By: Annalise Jones
I grew up in a health conscious family. We used natural health care as much as possible. We never had soda or sugary cereal; desserts were rare. For a family home evening treat we would have almonds or apple juice. Almonds were a treat because they’re too expensive to eat regularly (with a family of ten!), but that same economic factor also meant that we relied more on cheap processed dinner foods such as Ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs.
Things changed when I was a teenager. My parents became better informed and decided to give up animal products. Our dinners switched to couscous, whole wheat veggie pizza, and potatoes. I don’t remember anyone complaining much, but there was always the back up option of PB&J.
I was familiar with my parents’ reasons for making this change; I even did a presentation on the dangers of dairy products for my speech class. However I did not have personal conversion to the Word of Wisdom at this time. Pretty soon I was sneaking foods away from home and, once I got my drivers license, stopping at fast food places as much as possible. I have always been a big food addict, you see, and freedom just opened up a big world of possibilities!
A word on my health at this point in my life: I had depression, chronic yeast infections, hypoglycemia, parasites, acne, and serious fatigue. I also had an impulsive problem picking my skin, and I was covered in open sores. I played on the tennis team but had trouble doing the drills, and would always come in last when we jogged for warm-up. I was also insecure about my weight. I was heavier than all the other girls. My best friends were super skinny, and my cousin teased me about having extra jiggle.
Some years passed, and I graduated from college, got married, and pregnant. By this time I had put on considerable weight. I’m not sure I knew I had a problem. In my mind, I was from a “healthy vegan family.” It was almost like my bad habits were unknown to me, and I was living a double life. In my pregnancy I used the “protein requirements” as an excuse to eat meat every day. Being on WIC didn’t help—my diet was cheese, white flour, cold cereal, milk, chicken and beef. Sure enough, that pregnancy proved to be difficult. My morning sickness was so extreme I had to take a leave from my job, and I lost 10 pounds. In my third trimester, I had severe edema and no energy at all; I would sit at the computer all day. The delivery was difficult (granted, most first time labors are) and with complications. Around this time, it began to occur to me how unhealthy I was.
In addition to physical issues, I had a lot of emotional turmoil during these first few years of marriage. I had a strong testimony and moments of feeling very close to God, and yet, I was not happy. There was a dark cloud over my mind.
After losing the initial baby weight, I settled in at 178 lbs—a new high—and that did not budge (I am 5’4″ by the way). I didn’t like being heavy, but my initial motivation to change was the fact that I knew I was addicted to sugar. Maybe I thought sugar was to blame for all my problems. I mentioned my idea of getting off sugar to a friend, and she jumped right in to Diet Mentor mode! I should note that I hadn’t even thought of going on a “diet.” My mother never did diets for weight loss so it wasn’t the most familiar notion for me. But when my friend (a career dieter, like a lot of heavy women) started telling me about weight loss, I was all ears! She gave me a few books and told me to choose a diet.
It was then that, like Enos, the words of my parents began to come back to my mind. You see, one of the books they read was Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, which promotes a vegan diet. My conscience struck me, and I knew that I needed to go with the diet that fit the Word of Wisdom. I want to add that I’m glad my mom never nagged or gave me a guilt trip for my dietary choices—that would have made it more difficult to admit my fault and return to the correct path. (Although I do remember, anytime I’d call my mother and mention a health complaint, she would gently ask, “Well, have you been eating meat?”)
So I did the vegan diet and lost a consistent 10 lbs per month until I was under 120 pounds! But it certainly wasn’t without its hiccups. I wandered from time to time and tried other diets out of curiosity. But the major change I kept up with, even as I tried more mainstream diets, was eating lots more fresh produce! I discovered that if I eat the right foods it didn’t matter how much I ate. My health was so much better. I was incredibly energetic, a night and day difference. I was walking a couple hours a day and doing yoga and Pilates. Most of my health problems were long gone.
I was a lot happier, but I admit I wasn’t mentally stable. I was very obsessed with my body image and healthy lifestyle, and took the diet to the extreme, living off juices and salads mostly. I got down to 103 pounds at my lowest. That was not good. Thankfully that phase did not last very long. It took a few years for my mental health to balance out, with regular exercise and addressing food intolerances. After becoming athletic, my weight balanced out to a steady 125 pounds.
Through all the phases I’ve been through over the past decade, I was refining my understanding of the details in the Word of Wisdom. For instance, I wasn’t sure if fish or eggs was excluded. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to eat meat in winter (or is “winter” just a synonym for hunger?). I wasn’t sure to what degree grains should be in my diet. I also had doubts as to what the ideal diet is since D&C 89 says it’s “adapted” (vs. 3). I still don’t have all the answers, but I know we are blessed for our attempts to be faithful even if we lack understanding or if we slip up. Life is a wonderful learning process, and certain truths are revealed to us individually at certain points along our journey. I believe that there are blessings for eating a wholesome diet for anyone, but there are also separate blessings for the saints whenever we are making a concerted effort to be obedient.
My conversion to a whole food, plant-based diet came in several steps, and included many times going back-and-forth. Maybe the adversary was really working on me. Or maybe subconsciously I really wanted to eat animal products, so whenever I had an excuse, I would jump into it again, lasting a few weeks or months. But really these phases were a blessing, because each time began with a question to experiment with and pretty soon I would have my answer. For example, I now know by my own experience that grass-fed meats and “healthy” fats still promote disease, and raw pastured dairy might be called for in certain acute situations, but at the end of the day it does not promote overall health for adults.
In 2008 and 2011 I experienced two pregnancies eating WFPB with an emphasis on fresh produce. These pregnancies were a breeze. I exercised all nine months and had quick, easy deliveries. I gained minimal weight and had it all off within a few months.
In 2010 I began running, something I had tried in the past but always just felt completely awful doing. But now it felt refreshing and exhilarating! I was so thrilled to see my fitness improving rapidly. In less than six months I did my first half-marathon. I continued doing triathlons and 5k, 10k during my pregnancy. In 2012 I ran my first marathon and began winning my age group in the shorter events! I completed two more full marathons and many halves. It’s a joy to travel to various cities and national parks to “see the world” on my own two feet!
This running adventure is something my husband and I do together. Since 2010, he has completed over 20 races of at least 26.2 miles, including four 50-miler events and three half “ironman” distance triathlons. His friends and family have been amazed at his ability to do so many events back to back with such quick recovery in between. His diet of whole plant foods enabled him to recover faster between races and handle the increased physical demands. His dream is to do the full ironman but that needs to wait for a simpler season of life.
I have a solid testimony of the Word of Wisdom, and I take the blessings promised literally. Of course, factors other than diet play a role in achieving true health, but I feel that the Spirit led me to discover these other helpful things as part of the blessings for following the diet! Did He not promise us an increased understanding of the mysteries of godliness? I have been led to many wonderful opportunities, knowledge, and tools, both for the benefit of my body and spirit, as I have continued seeking in humility, with an open heart. I know He wants us to experience as much health and vitality as possible! That way we can serve to a greater degree, and have a greater capacity to become as He is. But we retain our agency; our health is in our hands. The blessings are there for anyone who desires to seek after them.
Annalise Jones grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada and currently lives in Salem, Oregon. She is 32 years old and is a homeschooling mother of four children. She is self-employed as a seller on eBay and has written an eBook called The Fruit Predominant Diet. Besides diet and fitness, her passions include natural childbirth, natural health care, music, entrepreneurship, writing, teaching and serving in the Church.