It was November 1973. I was sitting in a bus with the rest of the BYU volleyball team in Durango, Colorado for the Regional Tournament. My coach had already told me I would be starting for the first time that season. I was ready and very excited. We were waiting for our coaches to board the bus so we could go to breakfast prior to the start of the tournament. It was strange that they were taking so long. I remember sitting there as Earlene Durrant (the athletic trainer) boarded the bus and started walking down the aisle. My first thought was, “My father, it’s my father.” But then it appeared she was going to walk by, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then she stopped and said, “Ilene, Sister Michaelis would like to see you in her hotel room.” I got off the bus, and the team drove away without me.
I went into Sister Michaelis’s hotel room, and she said the words no one wants to say, “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your father passed away last night.” He was 46 years old. He died of a heart attack. My mother was left to finish raising six children on her own.
Fast forward 37 years later. I applied for some life insurance. The nurse came to my home to draw blood, take my blood pressure, and see how much I weighed. I asked her when she got done if she could mail me a copy of the results of the blood work. I received the results a few weeks later and the cholesterol was the only marker that was in questionable limits. It was 236. I shrugged it off.
A few months later, my best friend Debbie Christofferson and I were at Sam’s Club, and they were doing free blood tests. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Again my total cholesterol was 236. Since Debbie is a registered dietician, I ask her if that was bad. Little did I know how bad it was. She said if I was in a doctor’s office he would be putting me on cholesterol lowering medication.
I asked her what I could do. I thought she would have the training to be able to tell me what I should do, but her answer was, “I don’t know. You are already doing everything I know to tell you.” I’m an exercise junkie with gym equipment in practically every room in my home. My weight was pretty good, and I tried to eat healthy. I didn’t eat a lot of meat, and ate oatmeal almost every morning, making sure it was adequately sweet, with plenty of Splenda to make it enjoyable. Sometimes I even added a little fruit.
I decided to take matters into my own hands and do a little research. I found Dr. Joel Furhman’s book, Eat to Live, and purchased it. His ideas just seemed to ring true. I approached Debbie and told her what I found. She was hesitant to read the book because it was written by a doctor. After all, she said, we got the Atkins Diet from a doctor. But she finally consented to read the book and in doing so felt, as I did, that we are meant to eat plants. Debbie then found The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, and she became a believer.
The two of us friends have been eating a whole food, plant-based diet since May of 2011. It took a while to eliminate all substitute cheeses. We tried almond cheese and vegan cheese, but since they were so far from being whole, we eliminated them as well.
My cholesterol has dropped as low as 146, but it fluctuates depending on my stress levels, and it seems to rise if I eat too much fruit. In 2006 I developed a kidney stone at the beginning of a LDS girl’s camp in Idaho. One of the leaders had to rush me to the nearest hospital. Two years later I had another one and this time Debbie rushed me to a hospital. Since adopting a whole food, plant-based eating, kidney stones have not reoccurred. I believe I experienced two minor heart attacks shortly after starting the WFPB eating and had been having daily minor chest pain. The chest pain occurs only occasionally now and no other heart attack symptoms have occurred.
In 2010 my weight was approaching 176 pounds. I was working out about two hours a day and still had a hard time maintaining my weight. I figured out a way to lose 30 pounds prior to starting the WFPB eating. Since starting the WFPB eating, it has been easy to maintain a healthy weight in the 140’s. I am 5’7” tall.
It has almost been three years since I started this incredible journey. As I reflect back I realize that the blessings from living the Word of Wisdom continue to multiply exponentially. Debbie and I have started a consulting business called WholeBody-Health. It is clear to us that living a WFPB diet can solve many physical health issues. We provide support for mind, body, and soul, with nutrition counseling and physical fitness coaching to help others achieve vibrant health.
Recently I was doing my visiting teaching and decided to share a short version of my story with one sister. When I got done she said, “It’s the Word of Wisdom, isn’t it?” I said, “Yes.” I believe I have found many hidden treasures as a result of living the Word of Wisdom more fully.
Now when I sit down to a meal and give thanks to a loving and wise Father in Heaven, I feel so much gratitude for His law of health. The meal may be as simple as a baked potato with tomato and avocado slices mixed in or a bowl of veggie and bean soup, but I am confident that I will run and not be weary and walk and not faint—as promised in those beautiful verses.
Ilene Christensen is 60 years old and lives in Hyde Park, UT. She owns CallCenterPlus.com and is a partner in the newly formed WholeBody-Health. She is the mother of three and grandmother of nine. Ilene enjoys a very active lifestyle. She enjoys photography, computers, sky skiing, snow skiing, hiking, camping, riding her bike and motorcycle.