdom becomes the answer to our prayer to know God. As we’ve lived this health code, we’ve learned more from God and come to know God more. Mysteries of godliness have been revealed to us and we find it easier to experience the gifts of the Spirit.

“And shall run and not be weary, and walk and not faint….” We simply have more energy. It is easy to sustain physical activity and easier to sustain spiritual activity as well, making it easier to follow the Lord’s injunction to “endure to the end” in well-doing.

“And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.” This definitely applies to obedience to the Word of Wisdom prohibitions against alcohol and tobacco which significantly shorten people’s life spans. The introduction to the Word of Wisdom says that it was given “in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” This probably refers to big companies that profit big from alcohol and tobacco sales and have worked to keep the perils of these substances a secret.

But perhaps it also refers to companies and organizations that use immoral means to convince the public that lots of meat and other unhealthy foods aren’t bad and thereby make a significant profit off of shortening people’s lives. Latter-day Saints who avoid alcohol and tobacco reduce their risk of liver disease and lung cancer. If more of us took just as seriously the injunction to eat little or no meat, we’d also lower our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, all of which are significant and growing epidemics the Lord must have foresaw when He gave the revelation.

Perhaps this is why Gordon B. Hinckley, a man whom I love and who served as a prophet of God, said in a 1993 address, “I thank the Lord for a testimony of the Word of Wisdom. I wish we lived it more fully. But even though we do not, the Lord pours out His blessings upon those who try.” I am grateful for the Word of Wisdom. Jamie and I are blessed as we live it as fully as we know how.

I want to write more about this subject but there is so much to say that I don’t know where to start. So, all readers are most welcome to post any questions you have about how our family is eating and what we’re experiencing to help me organize my thoughts for the next post. In the meantime, here is a beautiful video we found recently which shows other people having the same sort of experience we’re having and seeing the same blessings:

Josh (32 years old) and Jamie Wagner are natives of the Northwestern United States and currently live in Utah. They have three small children who keep them very busy while Josh teaches film production to high school students and Jamie teaches childbirth education. They just want to do good things and make God happy. Josh originally posted his story on his own blog: Swagnerography.

* There may be some confusion over why so many Mormons adhere strictly to the prohibitions but not the counsel. The guys over at FairMormon have done an excellent job of explaining that “the Word of Wisdom contains two kinds of instructions: (1) prohibitions, and (2) counsel. The prohibitions are binding upon the Saints; the counsel, precisely because it is counsel, is up to each of us as individuals.”

The Word of Wisdom prohibitions against alcohol, tobacco, coffee, or tea are seen as binding upon all members of our Church and a prerequisite to receiving the Church’s ordinances (sacraments). The counsel part of the revelation is not considered binding in the same way—members are encouraged to figure out for themselves how to best live those parts. “In the Church, we refer to this as living according to what the Holy Spirit has revealed to each of us, or in this instance, living according to the spirit of the Word of Wisdom” (again from FairMormon).

“I hoped it would help with the IBS”

joseph-peterson-familyBy: Joseph Peterson

I always thought I ate a fairly healthy diet. Coming from a larger family, my mom always cooked homemade meals, and I just assumed that if it was homemade, it was healthy. After going off to college, I had to begin cooking for myself, which was usually just whatever was easiest, which was anything from spaghetti to frozen dinners. Then on my mission in Monterrey, Mexico, we would either eat at the homes of Church members or buy tacos on the street. The food where I served in Mexico always contained lots of meat and lots of grease. At one point in my mission, my health got so bad because of the food there that I had to be hospitalized. At the time, however, I thought it was just one bad meal with lots of bacteria. I didn’t stop to think that how I ate everyday affected my life so much.

When I got married, my wife and I were just never motivated to cook for ourselves very often since it was just the two of us, so we would usually go out to eat or cook some kind of frozen meal. After a while of that, my wife got better at cooking homemade meals just about every night, but we would still eat meat and lots of cheese and things like that.

Then just last year, I heard my parents talking about a diet they were starting that they were very impressed with. It was the whole food, plant-based diet. At first, I didn’t really think I needed anything like that, since I have always been a pretty skinny, healthy guy. At most I weighed 165, and I’m 5’9’’, so about average. However, my whole life I’ve also suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I have been to many doctors who would just tell me to experiment with different pills, but none of them really worked.

After several months on their new diet, my parents were saying they lost around 40 pounds each and were feeling much better! I was shocked! I have always followed my parents example my whole life and seeing how much this new diet had changed their lives, I wanted to partake of the blessings too. While I didn’t need to lose weight, I hoped it would help with the IBS.

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“I used to think people that LIKED running were strange”

elisabeth-barlowBy: Elisabeth Barlow

My food history could be summed up by the phrase “meat and potatoes,” as long as we were talking about fried potatoes. I liked meat, dairy, chips, cookies, white bread, sugar, etc. and was a generally picky eater. As a teenager, I remember opening a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos after school and eating most of the bag by myself. I am shocked I didn’t end up with more health problems, but I was a typical teenage girl who didn’t want to eat her veggies.

Once I was married, the pounds started to creep on. By the time I was pregnant with my first child, I was 10-15 pounds heavier than when I got married. After the baby was born, I had a lot of weight to lose, but I didn’t do anything until my baby was almost two years old and I realized I was as heavy as I was when I was full-term pregnant. I joined Weight Watchers online because I thought it was a safe and effective way to lose weight. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight after a few months, but I quit once I reached my goal and wanted to stop paying a monthly fee and obsessively track everything I ate. I went through the same cycle with each successive pregnancy until after my fourth baby which is when I found a better way!

I started thinking about my relationship to food after watching the Overcoming Addiction series that was put out by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. One of those videos was about a woman that overcame food addiction. I had never thought I had a food addiction, but I often felt like if I started eating a package of cookies or chips, I could never stop with just one or two! Many times I felt like the only thing that would relieve my stress was chocolate or a bakery item high in fat and sugar. I craved meals heavy in cheese and bacon. Although I knew I wasn’t eating the healthiest foods every day, I was resistant to anything that said to stop eating meat. I had read the Word of Wisdom before and knew that I could eat meat sparingly and that animals are for our use.

However, I was also worried about my health. I had a yearly blood draw coming up as part of our insurance requirements, and I wanted to be able to improve my numbers and not have to pay a surcharge if I had worse results than the year before. My post-baby weight loss had stalled, and to top it off I got sick with a horrible stomach virus or food poisoning and had to take two days off of work to recover. So, in March of 2016 when I found Forks Over Knives on Netflix, I was determined to try a whole food, plant-based diet. Now that I have been eating that way for 6, going on 7 months, I want to recap everything that has changed for me.

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“I had the good fortune to get food poisoning”

claron-twitchellBy: Claron Jon Twitchell, Sr.

I grew up with a standard American diet typical of the 1950s and 60s—certainly better than what most people eat today. It was home cooking, not fast food. There was not a focus though on how to apply the Word of Wisdom to our diet.

I remember when I first read Doctrine and Covenants Section 89, probably when I was a twelve-year-old deacon, I thought, “We have bacon for breakfast, sandwiches with lunch meat for lunch, and chicken or beef for supper. That doesn’t seem like eating meat sparingly to me. Where is the famine?” That was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t do anything about it until I was in my forties.

When I was in my mid-forties, my main fitness activity was riding my bicycle. I commuted to work two or three times a week when the weather was okay, which gave me a baseline of four to six hours of vigorous activity each week. I threw in some recreational basketball, yard work and a little hiking and such. I still had a standard American diet: meat, a little fast food, dairy, eggs, and so forth.

I felt fairly healthy, however, I was still gaining a few pounds each year after age 37. I started thinking, “I need to do something different or I am going to soon pass 200 pounds.” I drew a line in the sand to stay under 200 pounds and started thinking, “What should I do?” With a job, a family, and church responsibilities, I just didn’t want to spend more time exercising.

I started thinking that I might need to change my diet some way. My diet tended toward a “see food diet.” I pretty much ate whatever was in front of me until I was full. It occurred to me that there were a fair amount of calories in the meat that I ate. Then there was that thought in the back of my mind since my youth, that we weren’t really following the Word of Wisdom with eating meat. Now the stage was set.

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“Max told me to go home and read the Word of Wisdom 20 times”

ryan-egbertBy: Ryan Egbert

My health journey started when I was 13. My best friend and I challenged each other to go one month without carbonation. After succeeding I realized there was no point in starting again when everyone knows it is healthier to not drink carbonation. It was a small challenge for me but before long I had fully adapted, and I had no desire to drink carbonated drinks.

Around the same time a school teacher showed us a video of the ironman triathlon held in Hawaii. I remember seeing people in their 80’s accomplishing this amazing physical challenge. For weeks after I thought to myself, “I want to be that healthy when I am a grandpa.” I wondered how someone became that healthy. I thought mostly about the exercise program and hadn’t considered that diet might be the primary issue.

At the age of 16, a friend’s father mentioned meeting someone who competes in the Ironman. I jumped all over the opportunity and arranged a meeting.

Max Burdick (known as IronMax) was a 76-year-old man who didn’t just shake your hand; it became a tug of war to pull you over. Max started our conversation by telling me his story. He was dying of cancer around the age of 40. An acquaintance from his high school came to visit him in the hospital. He told Max that his father had been diagnosed with cancer. His father prayed and fasted and went to the temple. He believed that God knew how to cure his cancer. Finally he had a spiritual experience in reading that “the destroying angel will pass them by” (D&C 89:21) and knew that the Word of Wisdom was God’s answer to how he could overcome his cancer. Max’s friend had used the same diet to overcome his cancer and now he was telling it to Max. He told me he realized what an “outrageous” claim he was making, but that he was living proof that it is true.

He told Max to read D&C 89 twenty or so times before he came back to visit him. Max read and upon meeting again Max learned the diet. After a few months on this diet, Max said the doctors claimed it was a miracle because he was cancer free.

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“Some days I feel so good, I can’t believe how good I feel”

pattsy-dayleyBy: Pattsy Dayley

I am originally from Oklahoma and am now 77 years old. I grew up eating lots of fried food. We had biscuits made from white flour and gravy. The gravy was made using bacon fat, lard or sausage or hamburger. Whatever we had, mom would fix. We ate plenty of beans and cornbread, but she added lots of bacon fat, ham, or fatback. Whatever little meat we had, she added it. Mom grew a garden and cooked with lots of vegetables, but they were heavy laden with fat. We used canned milk to make gravy. As we had babies, we used it for baby formula.

As a child I had lots of croup and tonsillitis, and my legs hurt all the time. My mom would rub them to give me some relief. She gave me cod liver oil to help my bones and then when we had sore throat, she would swab our throats with Merthiolate. For croup, she gave us a spoonful of sugar with two drops of kerosene added to it. It worked so I was able to breathe.

I had low energy levels even as a child. In my early 20s, I had some lumps removed from both breasts and under each arm. Thankfully, they were benign. At 25 I had a tonsillectomy, at 32 a hysterectomy. In my 40’s, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. My asthma came back about the same time. In my 50’s, I had my gallbladder removed. All this time I was still suffering with leg pain and then I was diagnosed with nerve problems; the doctor called it Morton’s neuroma. He wanted to remove the nerve. I refused. By this age I was tired of being cut on.

I tried being a vegetarian, and it helped. I felt better. With my family not doing the same diet, I went back to SAD (Standard American Diet). I also went back to lots of pain. The past two years I spent a lot of time in bed. I wasn’t able to walk far and had horrible stomach pains. The doctor prescribed Omeprazole generic stomach medicine. It didn’t help at all. I changed doctors. He thought I was gluten intolerant. I tried the gluten-free diet, and it helped the swelling in my stomach, but I still had horrible pain.

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“I haven’t had a single migraine headache in years”

Stacey PetersonBy: Stacey Peterson

My journey to a whole food, plant based diet was a gradual process that began in 2010 and took six years to fully implement. Nights home alone plus a Netflix subscription led me to watch several food and diet-related documentaries over the years such as Hungry For Change, Fed Up, Food, Inc., and one of my favorites, Forks Over Knives. For the first time in my life I started to actually think about what I was putting into my body and how it was affecting me. I’d never struggled with my weight, but I knew that weight wasn’t the only indicator of health, and I did suffer with frequent and debilitating sinus infections and migraine headaches. I didn’t feel right about the powerful medications and their frightening side effects that doctors were prescribing for me. I really felt strongly that my body wasn’t designed to be sick and that my ailments would benefit more from prevention than from questionable medications to mask the symptoms.

As I read and researched for my own health, I couldn’t help but think about my babies—the loves of my life who I would do anything and everything to protect. When I set plates of food in front of them, I wondered if what I was putting into their bodies was helping or hurting them. What was I teaching them that “food” is? How was I training their taste buds? Since I was choosing their food, did that mean I was also choosing health consequences for their little bodies that could possibly last a lifetime, without their say in the matter?

I continued reading books on nutrition, studying, learning, and gradually replacing harmful ingredients with better choices one at a time as my knowledge increased. I think high fructose corn syrup was the first thing to go. Hey, we all have to start somewhere! One change led to another, and by the time 2016 rolled around, I couldn’t remember the last time the inside of our fridge had seen a gallon of cow’s milk, a carton of eggs, a block of cheese, or a piece of meat. They had been replaced by a wide variety of whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, and we were enjoying our meals more than ever before. We sure had come a long way since the high fructose corn syrup ban!

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Taking Life

Beautiful Animals Looking at CameraThis article is part of an occasional series on “Word of Wisdom Reflections.” You can also read Steve Reed’s plant-based conversion story.

By: Steve Reed

I wrote most of this back in 2014 but haven’t published it until now. In fact there was a lot more history before and after this, but I feel like this one experience was a big turning point for me. Few people know about this experience, and even fewer know the details which I’m going to attempt to convey. This event happened about 15 years ago while I was a full-time missionary.

After I share this story, I want to wrap up by exploring what doctrine, principles, and applications relate to this subject.

Winter of 2000

My companion and I were trying to reach out to a less active young man on a small Idaho farm. We got on the conversation of animals and he mentioned that they would be cooking some goat soon for Christmas dinner. My companion, who was Fijian, mentioned that he was an expert at killing pigs and could kill the goat in seconds. The young man and I were impressed with the claim and decided to put my companion to the test.

The day came and we met out at the farm, I was anxious to witness this spectacle of my companion slaying a goat with the skill and finesse that he claimed. I came from Texas where hunting is a big deal and I wanted to see how they did things island-style. We walked out to the goat pen and a large goat was selected. I volunteered to take the rope and lasso the goat, and nailed him perfectly right around the horns. My companion had a habit of calling me “Texas Ranger” and my apparent skill with the lasso caused him to excitedly exclaim, “You ARE the Texas Ranger!”

We pulled the goat out of the pen as it struggled against us. I yanked him around like the dumb animal he was while his fellow-goats cowered away.

We pulled the goat down to the ground and my companion straddled it while I held its head to the ground. A medium-sized knife was handed to my companion. I watched as he took a deep breath, while aiming the instrument and sincerely whispering the words, “Sorry, goat.” With a swift jerk, he thrust the knife into the chest of the animal and it let out a disturbing cry of pain while fiercely fighting against us. The cry was jarring, and although this was just an animal in my mind, I couldn’t help but imagine the exact same sound and physical reaction from a person being stabbed in the same way. I held the goat’s head down firmly and looked into its eyes.

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“I love food and it loves me back!”

Kurt DeGrawBy: Kurt DeGraw

I have never really enjoyed meat too much. I grew up on a small family farm. We raised chickens, pigs, ducks, geese and the occasional sheep or cow, and I was the main person to feed most of these animals. Without many other youth my age living near us, the animals became my friends. I had funny names for them based on how they looked or the quirks they had.

Two experiences really sealed my dislike for meat at an early age. The first experience was when we killed the chickens. We hung them upside down on the swing set using twine around their legs. There they were hanging and flapping occasionally when a knife to the throat let the blood run out. After a LOT of flapping and squawking, in about 5 minutes they were all still. I still remember not wanting to play on the swing set for a while after that, but more importantly to me, these were animals I had fed and spent time with. That night, we had chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy and corn. I just could not eat the chicken.

My second experience a few years later was when our pig was butchered. A mobile butcher drove to our house and took our pig from the pen—where I had fed, watered and named him—and took him into the back of his truck and an hour later out popped all these white butcher-paper packages with labels. For dinner that night we had pork chops and rice. Again, I just could not eat the pork chops.

We were a large family living on a public school teacher’s salary and whatever came from the small farm and the animals we raised was definitely needed to feed our family, but after those two experiences my desire for meat decreased dramatically.

My healthy journey started when I was in my mid 30’s. I had started to gain weight from a sedentary office work life style. I did (and continue to) mountain bike and walk multiple times a week and even lifted weights on occasion. But unlike when I was younger, the weight just kept sticking around and more of it started to stick around. I started to do my own research and started to use less white flour and white sugar in my cooking. This worked for a decade or so, but by my early 40’s, I was considered obese by national standards.

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There is No Way I Can Do This! and Other Lies

Apple with a HeartThis article is part of an occasional series on “Word of Wisdom Reflections.” You can also read Randy Campora’s personal story about overcoming cancer.

By: Randy Campora

If you have found your way to this page, you are probably looking for inspiration as to how to make the dietary and health changes that you really need in your life right now. I would like to address you personally and give you an idea of why you should make changes, why you should listen to the promptings you are receiving from the Lord, and what you might expect to happen when you do.

I have seen you in my mind as I have contemplated writing this. I have seen you in myself, and in the friends, work colleagues, and ward members that I have talked to about these physical and spiritual changes in relation to the Word of Wisdom. I know that you have great burdens of many types. I did not think mine could be lifted, but they have been, by the grace of a loving Father and a Savior, through the gifts of the Spirit.

Here are a few observations from the least likely person on the planet to adopt a Whole Food Plant Based diet, after doing it for one year.

This Will Be Easier Than You Think

On paper, the Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) way of living looks like the most severe regimen a human could dream up. My wife, Olga, and I have been consistently surprised that once we committed to it, it has been much less challenging that we predicted. There are challenges, many of which will be common to everyone who makes the change, but there will be some that are individual to you. The biggest difference we’ve found is simply planning: you need to have the right foods in the house at the right times. And, make sure you don’t have the wrong foods in the house at any time.

You can’t wing it nearly as much, though we have found a few go-to places that work well in our neck of the woods when we need to eat on the move. Please let this sentence sink in to your mind: This will be easier than I think.

Your Personal Cravings Will Be Exposed

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