My mother passed away when I was 5 years old, so my brother and I went to live with our paternal grandparents. Grandma had diabetes at that time, and Grandpa was diagnosed shortly thereafter and then died suddenly of a heart attack in his early 70’s. Throughout my adolescent and teen years, I witnessed my grandmother suffering greatly with the consequences of her disease. She was in and out of a rest home in her later years and during my many visits with her, I saw not only her suffering but the suffering of others in the rest home. This made a huge impression on me as a young child.
I’ve also seen the suffering of many others in my family. My mother had died of cancer at a very young age. My father had heart disease and was eventually diagnosed with diabetes. He died about a year later from pancreatic cancer. My maternal parents both had diabetes and heart disease and suffered strokes. One of my mother’s brothers had diabetes, heart disease, and eventually kidney failure, so he went on dialysis. After 5 years, he took himself off because of the great suffering he had experienced. My mother’s sister was diagnosed with diabetes in her early 40’s. She also has heart disease and has suffered a stroke. She continues today to live with the impact of these diseases.
Over the years I’ve thought about family members plagued with chronic diseases and wondered: Are these diseases and their suffering my destiny? Am I doomed because of my genetics? I was concerned about this at an early age. I did not want to go through what I saw my family and others going through. So I decided in my early 20’s that I was going to do everything in my power to avoid what many would say is my genetic destiny.
I now find it a blessing that I began to battle my weight after high school because I went from being sedentary and a bit lazy to being very dedicated to exercise. I thought that was going to keep me healthy. Unfortunately, my commitment to exercise turned into an obsession, and before I knew it, I was on a vicious cycle of dieting and exercise in my early 20’s. Worse, it was discouraging to see women in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s who were still struggling to maintain their ideal weight. I hated the mental madness of the dieting game, and I did not want to still be dieting when I was 40! I firmly believed that Heavenly Father didn’t want me spending so much time and energy worrying about my weight. Along with being consumed about my weight, I felt terrible. At 21 I was fatigued and tired all the time. I couldn’t understand why at this young age I felt so bad. I wanted to have energy and be active and healthy. I believed that Heavenly Father wanted that for me as well.
During this same time period, while living with my maternal grandparents, I picked up an old book of theirs by Elder John A. Widtsoe and his wife Leah, entitled The Word of Wisdom, A Modern Interpretation. I was interested in the Word of Wisdom and was drawn particularly to the part about eating meat sparingly. I had thoughts about trying a vegetarian diet but wasn’t sure if it was a healthy way to go.
I also turned to a doctor for some guidance, but the only thing he did was prescribe thyroid medicine that he said I would have to take for the rest of my life. I had a strong impression that this was not something I should be doing and never took it. About this time a friend gave me two books: Dr. John McDougall’s The McDougall Plan and John Robbins’ Diet for a New America. Both of these books promoted a vegan diet, but I was hesitant to stop eating all animal foods for fear of not getting enough protein and calcium. I had been told my whole life that the nutrients in animal foods are necessary for good health.
It wasn’t long before I discovered Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. This book became my nutrition bible. After reading it, I was sold on a whole food, plant-based “vegan” diet and converted overnight. In a week I felt better than I had in years. My energy level skyrocketed, and I was able to reach a lean healthy weight without being so consumed with exercise. My focus in exercise changed from “burning fat” to just maintaining a strong healthy body and reducing risk of disease.
Because I felt so great I never looked back. My desire for animal foods basically disappeared. I dreamed about cheese once in the while but didn’t want it despite the fact that I previously loved it. It became disgusting to me. My only challenge was my love for sweets. If I ever “cheated,” it was in the form of cakes or cookies and the very occasional ice cream. But over time, as I learned to make desserts with wholesome plant-based ingredients, my sweet tooth went down, and now I have practically no desire to eat the “normal treats” anymore.
Another challenge with my diet change was the fact that I was alone on this journey. I knew no one who was eating this way. I pretty much kept “the change” to myself so I wouldn’t get any negative feedback. As for my family, I had been trying different diets to eat healthier for a long time so no one ever said anything about it. It wouldn’t have mattered though because I knew what I was doing was right—the science supporting it is so strong. I continued my study of nutrition from nutrition magazines and other publications, and when the Internet became available I suddenly had a lot of support right at my fingertips.
About a year ago, my mother’s oldest brother was diagnosed with diabetes and despite my encouragement to make better dietary choices, he is taking the medical route to “manage” his disease and I dread seeing the consequences of that choice. My brother, who just turned 50, had a stroke this past March. I am very proud to say that he has chosen to heal his body and possibly reverse his disease with plant-based nutrition and exercise. He is doing great!
I’ve never had any thyroid issues or any other health issues as far as I know. I want to stay out of “the system” as much as I can. I have my cholesterol levels checked every once in a while because of my family history of heart disease, and I’m always down around 130. After 20 years of being on a 99.9% plant-based diet I had some blood work done to check nutrient levels and everything was perfect! Calcium and protein levels were great!
I’ve always been an animal lover but my spirit has become increasingly sensitive to critters of all kinds, and I feel a deep connection with them as my fellow beings and can’t ever hurt them. God commands them to multiply in their respective element and find joy. I can’t support any who may be taking that away from them, especially when there is no need.
When I read and ponder the Word of Wisdom, I know that the choices I am making regarding my diet are in line with what Heavenly Father wants for me, and I continue to have confirmation of that through blessings and personal inspiration. I am grateful I can run and not be weary and walk and not faint. The destroying angel has passed me by and knowledge that I’ve gained over the years is truly a treasure! I’m so grateful for the peace of mind and spirit that I have regarding diet and health when there seems to be so much confusion in the world.
April Ashcroft is 48 years old. She lives in beautiful southwest Utah with her husband Brian and cats Benson and Baxter. She loves hanging out with her family, which includes three daughters and seven grandkids. She loves hiking, biking, swimming, water and snow skiing, and anything that involves being in the great outdoors!
April’s love for plant-based nutrition has turned into a passion for helping others. You can learn more about her activities on her website. You’ll also want to check out her two cookbooks, Whole Food Goodness and Whole Food American Favorites.