Everyone has to follow their own path. What works for one may not work for another. This is my story of how I came to shed the erroneous beliefs I had been taught my whole life about food and nutrition. There are two quotes from President Thomas S. Monson that I really like that relate to what I am about to share.
“There are no coincidences.” 
“The Lord is in the details of our lives.” 
In 1998 when I was 44 years old I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune thyroid disease). My paternal grandmother, my father, and two of my sisters had also been diagnosed with this disease, making it a genetic predisposition in our family. I was told there was no cure and that I would have to take thyroxin for the rest of my life. A symptom of this disease can be high cholesterol, which I also had. After starting the thyroxin and eating the cholesterol-lowering diet that the doctor put me on, my tests still showed an elevated cholesterol level. At the time I had studied low-carb diets and tried one. I lost some weight and my cholesterol came down. However, I had an interest in the Word of Wisdom and was confused as to why my blood work and weight improved by eating lots of animal products. I put my confusion to the back of my mind, but I continued to wonder why animal products were discouraged in the Word of Wisdom if eating them would bring my blood work into normal range. Because it seemed to help, I did the low-carb diet for about a year and then continued with a modified version of it.
Years passed, and I steadily put on weight. I seemed to be tired all the time and was afraid to drive because I would catch myself falling asleep at the wheel even after 5 minutes of driving. After reaching 50 years of age, I assumed I was doomed to being overweight and feeling tired for the rest of my life. I blamed it on the aging process.
In 2005, when I was 51 years old, I had a bone density test and was diagnosed with borderline osteopenia, the early stages of osteoporosis. I wondered how this could be since I did weight bearing exercises and got plenty of calcium in my diet. I have always been an avid consumer of milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and ice cream. So, what happened? I was quite discouraged and decided to pray about it. While fasting I asked Heavenly Father what to do. I told Him that I wanted to know the right way to eat, the healthiest way to eat for me. I wanted to be thinner, but more than that I wanted to be healthy. I didn’t want to end up in poor health for 20 or 30 years like my parents or my husband’s parents. I told God that I was willing to search for the answers if He would send them my way. And that’s what happened.
I am a researcher by nature and began reading everything I could on thyroid disease, osteoporosis, and aging. My adult son told me about a nutrition lecture he had on CD and let me borrow it. It was very interesting, and I count this as the beginning of where I am today. It was July 2005 when I decided to try a new way of eating, including giving up meat, for just 10 days. It was based on the information I had learned about acid/alkaline in the body. I figured I could do anything for 10 days, and if it didn’t work out, there would be minimal loss as far as health was concerned. After 10 days I was feeling much better and had lost some weight so I continued. I didn’t stay on this diet totally because I was still learning new things, but it gave me the background and knowledge I needed for further learning over the course of the next year. Although I had given up meat I continued eating cheese and drinking milk during this time.
In June of 2006 I decided to give up chocolate. This was a hard decision for me because I love chocolate. One of the reasons I gave it up was that I had an addiction to it. If I didn’t eat chocolate every day I would get a headache. The other reason was even more important. Two years prior I had been to a fireside on the topic of “sacrifice.” This may sound strange, but during that fireside the thought popped into my mind that I would have to sacrifice chocolate. I denied the prompting for two years, trying to rationalize that it was my own thinking and that I didn’t have to really give it up. The Spirit became very strong early in June, and that very day I gave up chocolate cold turkey and haven’t looked back. To me this was a test of faith because immediately after that the windows of heaven opened up for me with a great outpouring of knowledge and understanding.
We had a Relief Society group in our ward that met once a week and discussed nutrition. The leader had several books on nutrition and told us we could borrow them. It is odd, but the one that pulled at me was The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. It’s not one I would have chosen normally because the other books looked and sounded more appealing. This particular book had a very plain cover and a dull title so I know that I was being guided to borrow it. I could not put it down and finished it in a few days. Up until this point I was still drinking milk and eating cheese. After reading this book I gave those up and began making almond milk.
After another month or two of reading and researching on the Internet I came across a book entitled Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. With all the research I’d done over the prior year, the theory taught in this book made a lot of sense to me. It felt right, it fit with the Word of Wisdom, and hey, I could try anything for 10 days. So, on September 22, 2006 I announced to my sister that I was going to start this new diet. She wanted to do it with me. After a week of detoxing we both began to feel better, and we both had lost some weight – all without being hungry. The 10 days came and went and after 6 weeks we had lost substantial weight. We knew we would not go back to the Standard American Diet.
Sometime in October that year, after being on the plant-based diet for a few weeks, I was attending a local religion class, and at the end of the class one of the women stood up and announced that there was a speaker coming to UVSC and BYU to speak about research and a book he had recently written. She said the book was The China Study. I was so excited! I went with my husband and sister to hear T. Colin Campbell’s lecture. This was not a coincidence. The Lord knew ahead (as He always does) that this lecturer was coming so I had already read the book and was prepared. If I had not read the book or known about it, this women’s announcement would have meant nothing to me.
Another interesting thing is that the physical therapist that I had been going to earlier that year, Rogan Taylor, was the one who arranged for T. Colin Campbell to come. I didn’t know that Rogan was a vegan, but after he stood to introduce Campbell I thought, “None of this is a coincidence. God is answering my prayers in so many ways.” Since then I have bought many copies of The China Study from Rogan Taylor to hand out to family and friends.
It took me 6 months to get over the craving for cheese. During these 6 months I would have some mild panic moments when I would think, “Is this really the right thing to do?” “Am I getting enough nutrients?” I had these doubt-filled moments because I had been indoctrinated for so many years that a vegan diet was unhealthy. Everyone around me seemed to think I was crazy so I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I had to calm myself down and remember the things that had happened to confirm my prayers being answered. Sometimes we have to take a step into the dark even when we have loved ones around us telling us that we are wrong.
During this time I began an intense study of the Word of Wisdom. I read every footnote, looked up what words meant back in the 1830’s, and started collecting quotes from prophets and apostles. After that first 6 months I was certain that I was on the right path. The whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet became a source of health and vigor for me. Some of the benefits I have seen are:
- 40 pounds of weight loss, putting me to where I want to be.
- Greatly increased energy and stamina. I used to fall asleep at the wheel whenever I’d drive (narcolepsy). That doesn’t happen anymore.
- In 8 years I have only had one cold. I used to get bronchitis annually for 20 years and have not had it since adopting a WFPB lifestyle.
- Low cholesterol (last time I checked, my total cholesterol was 148)
- Less worry – about heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, cancer, etc.
When I first discovered a WFPB diet I was extremely excited to share it with others. I thought others would be excited to discover that there is a way to escape the common diseases that plague us. I started telling everyone, but I wasn’t prepared for some of the negative comments I got. I have come to understand that, even though I have learned a truth, not everyone is ready for it. Perhaps the greatest thing I have come to accept is that I just need to be an example, and if people want to know anything they will ask.
I have had some positive successes sharing this diet. Four of my five siblings have adopted a WFPB diet. In fact, my sister’s husband was a dairy farmer and also raised cows for eating. He was adamant about me not talking to him about my new way of eating. My sister was more open so after reading The Word of Wisdom by Widtsoe I gave a copy to her, as well as a copy of The China Study. A few days later she wrote me that her husband really liked Widtsoe and started reading the book. Afterwards he announced that they shouldn’t have meat so often. He then read The China Study and decided to do away with dairy. He even went so far as to get rid of their dairy cows and began making specialty jams and syrups for a living. My husband’s sister and her husband have also changed to a WFPB diet, and I have two granddaughters who will not eat meat.
I have discovered that diets don’t work. I know that the type of life I live is just as important as how long I live. Our life spans have increased, but I had to make a choice about how I wanted to live the aging years. I decided that I could have a long life full of disability, chronic illness, and intensive, full-time nursing care OR I could delay these experiences by living a healthy lifestyle. I have also learned that the gene pool that was dished out to us doesn’t have to be prophecy. Sure, we may all carry some weak genes, but many of them are expressed only if they have the right environment.
While serving as an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John A. Widtsoe and his wife, Leah Widtsoe, published a book entitled The Word of Wisdom. They wrote:
Unquestionably, the Word of Wisdom is not lived completely or the people would receive a greater fullness of the promised reward—a long life of physical health, while the destroying angel of sickness and death would pass by and not slay them. [See D&C 89:21] 
God’s promises are true if His laws are obeyed. He has given us a law of health called the Word of Wisdom. I know if we obey the Lord’s law we will receive the blessings predicated upon that law (see D&C 130:20-21).
Heidi Rock is 60 years old and resides in Highland, Utah. She met her husband at BYU, and they have been married 39 years. They have six children and fifteen grandchildren. She has been a secretary for her husband’s temperature control business for 30 years. She likes to sew, read, and research. She also likes to grow her own food because she knows what’s in and on it. She is currently studying to become a Master Herbalist.
P.S. I met Jane Birch at the LDS Holistic Conference on June 2014. She had a vendor booth to promote her new book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective. I had seen her many times before on Facebook and Meridian Magazine. So, having been quite familiar with her ideas and posts, I introduced myself and bought her book. I began reading Discovering the Word of Wisdom the next day. As I progressed through the pages I found the story of Jane’s friend, Abbie Kim, from Korea in Chapter Four. Her story sounded somewhat familiar to me, and then I realized that I was the wife Abbie mentions in her story! Abbie was the little Korean nurse that helped with my husband at the hospital—the one I shared information with about the power of plant-based eating. I began to cry as I realized that we never know how far-reaching the influence is that we can have on others. Here again—there are no coincidences, and God is definitely in the details of our lives.
Find Heidi’s sister’s story here: “I asked the Lord for a definitive answer” Quoted by Heidi Swinton in “Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?” Ensign, March 2012.  Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings,” LDS General Conference, October 2012.  John A. Widtsoe and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation (Salt Lake City, Deseret News Press), 12.