By: Jennifer Wheeler
Being healthy has been a goal of mine since I was very young. When I was 5 years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I had an experience in the hospital that made a strong and lasting impression on my young mind. I’ve always been very social, so I was visiting all the kids on my floor while I was in the hospital and trying to get to know them. I went into one young girl’s room who had just had her leg amputated. She was on sitting on top of the sheets, so it was very visible. It shocked me, and I didn’t know what to say to her. After a few moments, I left. This experience stuck with me and became significant to my story a few years later.
My parents were referred to a good endocrinologist shortly after I was diagnosed. At this doctor’s office, I saw a dietician as well. She taught us what the best diet for a diabetic is. One of the first things we were taught is to avoid sugar. The second was to eat protein with every meal because it slows down the metabolic process and helps your blood sugars not spike as easily. We were told that the best form of protein is animal products. They also taught us about the importance of fruits and vegetables, but that fruits should be eaten sparingly because of their high sugar content. (The reason I remember what they taught us is because they reviewed the same things several times a year until I was an older teenager.)
Another thing we were taught was if we didn’t learn to control my blood sugar levels, all kinds of bad things could happen, like having my foot or leg amputated. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when this conversation registered with me, but I remember being very young (maybe 8 or so). Because I had seen the young girl in the hospital without a leg, I actually knew what the doctor and dietician were talking about when they told my parents this, and I determined at a very young age that I wanted to be healthy and keep both my legs and feet.
My parents were diligent about helping me avoid sugar, and eating protein with every meal was no problem because we all LOVED meat! As a teenager, I was counseled several times in various blessings to follow the Word of Wisdom. I felt the main emphasis was to avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco, but I recognized there was great counsel as to how we should eat. I tried to limit the amount of sugar I ate. I loved whole grains and ate lots of them. I didn’t love vegetables, but I’d eat some because I knew they were good for me, and I ate fruit sparingly. Even though the Word of Wisdom tells us to eat meat sparingly, if at all, I justified not following this counsel because of my diabetes. I was very active physically and had lots of energy. I thought I was healthy, and I thought I was following the Word of Wisdom.
Fast forward several years—by age 26, I was sick. I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an autoimmune disease that affects your thyroid. My symptoms we such that I felt I was dying . . . and I believe I was. My options were remove my thyroid or have it radiated. I chose radiation because it felt less invasive. After it was radiated and my thyroid levels were regulated with medication, I began feeling better again . . . more normal. However, after the radiation, I was told by my doctor I had some liver damage. I was told it was a genetic disorder and there’s nothing they could do to treat it, but I believe it was due to the radiation treatment because I’d had no recognizable problems with my liver before the radiation.
I felt pretty good for the next while, but my energy levels began declining again around age 30. At age 34 I had several very stressful events that occurred. This contributed to my face breaking out in terrible acne! I’d never had a problem with acne like this before. As a teenager, my skin was flawless. These were deep, painful pimples. Around Thanksgiving it started on my chin, and began spreading. I was trying to treat it with numerous OTC acne medications, but nothing helped—it all seemed to make it worse! Around Christmastime it became infected. My doctor thought it was MRSA; fortunately, it wasn’t. I was diagnosed with a severe case of acne rosacea.
My dermatologist told me I’d have to be on a low-dose antibiotic for the rest of my life, along with two creams just to help keep the acne rosacea under control. I was told it would never go away completely. I was also told one of the side-effects of the antibiotic was an increased chance of skin cancer and that it would affect my liver, so I should stay out of the sun for the rest of my life and not use it if I had liver damage. One of the creams had a possible side-effect of neuropathy.
I LOVE to be outside, and we lived in Huntington Beach at that time. Not going outside was not an option for me. I already had some liver damage and was nervous about causing more damage if I persisted in taking this medication. I’ve also tried to keep my blood sugar levels under control so I don’t develop neuropathy, so I wasn’t thrilled that one of the medications I’d have to be on for the “rest of my life” could possibly contribute to me developing it.
After leaving the doctor’s office, I knew I wanted to get off these medications as quickly as possible! There had to be another way. We’re taught in Church to seek learning by study (and by study, I mean reading all kinds of good books, not just scriptures), by prayer, and by fasting. So, I did. I began fasting, praying and studying. I was led to a book on my shelf one day that spelled out very clearly the diet I needed to be on. It was The Juicing Bible. It had sat on my shelf for years without me opening it because we didn’t own a juicer at that time . . . we do now.
You can look up different ailments in the book, and it recommends foods you should optimize and eliminate in your diet to help treat that ailment. It recommended avoiding all red meat, shell fish, chocolate, dairy products, refined grains, sugar, and oranges. It gave a warning, if you do eat other types of meat to eat them very sparingly. It recommended eating whole grains, lots of vegetables with an emphasis on dark green vegetables, lots of fruit, and lots of beans and legumes. When I read this, I felt strongly this was the spelled-out Word of Wisdom diet I was supposed to follow. I had this tiny little thought while I was reading this list that I needed to avoid all kinds of meat, but I quickly brushed it aside and latched on to the “eat them sparingly” words because I liked those words better.
I began searching for new vegetarian and vegan recipes. This was a foreign way of eating to me because meat had been the center of every meal almost my entire life. I still made a few meals a week with chicken, fish, or pork because The Juicing Bible mentioned I could eat them sparingly, and so does the Word of Wisdom. I also added green smoothies to our daily diet at this time, which I believe helped.
After four months of this, my face was looking better, but it was still breaking out. I was extremely frustrated, and I knelt down and prayed. It was an angry prayer. I was upset at the Lord because He told me my face would heal if I followed the Word of Wisdom, and I believed I was. I angrily said to Him, “You promised me my face would heal if I did what you asked, and it’s not, and I’m doing everything you asked!!”
Immediately after this comment, I clearly heard the words, “No you’re not.”
I hung my head down, exhaled a deep sigh, and KNEW without a doubt that He had told me to quit eating all meat if I wanted my face to heal—and by all meat I mean all animal products . . . I just hadn’t wanted to listen to that part. So, I decided at that moment I would give it all up.
After an attitude adjustment, I prayed for help to know how to do this and help that I would have the will power to do it . . . no eggs, no cheese, no meat . . . I was finally ready to take the plunge.
I began randomly running into vegetarians and vegans who gave me helpful tips about being vegan and guided me to good recipes and where to buy some of the unusual foods in these recipes (at least they were unusual to me). I was also introduced to The China Study. It made complete sense to me when I read it, and it helped solidify my desire to follow this diet for the rest of my life.
After a couple of months of no animal products, my face began clearing up, and I was able to get off the low-dose antibiotic. After six months, I was able to get off the cream that could cause neuropathy. After two years, I was finally able to get off the last cream. As time’s gone on, I’ll eat something with an egg cooked in it, or eat a little bit of fish, or have cheese, but these are rare occasions. Since it’s very sparingly, and I’ve had time to heal, my body seems to be able to handle it on occasion.
It’s been seven years now, and my face shows no signs of acne rosacea (even though I was told I’d never get rid of it). I’ve received other blessings in addition to my face healing. After going off meat, I required slightly less insulin even though I eat a lot of carbs. What is more amazing to me is I’m only on insulin for my diabetes. Over time, it’s very common for type 1 diabetics to require other medications to help regulate blood sugar levels or they have to have more insulin because their cells become less receptive to accepting insulin. I require a relatively low amount of insulin for my age and for how long I’ve had diabetes.
It is also very common for diabetics to develop complications from the disease, many of which can be very serious. Even though I’ve had diabetes for 37 years, I have a very healthy heart. My kidneys have no signs of damage. My eyes have no signs of damage, and I don’t have neuropathy. I’m very active, and I feel like I have more energy at age 42 than I did at ages 24-34. My blood sugar levels aren’t perfect. They still bounce around, but eating healthier and exercising has really helped my body to function well despite fluctuating blood sugar levels.
When I was younger, I really believed I was following the Word of Wisdom even though I ate lots of meat. I think most LDS members think this way. I run into people all the time who tell me there’s absolutely, positively no way they can survive without meat. In fact, they believe they are supposed to eat meat because of D&C 49:18, and they think anyone who tells them otherwise is obviously feeding them false information, yet they don’t seem to notice the parameters they Lord has given us in regards to this verse. There are also some who say they’re the exception to the rule in regards to the Word of Wisdom because they’ve been told by doctors they NEED to eat meat in order to survive. I was one of these people for most of my life. So, I’m here to tell you, it is possible to give it up, but you have to want it and be willing to try.
Throughout my journey, I’ve read a lot about diets and healthy eating—much of it has been very confusing because each diet offers seemingly sound reasoning that contradicts what another diet says is the best way to eat. The Word of Wisdom is simple and easy to understand. In my opinion, it’s a whole food, plant-based diet. This type of diet has been revealed to many people, not just LDS members. God wants all of His children to feel good and be healthy. Learning to eat this way is a process and takes time, but it’s possible, and it’s worth it. I’ve learned for myself I feel better eating this way, and I’ve received great blessings because of it.
Jennifer Wheeler (42) lives in Farmington, Utah. She has a BS degree in Community Health Education from Utah State University. She is married and has two beautiful, healthy children. She is a homemaker and enjoys running, hiking, camping, backpacking, snowboarding, reading, and spending time with her family and traveling with them.