I’ve always had a love for food (who doesn’t?), but my love affair with food really started in junior high when I was old enough that my mom would let me plan and prepare family dinner. My mom is a fabulous cook, and she always fed our family traditional, “healthy” meals: chicken and rice casseroles, lasagna, turkey sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs, eggs and toast, etc. We ate basically the standard American diet and what every health professional would say is a normal diet. She fed us the healthiest she knew how. We also had a green salad every night, and in the summer we would eat tons of veggies from our garden.
I remember my health issues starting when I was around 6 (that’s about as far as I can remember—I might have had other issues when I was younger, I just don’t remember). I would get strep throat and really bad earaches about 3-4 times a year, and I would get the flu every couple of months. When I was around 10 or 11 I started developing intense sensitivity to light and the back of my eyes would ache, which would turn into massive headaches. I felt like a vampire, always shutting the curtains, never turning on the lights. These episodes weren’t constant. They would come and go, so it wasn’t predictable. They eventually started going away, and I forgot about them.
Throughout junior high and high school, I started having fatigue issues and near the end of my senior year in high school, I developed the chronic headaches and sensitivity to light again, but this time they also came with numbness and tingling in my limbs, adrenal fatigue and a few other nasty symptoms. I was in all the school plays and was always dancing and exerting a lot of physical effort so I just blamed these symptoms on being tired.
Looking back on my high school days, I realized that I didn’t eat very much at all. I was very thin. I never really thought about food and just ate when my mom made meals, and I grabbed an apple for lunch.
After high school, I tried out for our city’s Miss America Organization pageant and won. I started eating “healthy.” I added more greens and fruits, planned my meals, exercised regularly, and made sure I ate enough to give me the energy I needed. I actually started feeling better.
The next year I would be competing in the Miss Utah Pageant so I had to be in tip top shape. I went on a low carb, high protein diet and even cut fruit to a minimum (because I was told by the diet industry that fruit can make you gain weight), and I exercised 2-3 hours every day. Towards the end of my diet when the pageant was right around the corner, my symptoms started creeping back. The pageant was at the beginning of the summer and after the pageant I had the whole summer free before going back to college. After the competition was over, I discovered how unsustainable calorie restriction and particularly carbohydrate restriction are. I binged out on total garbage!
That was the WORST summer of my life. My health plummeted! I had to lay on the couch most of the day because my chronic fatigue was so bad. I felt like I weighed 500 lbs and I could barely get out of bed. It took all the strength I had to make myself get up. Every day, all day, was filled with unexplainable exhaustion, headaches, and this horrible weighed down feeling. I relied on green tea caffeine pills to give me energy (which gave me irregular heart beats and other issues).
By my junior year in college, the numbness and chronic fatigue were back with a vengeance. I was losing muscle strength, became more clumsy, was doing badly in my dance classes. (I got a really bad grade in one of my classes because my teacher felt that I wasn’t motivated and wasn’t trying at all.) I didn’t know at the time it was because my health was deteriorating. I was only 20, I should have been in my prime!
One week my headaches were so severe that I started losing vision in my right eye. I went to an optometrist, but he only found a tiny scratch on the surface of my eye. He gave me some drops, but my eyesight continued to deteriorate. I finally went to an ophthalmologist, and he immediately said I needed to get an MRI.
The MRI indicated that I had a lesion in my brain and my optic nerve was severely inflamed, and after some more testing, I had all the signs and symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)! I thought the doctors were mistaken. After all, I was healthy (so I thought), and Multiple Sclerosis didn’t even run in my family. My neurologist wanted to put me on medication and steroids immediately!! I felt a lot of pressure, but I declined any treatment; I had a STRONG feeling that I needed to search for options that didn’t have horrible side-effects. MS drugs are designed to just completely shut down your immune system so it isn’t ‘attacking’ you anymore, some of them are even low-dose chemo drugs.
At the time I was diagnosed, I was engaged to be married in two months. It was awful to have to tell my fiancé and his family that I had a debilitating, lifelong disease! Luckily, he is amazing person, and he didn’t even bat an eye about it. In fact, he dove headfirst into researching my condition to find a solution! He was going to marry me no matter what!
After my diagnosis, knowing I was refusing medications, my neurologist suggested that I follow the “Swank Diet,” because research shows it helps slow down the disease. Dr. Roy Swank did a 50 year study on persons with MS and found that saturated fat was a major trigger for the disease. He fed his patients a diet low in saturated fat and found that all of them had amazing results. According to Dr. Michael Greger:
“95% [of his patients] were without progression of their disease 34 years after adopting his low saturated fat dietary program. Even patients with initially advanced disease showed significant benefit. To date, no medication or invasive procedure has ever come close to demonstrating such success.” He was able to stop their disease in 95% of cases—no further disability even 34 years later. They “were able to track down 15 of the original patients that stuck to the diet, now in their 70’s and 80’s with multiple sclerosis for over 50 years, and 13 out of 15 were walking around normal in all respects. They were active and unusually youthful looking.” (“Treating Multiple Sclerosis With the Swank MS Diet.”)
I started following the diet (kind of), but I continued researching. One night, about a year and a half after being married, I was at my mother-in-law’s home. My husband was playing a long board game with his brothers, and it was getting very late and I was tired. So I went into the living room to lay down on the couch. I had this really strong feeling to go look in her bookshelves, and I found a tiny, obscure, book, hidden away, titled How to Live a Healthy 100 Years and More by LDS author Kevin Edds. He talks about eating a paradisiacal diet (raw fruits and vegetables) and how this can heal you from disease and prolong your life so you can build God’s kingdom and fulfill your purpose here on earth and not be halted by disease.
The very first page of that book says, “Do you believe that God intended for man to have disease? Are you willing to accept pain from disease as natural and necessary to be endured? . . . Do you believe that modern man has a high capacity for achievement?” The book then quotes George Q, Cannon, “The gospel of life and salvation, which we have received, would be of comparatively little avail to us unless we can prolong our lives and the lives of our children and posterity on the earth. The greatest boon which God has given us, and that upon which every other hinges, is life. With life we need health, the power to carry out the designs of our being here on earth. Without these blessings everyone must perceive that other blessings which we value very highly would be of little or no account.”
This quote is also in the book and it’s from Brigham Young: “The health and power and beauty that once adorned the noble form of man must again be restored to our race; and God designs that we shall engage in this great work of restoration. Then let us not trifle with our mission, by indulging in the use of injurious substances. These lay the foundation of disease and death in the systems of men, and the same are committed to their children, and another generation of feeble human beings is introduced into the world.”
I read the entire book that night! While I was reading it, I had this overwhelming feeling come over me as if someone just covered me in a really warm blanket. I knelt down immediately and poured out my entire soul to Heavenly Father. The minute I addressed Him, tears started flowing, and I felt as if God was right there, kneeling next to me holding me in His arms. I asked Him if what this book was teaching was true, and I got a resounding YES! I thanked Him for leading me and begged Him to help me overcome this disease if I followed His counsel and really changed my diet. I will never forget that night and the most amazing and loving feeling He gave me. He is all knowing, and all loving, and I know He wants His children to be healthy and happy. I know it was the Spirit testifying to my soul that the Lord has determined certain principles and laws of health for our bodies (Word of Wisdom). He wants us to be able to have a happy life and have the energy and vitality to serve His children. Would he rather have us in bed all day or serving, preaching, and building his kingdom?! Why would He want us constantly on pills, potions, and medicines that have grave side effects and little to no ability to actually cure or prevent or reverse diseases? This is why He gave us the Word of Wisdom.
After that experience, I was led to several other books like The China Study, The Starch Solution, Discovering the Word of Wisdom and a documentary called Forks Over Knives that have overwhelming evidence that following a plant-based diet helps resolve many diseases and sicknesses, especially autoimmune disorders like my Multiple Sclerosis. I went completely plant-based (fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, potatoes etc.). It wasn’t an overnight transformation. It took many months and even years, but with consistency in my diet, I am happy to report that ALL my symptoms have completely gone away. Let me repeat that, ALL my symptoms have gone away!! I don’t get sick anymore, my vision came back, my headaches went away, my muscle strength has returned, the numbness and tingling has vanished, the chronic fatigue is gone, the adrenal fatigue is gone, and I’ve never felt better!! Can pills do that? It took about 4 years total on a fully HEALTHY plant-based diet for ALL of the symptoms to completely disappear. My chronic fatigue still came and went until this past year when I cut out ALL processed food (including ALL oils, they are a VERY refined and processed food) and focused on WHOLE plant foods (raw and cooked), started exercising regularly and took Vitamin B12 and D supplements. Now I am bursting with energy, and I have better health than I’ve ever had in my life!
When I was diagnosed, my doctor said I would have another serious ‘episode’ within a year or two and that I needed to come back when that happened. Well it’s been almost 6 years since my first diagnosis, and I haven’t had ANY serious notable episodes or symptoms.
It can be VERY scary to be labeled and diagnosed with something “incurable” and the pressure to jump into treatment can be intense. Let me assure you, THIS IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE! Breathe, take a step back, and evaluate your situation and never get pressured and rushed into making treatment decisions. This is a SLOW progressing disease and you won’t die tomorrow if you say no to treatment. Thousands of people live long lives with this and many other diseases without medical intervention. This is your body, your life, and you can do what you feel is right.
This is a lifelong change for me, and I hope you will also see the benefits of following a plant-based diet as described in the Word of Wisdom, in the Garden of Eden, and in Daniel 1:8-20. I know not everyone wants to go entirely vegan or plant-based. I only hope my experience can help you get healthier by relying more on fruits, vegetables, and whole plant foods. I am so grateful I was allowed to have this trial and challenge so I could come to the knowledge of the truth and see the power in living the Word of Wisdom fully. I know that I was led by Heavenly Father to those books and information so that I would have the ability to heal myself and overcome this trial that I “shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20).
Emily is a Brigham Young University graduate with a BA in Music, Dance and Theatre (MDT). While at BYU she was a performer in The Young Ambassador’s worldwide performing group. She is currently a soloist in the Utah-based cover band “Vinyl Impact” which plays high energy hit songs from the 50’s to now. She and her husband continue to live a low fat, whole foods, plant-based diet and spread the message wherever they can.