I grew up in California. We were a health-conscious family, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was just how we lived—lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and my parents were good examples of being active. But we also ate plenty of hamburgers, milk, ice cream, and treats. The Word of Wisdom was introduced to me when I was 17 and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although my parents are not members, they learned a bit about the Church at that time and were interested in the Word of Wisdom. I remember that they said to me, “The Church members may not smoke or drink, but they have their vices. You are joining a fat church. If this information is in the scriptures, and the members believe the scriptures are true, why don’t they follow the counsel?” And that’s a very good question. Why aren’t we LDS people a healthier example to the world?
My husband grew up on a potato farm in Idaho. They were a “meat and potatoes” family. His grandparents, who lived a few hours away, owned a dairy farm, so butter, cream and whole milk were plentiful when they visited. Some of their family’s favorite foods were creamed peas and new potatoes, Sunday roasts with potatoes and gravy, big farm meals to keep the workers filled. Bread and butter were on the table at every meal. There were always lots of sugary desserts and treats. They grew a big garden and canned everything. This diet was typical for that small, farming community.
Randy and I met in college, married, and had four children. Early in our marriage I had major surgery to correct an unknown birth defect and lost the use of one kidney. After recuperating, I was determined to be healthier than ever, eat well, and exercise. But as our family got busier, I turned to convenience foods— pizza, cold cereal, burgers, like everyone else. I always loved fruits and vegetables, but my finicky kids did not eat many vegetables and I’m sorry to say that I gave in to them rather than fight.
At age 32, I went back to college, taking 1-2 night classes each semester. This was a very stressful time as my husband was called up to serve in Desert Storm with his Navy Reserve unit. I was on my own with four young children for nine months while he served. I continued on with college, finally having to commute to USU in Logan for my last five years. I started to have feelings of anxiety that I did not understand. They were horrible and lasted for over ten years. I don’t remember what my family ate. I could barely swallow food during this time, but I battled through, finally receiving two college degrees at age 42.
Fast forward to 2010. I was called to be our ward’s Relief Society President. Just a few weeks into my presidency, our recently released Relief Society president received the devastating news that she had terminal cancer, metastasized from breast cancer she’d had 15 years earlier. She was told that with chemotherapy she might live longer, but she knew what chemotherapy was like and decided against it, wanting to live her remaining time feeling as good as possible. She researched alternative cancer treatments and decided to radically change her diet and lifestyle. Because the Relief Society was bringing her meals, I read her books and watched the videos with her so we could bring her the food she wanted to eat. She lived one more year, feeling relatively well until the end.
This bit of nutritional knowledge I had received started a reading frenzy in me. I have now read 20+ books and seen many documentaries on various diets and lifestyles. I took notes on all the books, rereading them frequently. At first, I was confused by the different diet information, but the common denominator seemed to be “eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cut back on meat.” Finally, I turned back to the scriptures, reading and rereading the Word of Wisdom with new eyes. It was very clear to me that the scriptures were describing a whole food, plant-based diet! I felt the Spirit confirm this truth to me!
I had a group of friends doing their own diet research, and we were coming to similar conclusions. Our “Foodie Group” met occasionally to share information and recipes. This was very exciting to me, but not so much for my family, who were getting tired of my enthusiasm. Then I found Jane Birch’s book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. This book put into words all that I had come to believe and more.
Now an empty nester, I can eat what I want, and I’ve started to bring back all the vegetables that I love. I bought new foods to try, lots of different kinds of greens and vegetables. I first started by eliminating milk and sugar. That was not as hard as I thought it would be, although I really missed my nightly bowl of ice cream. Then I stopped eating meat at home. I still eat small portions of meat when eating at friend’s homes. I don’t want them to worry about making special food for me. When we have potluck meals, I bring something vegetarian or vegan that most people enjoy.
My kids now have children of their own. I try not to interfere too much, supporting the parents, but suggesting that they at least look at the ingredients of their children’s foods. My daughter, finding that chicken nuggets, fruit snacks, and gold fish do not have much nutritional value, didn’t know what to feed her kids. (I know. I’ve been there, and I gave in.) I have real fruit and nutritional foods at my house when the grandkids visit. They may not always choose to eat them, but they have the option.
I have the goal of never needing medication. I do not want to be the grandma who takes a handful of pills each day to maintain the status quo. Prescribing medication is a doctor’s first instinct, but I always question if medication is necessary. Isn’t there something else we can do? Something without side effects? Taking medication usually doesn’t solve any problems and often causes more. It’s an easy fix that doesn’t “fix” anything and often gives the person a false sense of security that all is well. Instead, I think it’s important to do the hard work, get to the root of the problem and change your health. We are not victims of our genes. Our health is in our hands! Food is my medicine. Healthful eating, as described in the Word of Wisdom, comes with many benefits and no dangerous side effects.
I do not believe in dieting. I know people who are excited by each fad diet, supplement, and pill that comes along, trying to drop a few pounds to fit an impossible body image. I think a diet must be healthful, something that you can sustain for a lifetime, otherwise you end up dropping a few pounds only to add them back, with interest, when your diet ends. A good diet should never end! Luckily, through diet and lifestyle, I have been able to maintain a healthy weight without too much trouble. At 5′ 8″ I usually weigh close to 140 lbs and that’s what I weighed when I graduated from high school. Would I look better if I weighed five lbs less? Probably, but it’s not worth the stress, frustration and self-loathing that comes with yo-yo diet failure. How healthful is that?
I do not have a MIRACULOUS story of how a whole food, plant-based diet has cured all my ills because I have been very blessed to have had good health my whole life so far. I have eaten relatively healthfully and exercise is a priority. Very few things get in the way of my daily exercise which consists of alternating days of weight lifting, walking, yoga, and now pickleball, my new sport of choice. Through this lifestyle, I have been able to control anxiety and maintain a healthy weight. Now, at nearly 60 years old, I eat a whole food, plant-based diet 90% of the time. I also avoid sugar, desserts and candy, but I do miss these things and eat them on special occasions, such as my birthday and holidays. I am rarely sick and have noticed that when I do get a cold, it lasts just a few days. My hay fever has improved, and I haven’t had a major illness, like the flu, in over 25 years!
I want to be an example for my family, friends, ward family, and co-workers without being overbearing. Eating food is very personal and everyone has to come to their own understanding of what is right for them, but if they ask me, I certainly share my beliefs. I also loan out my DVD of Forks Over Knives and share Jane’s book. I know that through the Word of Wisdom Heavenly Father has shown me this path that I may help myself and others to choose a healthful lifestyle so that we may honor Him as we care for the gift of earth life and our miraculous bodies.
Debi Reynolds, almost 60, lives in Roy, UT with her husband Randy. They met at Ricks College (now BYU-I) while dancing on the folk dance team. At that time Debi received an associate degree in General Education. They ran into each other again at BYU, dated and married in the Idaho Falls Temple June 22, 1976. They have 4 children and 12 grandchildren with one more on the way. Debi enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, then later went back to school to receive an associate degree in Ornamental Horticulture and a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from Utah State University. She has been self-employed as a landscape designer since 1990 and has been a licensed Landscape Architect since 2003. She is currently the Landscape Architect for an engineering firm in Ogden, UT. Debi enjoys exercising, pickleball, reading, sewing, playing with her grandchildren and frequent trips to St. George.