By: Brittney Fairbourn
Ever since college, I have steadily pursued information about healthy eating (all while eating pretty terribly). I started with a small goal to drink more water during the day. Almost anything was better than what I was doing. I got pretty good at drinking water, and it became my primary source of hydration. I slowly changed my diet over time to include whole grains and more fruits and vegetables as I read about the benefits they provide.
While nursing my third baby, who had terrible reflux, I tried quitting dairy to lessen her misery. Letting go of some foods (milk) were easier than others (cheese, chocolate, and ice cream). I wasn’t perfect at it, but this ban on dairy gave me a small success that helped my journey; I proved to myself that it was possible to change my diet in a way that seemed absolutely impossible at the outset.
Around the same time, I started to study the Word of Wisdom. I was struck by all the counsel I had missed. Most of all, my eyes were opened when I learned that God is pleased when we do not use animals for food.
The sanctity of animal life had never crossed my mind before, but now I realized every creature’s life has value. I realized that if I do eat animals, I need to be much more grateful for the life that was given so I could have that meal. I also realized that if I were required to butcher my own animals, you can bet I would hardly ever have meat.
I started to eat less meat and bought less for my family. I didn’t really have a desire to eat it anymore, but I wasn’t sure how to cook without it either. So I started cooking dairy-rich meals to fill the meat void.
About a year ago, I chose to read The China Study for a book club. This book changed me. The strong correlation between consumption of animal products and incidence of chronic illness, especially cancer, really stood out to me. Eating plants to prevent all types of illness made a lot of sense. All those “Milk does a body good” ads came to my mind, and I felt sad that Americans have been lied to for so many years. Everything I read in the book made me think about the Word of Wisdom.
I slowly stopped buying various dairy items. I knew this would be a tough change for my family; it was hard enough for me. I kept questioning why I was led to this way of eating and why I was committing to this difficult (for our culture) diet, when nobody in my family even had health issues. I had so many promptings, though, that I felt sure I was supposed to make this change. I figured maybe I would never know why. I thought perhaps I would prevent some future health problem without ever knowing it.
I had my fourth baby, Joni, three months after reading The China Study. I hadn’t bought meat from the grocery store for about a year by the time I had her, and I was feeling pretty comfortable with avoiding dairy. Baby JoJo had no reflux and was a happy, healthy baby as far as I could tell.
When I took Joni to her two month check-up, the doctor heard a heart murmur that needed to be checked out by ultrasound. He also found out that Joni hadn’t gained as much weight as she should have. He didn’t seem too concerned because I reported that Joni was breastfeeding regularly during the day and wasn’t tiring out or cutting her feeds short. She also had strong femoral pulses. However, Joni’s echocardiogram revealed that she was in heart failure. She had multiple heart defects, but mainly a large VSD and a coarctation of the aorta. She was immediately flown to Primary Children’s and had open heart surgery the next day.
During surgery, we learned the severity of Joni’s coarctation; the surgeon couldn’t even measure the width of the artery with his millimeter probe. My daughter came out of surgery in worse heart failure than she had been in going into surgery. The surgeon pumped fluid off of Joni’s failing, weeping heart for over 20 minutes, a lot longer than he’d ever had to before. It was questionable if Joni would survive the night, but she made it through, thanks to God (and faith, prayers, and priesthood blessings). Joni also survived RSV and pneumonia during her hospital stay. She is now completely free from feeding tubes, oxygen tubes, and heart medication.
We had multiple doctors and nurses say they couldn’t believe how well Joni had done for two months, how happy she was, and how she had strong femoral pulses. Apparently a lot of these coarctation babies do not thrive and die at home if their diagnosis is not discovered earlier. During Joni’s stay in the hospital, I came across a report providing evidence that a mother’s higher consumption of animal protein in pregnancy negatively affects her child’s blood pressure as an adult. I felt the Spirit tell me that my efforts to change my diet had kept Joni alive for two months with better heart function than she would have had otherwise. What an amazing blessing, not only that Joni was kept alive, but that I got to see a direct result of following a prompting!
Joni will possibly have a narrow aorta for life, with stiff and inflexible artery walls. Children like her tend to have high blood pressure and need medication as adults. I am hoping that by teaching Joni how to eat a whole food, plant-based diet, I can help her avoid as many health problems as possible.
When I think about it logically, this way of eating makes so much sense. I was built to eat mostly plants. I am not meant to drink milk that was meant for baby calves. Food storage seems much more doable when I take out meat and dairy as a food necessity. I don’t have to worry as much about safe food temperatures and bad bacteria while cooking. I don’t have to worry as much about environmental carcinogens hurting my health because plants have so many protective qualities. Food really is medicine.
I have a LOT more to learn about preparing whole food, plant-based meals and more experimenting to do, but I have learned that meals can be very simple. I don’t have to prepare fancy meals for them to be healthful. We can eat meals centered around wheat, beans, rice, and potatoes…with other vegetables and fruit too. We can survive on only 5-7 favorite meals. So even though I’d like to build up to a big repertoire of well-loved meals, I don’t have to stress about it while I’m starting out. I like to think about the plainness and monotony of diets in the history of the world and realize that today’s variety of manufactured food combinations are a little outrageous and unnecessary!
It is hard to transition a whole family’s diet, but I’ve found that I can get my kids excited to come to the table by announcing the fruit we are having, and then I also ask them to try everything else I made. The kids usually only get second servings of fruit once they’ve eaten the rest of their plate. They often find that the food tastes better than expected, and I love conversing with them about how to keep our bodies healthy. I try not to dictate what my kids eat outside of our home because I know they need to learn to make these choices for themselves.
My husband, Kent, has been very supportive through these changes. He has been willing to eat whatever I prepare and encourages the kids to eat it too, even if it isn’t always what he wants. I think we have both been surprised, though, at how delicious plant-based meals can be. Natural, whole foods taste better all the time.
Unexpectedly, my gut feels better. I never realized the subtle bloating and stomach churning I used to have after meals. I feel lighter and need less sleep. I usually don’t feel an afternoon tiredness slump. Eating this way is helping me overcome addictions in all areas of my life because it has helped me see that I have power over my choices. I have more control over my food addictions, like sugar. I have an easier time fasting. I spend my time a little more wisely instead of being a slave to a social media addiction. I feel like I’m treating my body more like a temple, trying to put only the best things inside. I feel closer to God and look forward to getting even closer to Him.
I love the peace I feel with eating this way. I feel at peace with the earth and all of creation, and I feel at peace with what I’m feeding my family. I read a quote from Jane Birch that describes the way I feel about my promptings to change my diet: “God answered a prayer I did not give.” I am grateful to God for leading me to this way of eating.
Brittney Fairbourn is 32 years old and lives in St. George, Utah. She has a Master’s degree in tax accounting from Brigham Young University. She and her husband Kent have four children, ages 9 months to 7 years. Brittney loves to read and manage her family’s finances. She is a homemaker and spends most of her time at home, but she also enjoys attending almost any type of gym class when she is able to get away.