I am 61 years old, and from the time I married at age 20, I have always been interested in health and nutrition. My parents were ahead of their time in that they believed in cracked wheat cereal, whole wheat bread, and eating lots of fruits, vegetables and salads every day; however, there was always plenty of meat on the menu, and drinking milk at every meal was gospel.
I have enjoyed good health most of my life, and through vigilance, never had a weight problem. However, about six years ago I started having severe knee pain and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. I visited an orthopedic doctor and was seriously considering surgery on my right knee. I had also had a couple of colonoscopies with several pre-cancerous polyps. My cholesterol levels were on the high side, although not dangerous. I was always constipated and also had rosacea, a skin condition.
My mother (now aged 92) has severe osteoporosis and arthritis, and my father (an amazing and active 94) has used statins and blood-thinners for years; both have had bouts with cancer (now seemingly in remission after surgeries and radiation). My husband’s father died at age 62 from heart disease, and his mother from stroke. With all this in the family, I became interested in finding ways to maximize our health possibilities.
About five years ago, I started making and drinking lots of green smoothies, per “Green Smoothie Girl.” This helped my digestion, but I continued to use lots of dairy every day, plus some meats and eggs. Then, three years ago, a friend recommended the book Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. The next week, we had lunch with friends who told us they were on a vegan diet and that it had cured their migraine headaches and prostate cancer. Then yet another friend recommended the book The China Study by Colin Campbell. I wondered why I was suddenly having all these encounters with whole food, plant-based (WFPB) information, but I did the reading and became convinced that the science was reliable.
I decided I would try the diet for three months and see how I felt. I had read and studied a number of diets before, so it was like a light went on when I realized that the WFPB diet was really just the Word of Wisdom stated anew! Now when people present me with information that contradicts it, I just say that I’ve decided to stick with revelation on the subject. Otherwise, one month it’s this, and the next month, it’s that. Tossed to and fro . . . whom to believe? But with divine counsel, it’s easy. Why did it take me so long to come to this understanding? It seems so obvious now. But cultural influences are powerful and had prevented me from embracing it sooner.
I’m sorry to say it was science that convinced me that the Word of Wisdom is the key to diet, but maybe that was just the way the Lord could reach me. I also loved the fact that with a WFPB diet I didn’t have to buy any special products, juices, or powders. Although the whole food, plant-based experts do sell their books and other things, you certainly CAN follow their advice completely without making them rich. Just buy grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes in bulk, fill your shopping cart with fresh produce, non-dairy milk, and tofu, and start cooking! (Thank you Sprouts, Winco, and Costco for making the shopping easier and cheaper.)
I have always enjoyed cooking, but cooking for a WFPB lifestyle has become a very fun new hobby! I love reading and trying out new recipes. As long as I am eating at home (which I am able to do most of the time) it is very easy to comply. I cook in quantity and freeze smaller portions for convenience. My husband is intellectually convinced and happily eats whatever I serve, but his business requires him to eat at restaurants frequently, which is hard. He calls himself a “Jack-vegan” and doesn’t follow 100%, but he has a great attitude. He accepts the ribbing from his friends, and reminds them that he’s trying to help save the environment, as well as his health. (On the rare occasions that we choose to eat out, we love “Sage’s Cafe” in Salt Lake City.)
Not long after I began the WFPB diet, my knees started to feel better, my skin cleared up, and the constipation completely went away. My latest colonoscopy was totally clear. I am very active physically and exercise six days a week. My joints all feel great, and I have absolutely no knee pain anymore! Many people are skeptical about this because x-rays had shown that the cartilage in my knees was practically gone, but what can I say? I used to have a lot of knee pain, and now I have none. I love doing yoga and just took a yoga teacher training class this summer. Most of my fellow students were college-aged girls, but I kept up pretty well with them.
Last February, I attended a Forks Over Knives conference one weekend in Phoenix (BTW, they have a great website, newsletter, and recipe app). Drs. Campbell, Esselstyn, Greger, Lisle, and other WFPB luminaries were there. What fun to be among like-minded people and get reinforcement and new ideas! During one of the breaks, I asked Dr. Esselstyn why my elevated cholesterol wasn’t going down in spite of 2 1/2 years on the diet. He said, “Are you drinking a lot of smoothies?” “Oh yes,” I responded, “Usually two or three a day.” “That’s your problem,” he said. “Processing all those fruits and veggies in the blender makes the glucose go immediately into your liver and convert to cholesterol. You need to chew your food rather then drink it.” I went home and quit the smoothies. Six weeks later, my cholesterol numbers were down 35 points, to an acceptable (if not low) range.
This diet has been a little challenging socially. I have learned to just smile and say, “It seems to work for me” when people challenge the idea. This is a non-confrontational statement that defuses the tension. We go to a lot of banquet-style events, and I have become fearless in telling the servers when we arrive that we need a vegan meal. Sometimes the food’s not very good, but other times, the fellow diners at our table look on enviously, because they have some big slab of meat they’d rather not eat. I’ve learned it’s also a good idea to eat something before going to a social event so I don’t starve.
I can honestly say I don’t miss meat or cow’s milk . . . thank goodness for almond/soy milks for cereal and cooking. I do miss yogurt, and I have a little occasionally (can’t somebody come up with a reasonably priced almond or coconut milk substitute?). Fruits and vegetables just taste wonderful to me now . . . I think once you stop eating over-sweetened and salted processed foods, you can better appreciate the flavors of simple foods. I used to really miss ice cream, but when I tried it recently, it was too rich. I don’t miss cheese much, but boy, is it hard to avoid in restaurants!
I’m not afraid of death and am not trying to extend my life indefinitely. I just want to enjoy the years I have left as free of pain as possible. I look at my poor mother who is SO bent over and twisted and suffering from mild dementia. But she has faithfully consumed practically a quart of skim milk a day for as long as can remember, plus lots of cottage cheese and yogurt. If anyone should have healthy bones as a result of dairy consumption, it would be her! I’m hoping to avoid that fate, and also keep my husband alive as long as possible so we can serve the Lord, the Church, and our family.
I have always had a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, knowing that neither he nor anyone else in the 19th Century could have had the knowledge of ancient cultures, language, literature, warfare, etc. that informs the Book of Mormon. Likewise, only revelation could have given him the life-saving information we have in the Word of Wisdom. And it is exactly that—divine advice to help us feel healthy and happy! It took a little mind and appetite retraining, but once having adopted this diet, I can’t imagine going back to my old ways of eating. I have loved being able to introduce several of my friends to this precious knowledge, and I hope to be able to kindly pass it on to many more people.
Barbara Welch Cramer grew up in Southern California and went to BYU, where she met her husband, Lew Cramer, and graduated with a BA in English. As a life-long musician, she is accomplished on the piano, organ, and voice. She sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir 2007-14 (until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60!). She loves reading, cooking, practicing and teaching yoga, bicycling, and hiking in the mountains. Barb and Lew enjoy their 6 children and 13 grandchildren (none of whom are vegan—yet.) They have lived in California and McLean, Virginia (1984-2006) and now live in downtown Salt Lake City.