By: 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.
I had the good fortune to get food poisoning from eating commercially prepared fried chicken. Then I had the good fortune to get food poisoning from eating commercially prepared fried chicken from another place six weeks after the first experience. That put me over the hump with eating meat.
I couldn’t see myself eating boneless skinless chicken breast or other lower fat meat servings the rest of my life in a disciplined way. I tended to be the type that liked deep fat fried chicken. If there was a roast, I wanted that piece off the end that had that delicious fat.
After the second food poisoning episode, I decided to stop eating meat. No particular science behind that decision. I just had a couple of bad experiences, I wanted to hold my weight down, and there was the counsel in the Word of Wisdom. That was the end of meat consumption for me. Cold turkey. Not gradually. This was about May of 1996.
After about a year with no meat and not really any other diet changes, I went from about 195 pounds down to about 185 pounds. I increased my consumption of cheese a little bit to compensate for the absence of meat or I probably would have lost more weight than I did. I don’t recall noticing any other health benefits besides the weight loss, but that was all I was going for and 185 pounds seemed like an okay weight to me.
In the fall of the next year, fall of 1997, I was planning on taking a class in computer science at the University of Utah as part of a plan to get a master’s degree in computer science. I had a busy life, working full-time and all the rest. I had a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Utah, so I knew the courses were challenging and time-consuming. I was wondering what I could do to give me a little edge for the classes. I heard a radio infomercial about a speed-reading course on audiocassette that taught speed-reading. Reading faster sounded like a way to make the courses a little easier. So, I bought the speed-reading course.
As I went through the course, I felt like I was increasing my reading speed. When I got to the last cassette, it gave some instruction on how to increase retention of what you read. After they covered several topics on retention, they started talking about how diet affects memory. The foods that they said to avoid to help with memory and retention were pork, shellfish, added fats, dairy, eggs, processed sugars, and white flour. They were okay with chicken, a little red meat and finned fish.
I was kind of surprised by the advice, because I had not been thinking about healthy eating, other than to abstain from meat. I thought, “Well, let’s give it a try.” Of course, I was already a vegetarian, so after a while I realized that by also avoiding the dairy and eggs that I was essentially eating a vegan diet, with additional prohibitions against added fats, refined sugars, and refined flours.
When the computer science class was over in December, I felt that the speed-reading course had helped a bit to increase my retention, so the change in diet had probably been worth it for helping me through the class. I really hadn’t made the change in my diet thinking that it was going to be permanent, but as I reflected on my experience, I realized that some very good things had changed with my body that were totally unexpected.
I had been diagnosed in my early thirties with allergies. When the allergist tested me, I was allergic to almost everything they tested me for to one degree or another. I would have some allergy symptoms any time of the year, but my worst allergy season was in the fall. Starting about mid-August, my allergy symptoms would increase, getting gradually worse until we typically had several hard frosts in mid to late-October. My allergy symptoms were the common runny nose, blocked sinuses, and itchy eyes. By mid-September, I would typically have blocked sinuses to the point that when I lay down to sleep at night, both sinuses would be blocked, which would force me to breath through my mouth. That would cause a loss of sound sleep. I always avoided taking prescription drugs, but when I couldn’t sleep well at night because of both sinuses being block, I would start taking the drugs.
At the end of the term, I realized that my allergies had not gotten serious enough for me to reach for the drugs. As a matter of fact, during the worst time of the year for my allergies, they had been significantly, unmistakably less than they had been for many years. It dawned on me that lessened allergy symptoms must be the change in my diet.
When I was taking computer science classes as an undergraduate, part way through the term, I would start to get headaches. They weren’t migraine headaches, but they were frequent and unpleasant headaches. The headaches would usually start about the middle of the term and get worse as the term progressed. Usually, they would stop over Christmas break when I was out of school between terms. I had expected with the pressures of work and taking a computer science class, that I would get headaches this school term as well.
When the computer science class was over and I had time to reflect, to my surprise, I realized that I had not had a headache the entire term. I thought, “It must be the change in diet.” I was so surprised and favorably impressed with a marked decrease in my allergy symptoms and having no headaches, that I decided to continue my vegan diet.
After the success of my new way of eating, I started to look around for books to add to my understanding. A couple of books that I read in the late 1990’s stand out in my memory. Specific to explaining the benefits of the Word of Wisdom was The Mormon Diet by Earl F. Updike. Ann Wigmore’s Recipes for Longer Life introduced me to the benefits for not only eating vegan, and not only eating whole food plant-based, but introduced me to the benefits of eating uncooked, plant-based whole food. More recently, I read The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner about communities in various places around the world where people live longer with diets very similar to the Word of Wisdom diet.
I have now been vegan for 19 years. When I went from vegetarian to vegan, my weight decreased from 185 pounds to 175 pounds. I have enjoyed my recent discovery of the Discovering the Word of Wisdom book, Facebook group, and website by Jane Birch. The recent discussions about oils and sugars helped me get in marathon shape at 165 pounds. Jane Birch reminds me to practice what I already know and to learn knew things.
I am now 65 years old. I feel healthy. I am physically active. When I go to family reunions and see cousins about my age, they almost all are suffering from degenerative diseases to a lesser or greater extent.
I am grateful that the Lord gave us the Word of Wisdom. I am grateful that when I read it as a deacon, the Spirit carried the message to my mind and heart. I am grateful that I had the prompting from the Lord in my forties to change my diet to keep my weight down. The Lord has blessed me with good health. He created us and if we will turn to Him, He will help us to know how to take care of what He has created. I feel that by following the Word of Wisdom, I have been blessed spiritually to begin to receive treasures of knowledge of how the Lord created the things around me. My prayer is that the Lord will add years to my life so that I may yet do a greater work than I have done.
Claron Twitchell is 65 years old and lives in Utah. He had a career as a software engineer. He is now retired, but does projects that interest him in software. He and his wife have 3 children and 12 grandchildren. They have enjoyed many callings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2013, Claron walked from Salt Lake City to Jackson County, Missouri. He ran his first and second marathon at age 64 and enjoys hiking, bicycling, and helping refugees.