“I felt prompted to really read the Word of Wisdom”

By: Julie Haws

About four years ago I started experiencing some chest pain. Being a dietitian, I search for nutrition-related answers to health problems. I read The China Study and also Dr. Esselstyn’s book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and followed this diet very strictly for about a year. Following this diet was an adjustment at first, but I was motivated because my symptoms went away, and I felt wonderful. People told me I glowed. Then I got pregnant with my third child. I experienced nausea and also extreme fatigue for much of my pregnancy. I normally rarely eat fast food or eat at restaurants, but I did during this pregnancy because of my symptoms.

A few months after having my daughter Amy I found I could not stand for more than a few minutes at a time without experiencing dizziness, sweating, and chest pain. After a year we discovered I had a condition called POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), which is basically a fainting disorder. I never fainted, but I would get close to it. I had days and weeks where I had to spend most of my days sitting or lying down. Anyone who has had 3 children under 5 years old knows what a challenge it was. It was truly debilitating. I couldn’t cook, clean, or shop much for about a year. My husband and family helped out a lot. When I started having these symptoms I did start to follow Dr. Esselstyn’s diet again, but I was not quite as strict with my diet, and I ate meat still a few times a week. My symptoms were about 60% better.

During this time I read my scriptures a lot and prayed and fasted that my body could heal completely. I had to fast with water or my symptoms would get very severe. I still was not able to stand for long periods of time and still had unpredictable spells. Around the time of my 40th birthday, I felt prompted to really read the Word of Wisdom. While reading it the following phrase stuck out to me.

Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. (D&C 89:12–13)

This surprised me, and I wondered why before I had only read up to the word “sparingly” and stopped there? What is the definition of sparingly? The Word of Wisdom specifies what sparingly means, “only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” And then it repeats this counsel again in verse 15, “And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.”

As I studied the Word of Wisdom I also was impressed with the promise that those who follow this counsel will be able to run and not be weary and walk and not faint. My POTS had left me unable to walk for more than a few minutes without being close to fainting. I had the distinct impression that if I really followed the Word of Wisdom my POTS would go away. I had previously seen Jane Birch’s book Discovering the Word of Wisdom on the Internet and decided to order it. I am so thankful to her for writing this inspiring book!

As I followed a whole food, plant-based diet more closely, my health got much better. I do not follow this diet “perfectly.” I don’t think that is the goal really. I think you just try your best. I have found though, that the more closely I follow the principles of a whole food, plant based diet the better I feel, especially with my condition. It definitely is a motivator for me because I want to feel healthy and strong! My POTS is now 95% better. I do have some residual symptoms, but they are going away. I have been able to take walks for as long as two hours recently.

About the time I was reading the Word of Wisdom, I remembered a dream I had about 15 years earlier. I was applying for an internship for dietetics. The internships were difficult to get and about only a third of those who applied got internships. I fasted and prayed that I would get an internship. One night I had a dream that I was hiking in the Graham mountains (a place I camped with my family every summer when I was a girl) with other ladies from my nutrition classes. We found a cave and decided to explore it. I found the most exquisite jewels and gold pieces. I asked the other girls from my class if they had found any and they said no. I woke up from the dream and knew that I had gotten the internship. About a week later I found out that I had.

I realized when I was reading D&C 89 that there was actually another meaning to the dream I had 15 years earlier. Verse 19 promises, “great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” I realized that I was being shown that I would be blessed with hidden treasures of knowledge about health-related topics.

Much of my life has been related to health and wellness with my training as a dietitian. I worked in a hospital setting for about 7 years and was able to witness first-hand some of “the destroying angels” of our day: liver cirrhosis in alcoholics, lung cancer in smokers, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in those who did not eat with “prudence.” As a dietitian I am often amused or honestly somewhat bothered by the food trends of the day, the Atkins diet, the Paleo diet, the gluten-free diet trend. I always tell members that if it is not something that agrees with the Word of Wisdom I do not endorse it.

There has been a lot of the scientific research, books, and movies that have come out recently supporting a whole foods plant-based diet. It is confirmation of just how ahead of its time D&C 89 was in so many ways. We are promised great blessings if we follow it but so many of us don’t follow it fully.

I am grateful that Heavenly Father gave us directions on how to care for our bodies to “run and not be weary . . . walk and not faint,” (D&C 89:20) so that we may have the spiritual and physical stamina we need to fulfill our life’s mission!

Julie Haws (41) lives in Gilbert, Arizona. She has a B.S. degree in nutrition from ASU. She completed an internship in Louisiana to become a dietitian and practiced as a dietitian for 7 years in a hospital setting. She now has 3 active little kids and is enjoying this new adventure in her life as a stay-at-home mom. She loves cooking, art, and reading on many different topics.


  1. I love that Julie is now in a position, because of her expertise in nutrition, to really influence many others who are searching for better help. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Julie!

  2. Thanks for sharing your journey. I’m so happy you are nearly recovered. Your children will most assuredly grow up with amazing health; they will rise up and call you blessed. Good for you!

  3. Julie, I have been “Eating the” Word of Wisdom Way” very regularly after my daughter, Jane, took time from her very busy schedule in the summer of 1980 to teach me what Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants tells us about why we should not regularly eat animal products. I was just turning eighty years of age when I began eating “the Word of Wisdom Way.”

    Previously I had “worn myself out” going from medical specialist to medical specialist but was disappointed that the advice they were giving me at a very high price, but I found that was mostly just a waste of time and a real drain on my meager budget.

    I am now in my eighty sixth year of life. I actually never have to even see a medical specialist now! I am able to exercise very vigorously because I eat the “Word of Wisdom Way”!

    Thank you Lord for blessing Thy children here on the earth with Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants and also for my dear daughter’s book: “Discovering the Word of Wisdom” ! The answers I needed to solve my very serious health problems were found in Section 89 of that sacred book of scripture and is one of the Lord’s many extraordinary gifts to His children here in the Latter-Days!

    I thank the Lord with all my heart, might mind and soul for having led me to truly understand what the Lord has told us about the serious dangers of eating animal products on a regular basis!

  4. Julie is inspiring and validating to me. I have been a vegetarian for over 15 years and I feel great! But I get tired of being interrogated about protein, and encouraged to eat more meat and dairy because of the fad diets of the day. A good friend of mine is on diet right now that is basically just eating meat and fat such as butter and cheese. Everyone raves about the weight she has lost and how great she looks, but I worry that a diet that relies so heavily on animal products cannot be that healthy.

    • Julie: I experience the same for many members of my family, and my husband is one of them. Even though I have always been conscious of the benefits of a healthy diet, it has taken me years to come to the awareness I now possess, and a large portion of the preparedness to contemplate the Word of Wisdom more closely in my personal life, was my husband’s diagnosis of type II diabetes about five years ago. He asked me to join him in a meeting with the dietician at Kaiser Hospital, and she explained how critical eating choices are in determining overall health. My husbands blood sugar level, cholesterol, and blood pressure were all high. His liver and kidney functions were diminishing in the process. She promised him that if he would eat the way she was going to instruct, his blood panel would completely change and he would not require the medication to lower his blood sugar. She said to imagine that your 9″ dinner plate was divided into three sections, and to fill each section accordingly: 50% vegetables, 25% protein, 25% carbohydrates (primarily complex carbs). She also recommended eliminating dairy. I remember at the time thinking this sounds a lot like the Word of Wisdom. I decided at that time that I was going to begin eating this way as well as preparing all meals in our home to reflect these guidelines. My husband agreed to follow along. Within 3 months his blood work began to change, and every 90 days the results of his blood panels continued to improve until the prophecy of the dietician came true. After about 18 months my husband no longer needed any medication, he lost 50 lbs, and his blood panel was so improved his doctor commented that if he wasn’t aware of the prior medical history, he could not make the diagnose of type II diabetes. About three years ago all the dots became connected for me regarding a whole food plant based diet, because of Jane’s book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. My husband read the book as well, although he had already began returning to his previous ways of eating, lots of carbs (not complex) meat, dairy and very little fruits and vegetables. His blood panel now reflects his return to his original way of eating, and he is back taking medication to reduce his blood sugar. About four years ago I was called as a facilitator in a women’s support group, using the Addiction Recovery Manual, as well as the Spouse and Family Support Guide: https://addictionrecovery.lds.org/spouses-and-families?lang=eng I have learned that I can only change myself, and hopefully my example will strengthen others to make better choices. Of course I knew this intellectually, but its very difficult to watch someone (especially someone close) making choices that negatively impacts their health. I prepare healthy food in our home, the refrigerator and pantry are filled with healthy choices, but my husband makes is own selections whether at home or away. A couple of years ago we decided to go out to dinner with our neighbors, Bob and Ardie. My husband said he would pick the restaurant. He selected the Outback, and I went along not complaining about his selection (in prior times I would have likely made a fuss until he would select a restaurant that was more my choice than his). I ordered a sweet potato, broccoli and rice. My husband looked at me and said something like, “wow, you really are sticking to your new way of eating.” I smiled and nodded my head. So, this is my new life and I love it. No matter where I go, I can find something I can eat, well maybe almost anywhere I go. If I am sufficiently hungry and not certain of what an event with food will offer, I eat something before I leave home, but I am learning another very important lesson and that is to honor the agency of others, especially my husband’s.

  5. Hey! I graduated from the BYU Dietetics program and love my background and the principles we were taught about having a healthy relationship with food.

    Knowing that you have a similar background and understanding, I want to know how you settle in your mind with the balance of having a healthy relationship with food while restricting certain food groups and food. There was a famous quote that all of our professors would regularly refer to that “All foods are part of a healthy diet.” And encouraged us not to demonized certain food groups or nutrients such as the “no carbs!!” we always hear about.

    I have worked really hard to implement a whole food plant based diet and have had ups and downs and I find that often I can lose balance in my relationship with food when I try to be 100% strict with following the whole food plant based lifestyle.

    I know in your case your health depends on it, but what is your perspective or advice for me as someone who feels rather healthy attempting more of an 80/20 or 90/10 compliance?

    • Kelsey, Thanks for your question! I actually e-mailed Jane and asked her to revise my story to not say “strictly follow” a plant-based diet. I have found,especially in working with patients with eating disorders to avoid words like this that suggest a more black and white approach to food. What I want to encourage is a healthy relationship with food and your body! I certainly do not always follow this type of diet 100% perfectly. Honestly I have more of a 90% adherence to this diet. Sometimes I am somewhere to eat and I do not have the options to follow this diet “perfectly.” I don’t think that is the goal really. I think you just try your best. I have found that the more closely I follow the principals of a whole food, plant based diet the better I feel, especially with my condition. It definitely is a motivator for me because I want to feel healthy and strong!

    • You ask a great questions, Kelsey. I think we’d be wise to avoid “demonizing” food groups like meat and not recognize that it does have a place in the human diet. The Lord said He ordained it for a purpose. We each get to interpret what that purpose is. Even though I believe He teaches us He is pleased if we don’t use it except in times of need, that is certainly also an important purpose which has been life-saving during certain periods of our human history! 75% of the world’s populations is lactose intolerant, so perhaps that is not a true food group for humans? Thanks for raising interesting questions!

  6. Kelsey, surely you can see that that statement “All foods are part of a healthy diet” is patently wrong. Diet soda? cotton candy? hot dogs? I think the key thing is recognizing that they are NOT healthy but that you can still eat a little of them once in a while while acknowledging that they are not benefiting you. Of course there is pleasure in eating something delicious, but there is also joy, peace and satisfaction in doing what you know is good for you and the environment. For me, it’s easier to just pass on the junk than try to decide every day (and if you leave home, you’re faced with it every day, right?) Once in a long while I’ll have a bite of something unhealthy, but I take less pleasure in it as the years go by and I am so grateful to be pain free in my mid-sixties!

    • Thank you for your perspective. I think it’s true that all foods in proper proportion can be part of a healthy diet because like you say occasionally we enjoy foods that aren’t very nutritious but can give pleasure. I agree with your comment.

  7. Kelsey, I empathize when what you’re saying about your relationship with food. I have had an eating disorder in the past. I began dieting at a very early age and it seems like have been dieting ever since, trying whatever new diet came along. I started a WFPD over 2 years ago and have loved it, but I still can have a “deprived” feeling occasionally. This comes from years of dieting and feeling deprived. I always allow myself to have the freedom to have my occasional “cheat” food. For me, it’s dessert. If I tell myself I can’t ever have dessert again, instantly I feel deprived. So I tell myself that I simply will incorporate a dessert occasionally. A small portion will do. I agree with Barbara. I don’t believe they are healthy, but occasionally I can have them. BUT, it has to be a REALLY good dessert to make it worth it. I’m finding that most desserts start to feel too rich.

    When I’m at home I can cook tasty, healthy food that I enjoy, but one of the challenges of trying to stay 100% WFPB is when I’m traveling or eating out with others or at their home. I often really don’t want to eat the meat or dairy dish, but I also recognize that the host has often gone to a great deal of work to prepare something she hopes others will enjoy. I simply will eat a small portion and let it go. Traveling is also a challenge. Sometimes you simply don’t have choices. I recently flew to Africa. The foods that I would usually eat were not available at all for quite a long time. You just have to “go with the flow.” I’m always glad to get back into a situation in which I have more control.

    The other challenge I’ve had is that it’s been hard to give up mentally calculating the calories in whatever I eat. I think people with a healthy relationship with food don’t do this. I know my husband has never done this. He has never dieted in his life in the traditional way and has happily joined me on our WFPD diet journey. Most people on a WFPD diet say to eat all the whole grains, legumes, plants, etc. that you want, just without the added fat. Since they are healthy and contain lots of fiber and bulk, they are self-limiting. You get full long before you’ve eaten too much. I do find this to be true, but I still get that uneasy feeling that maybe I’ve eaten too much. Again, that comes from years of worrying about food. I hope that someday that will change. I don’t think that someone who hasn’t had an eating disorder really can understand all the emotions associated with food. A WFPD diet has really helped me and I’m healthier, but it hasn’t eliminated those things that have been with me a long time.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience! I totally appreciate and agree with you about sometimes not being able to control our food environment and going with the flow!

      It can be hard when you would prefer something that feels better and healthier to digest! But I personally don’t want to offend others in my quest for greater health. It’s a balance for sure.

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