When my husband’s cholesterol crept above 200, his doctor cautioned him to take better care of himself, so we both started working to lose weight. After losing 10 lbs, he had his cholesterol checked again. It was still 204.
A few weeks later, I happened to sit next to Jane Birch at a meeting. When I commented on how lean she was looking, she promptly introduced me to whole food, plant-based eating. After reading The China Study at her recommendation, I talked my husband into trying the diet with me. Six weeks later, we were both down about 15 lbs He got his cholesterol checked again. It was 131. Amazing!
His cholesterol came down so fast and easily, though, I guess we weren’t really convinced of the importance of continuing to eat that way. Over the next several months we gradually went back to old patterns, especially during the holidays, and his cholesterol began creeping right back up. We realized that in order to avoid heart disease, we’d have to get the cholesterol down and keep it down.
My cholesterol has never been considered high, although it did climb from the 120s to the 170s over the past couple of decades of fast-food living. More important to me, though, was the way I was feeling overall. I used to feel smart, but now my mind felt foggy, and it was hard to remember things and to come up with creative ideas. My stomach hurt every day. I was always tired and couldn’t sit still for more than about 30 minutes without falling asleep. I started waking up with nagging headaches that would last most of the day. Joints and muscles hurt randomly for no good reason. After work I felt worn out with no energy left for anything else.
We decided to make a new beginning with the whole food, plant-based lifestyle, and this time stick with it. I knew the hardest part would be the first few days when my body craved the kind of junk it had grown used to: sugar, fat, salt, and, for me, constant munching. After the first few days (which were pretty rough), the cravings went away, and I started feeling really good. We weren’t hungry—we ate huge portions of vegetables, fruits, and greens at every meal. After the first week or so, those foods started to taste delicious. Flavors seemed stronger. Sweetened foods became less appealing than before because it seemed like the sugar was just covering the real flavors. I’ve found some wonderful recipes, and it’s been so much fun trying them out. I now have no headaches, no stomach pains, and enough energy left to go do something fun after work each day.
The whole food, plant-based way of eating isn’t a “diet” in the short-term sense of the word. It’s a lifestyle. You have to approach it that way to be successful. I’ve tried diets before, trying to combat the slower metabolism that arrived with middle age. I’m embarrassed to admit how many: Atkins, cabbage soup, weight loss shakes, SunChips and Diet Coke (I invented that one), McDonalds for breakfast and then little else all day long (also my invention). Some of them made me lose weight, for a little while. None of them made me feel good. While I was eating that way, I knew I was violating the advice given in the Word of Wisdom, but I always told myself I would only do it for a little while until I lost the weight. It sounds so foolish, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who tells myself things like that.
I am thrilled to see how perfectly this diet fits with the Word of Wisdom. Doctors and scientists who have no connection to the LDS Church are now giving people the same advice God gave us through Joseph Smith nearly two centuries ago. That, together with the way I feel now, has me firmly convinced that a whole food, plant-based lifestyle is the way to live a healthy and productive life, with enough energy to accomplish everything I want to do while enjoying every day along the way. I feel so good!
Laura C. Bridgewater, PhD, 46, lives in Provo, Utah and is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology at Brigham Young University. She and her husband have four adult children. She enjoys bicycling, snow skiing, water skiing, cooking, reading, and being in the mountains.