In the summer of 2014, on a night much like every other night, I carried one of my three children up the stairs for bed. It felt like the 100th time that day that I carried someone up or downstairs, and it very well might have been — just a few months earlier, our family of three grew to a family of five when I gave birth to identical twins.
Twin pregnancy is not for the faint of heart. It is a grueling, physically demanding task that left me nearly unable to walk by the end of those nine long months. Of course giving birth to two healthy and beautiful baby girls made it all worth it, but being able to finally reclaim my body as my own was the icing on the cake. What’s more, I gained a newfound appreciation for my body that no other experience could have given me. I was fiercely proud of what I had accomplished and realized that my body is indeed miraculous, incomparable, a divine gift, and capable of a herculean task given to few.
But despite this newfound respect, my body still was not quite able to do all the things I needed it to do as a mother of three young children. At least not comfortably. I realized this that summer night as I paused at the top of the stairs, ever so slightly out of breath, and had this sobering thought: My babies would keep getting bigger, and I’d still need to keep carrying them up and down the stairs.
I knew that if I wanted to be able to accomplish the physical tasks yet ahead, I needed to treat my body much better. Since my life already felt like a never-ending marathon of child wrangling and laundry basket hauling (among other countless household duties), I wasn’t about to turn to exercise to improve my health. Instead, I turned to diet.
— Learning, Joy, and Discovery —
I knew I didn’t want to go on a diet in the traditional sense; I wasn’t trying to lose weight or get a “hot bikini bod.” I wanted to learn how to give my body the best kind of fuel possible so that I could accomplish my duties and even enjoy my life as a wife and mother — and actually have some strength and energy left at the end of the day.
I was already doing all I knew to cook healthy meals, but I still had the last 5-10 lbs. of baby weight I couldn’t get rid of, and on top of that I was still a bit overweight for my height. So I knew my knowledge was incomplete, and I was missing a big piece of the puzzle. I’d heard good things about the documentaries Hungry for Change and Forks Over Knives, so I set out to watch and learn what I could.
And what I learned astounded me.
I learned that losing and maintaining weight isn’t about counting calories. I learned that much of what we consider to be “healthy” foods are anything but. I learned that disease, illness, and the deterioration of old age that we take to be inevitable are actually preventable. I learned that animal products are not only unnecessary for human health, they can actually be quite damaging. I learned about the miraculous ability of whole, plant-based foods to heal and rejuvenate bodies of any age or condition. I learned just how easy (and cheap!) it is to feed and nourish your family with these foods, and I was delighted to learn just how delicious they can be.
In the weeks and months that followed, I became obsessed. I learned the above truths and more as I read article after article, book after book, and watched any food and health documentary I could get my hands on. It was like I had fallen down the rabbit hole, but instead of trying to get back home, I charged boldly ahead into a beautiful new wonderland. Before, I was hesitant in the kitchen. Although I previously cooked homemade meals nearly every night of the week, I did it out of a sense of duty and never really enjoyed it (in fact I’m pretty sure I loathed it). But once I learned that I did not actually need to eat meat to be healthy, it was like giving myself permission to explore cuisines I had previously thought were too “out there” or “granola” for me. And something very unexpected happened.
See, I never wanted to become a vegan, as the word is highly charged with many negative and even repulsive stereotypes. So I decided that I’d just explore vegan cooking, no strings attached, and see if the recipes were any good. I was shocked. Not only were these new whole, plant-based foods incredibly tasty, I felt so good after eating them. And they were so easy to make that suddenly it just clicked — I understood instinctively how to cook, how to throw together seemingly random ingredients in artful, creative ways to create something surprising and utterly delicious. It was like alchemy, and I was quickly becoming a master alchemist.
Now despite all this joy and discovery, I couldn’t ignore nagging doubts in my mind. After all, we in America are continually lied to about health and nutrition, not only from the food and agricultural industries and self-styled “health gurus” marketing to our ignorance, but by our own government. Was this whole foods, plant-based business just a fad diet, and I was the latest victim of pseudo-science? Was there a “catch,” like I’d wake up six months down the road incredibly ill because of the foods I had been happily serving myself and my family? How could I be so sure that this new way of eating really was the answer to my quest?
Enter the Word of Wisdom.
About this time on my journey, my dad, who is himself an exquisite chef and an explorer in the world of healthy eating, gave me a book. My dad was given a copy of this book by a neighbor, Neil Birch, someone I had known growing up, and my dad in turn bought a copy of the book for me. The book was written by the neighbor’s daughter, Jane Birch, and the book was called Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
I burned through the book in a matter of days, and everything in it immediately resonated with me. I re-read Section 89 of the Doctrine & Covenants many times over, prayerfully, seeking to understand it in ways that I had clearly been missing before. At long last I knew I had been given the final piece of the puzzle.
After studying the Word of Wisdom in this light I received the confirmation I had been seeking that yes, eating a diet full of whole, mostly plant-based foods was indeed the best diet for me and my family — that the Lord had answers for me, for all of us, about how to heal our miraculous bodies and maintain a near perfect balance of health, no matter how broken down or too far gone we may feel. And I myself was astonished to realize just how perfectly balanced I felt for the first time in, well, possibly ever. I had no idea how sick I actually was before.
— Remarkable Transformations —
When I started this journey I had no specific plan in place — just a goal to find an easy way to truly nourish and strengthen my body so that I could keep up with my three kids. I didn’t change my eating overnight, but as I studied and tried new ways of eating I gradually I transitioned to about a 90% whole foods, plant-based diet. I quit my daily can-of-soda habit and cut out sugar. I switched to whole grains and stopped buying processed food. I bought almond milk instead of cow’s milk, I eliminated almost all cheese, and I stopped cooking meat (though I did still eat it at family gatherings and such, not wanting to make my diet a burden on everyone else). My children are on this diet as well, and although my husband hasn’t jumped on board as completely as I, he has made his own progress toward health and will happily eat whatever I make for our family.
I had been eating this way for about three months and was feeling fantastic: energetic, happy, alert, calm, and mentally clear. I was sleeping well for the first time in my life. My skin and eyes were glowing, I felt strong and flexible, and I could keep pace with my then 4-year-old son and 11-month-old daughters, literally, running and chasing and lifting and carrying with ease. And yes, by the end of the day, I had energy to spare. How many mothers of infant twins can say all that?
I wasn’t the only one to benefit from my food choices. I discovered that a whole foods, plant-based diet is a wonderful way to feed growing families. It’s also wonderfully cheap: Thanks to my local bulk foods store, I feed my family of 5 for around $60 a week. And we eat deliciously well. My twins, who first started eating solid foods not long after I transitioned to this diet, have always eaten this way. Not only are they adventurous eaters, happily munching on herb-crusted eggplant, sweet coconut curry, and spiced hummus, they have steadily grown and maintained a healthy height and weight, despite being born one month early at less than 5 lbs. each.
Perhaps my biggest concern was feeding my son, who has always been a very selective eater. It was a huge source of contention in our home, but rather than adding to the stress, getting my son to eat more whole, plant-based foods actually relieved a great burden. I finally understood what it took to nourish my children and was able to come up with a game plan to introduce him to new, healthy foods he would feel safe eating. One of the biggest keys was being able to talk to him about what food does to our bodies, for better or worse, and empower him to make better choices on his own. Teaching him that these guidelines came from Heavenly Father, who designed and made our bodies, gives us all the confidence to know that what we are teaching is true and can always be trusted. We have made phenomenal progress with my son’s eating habits. Slowly but surely he has gone from only eating about 10-15 different foods and gagging on anything new (if we could even get him to touch it) to regularly eating a wider variety and trying every new food we give him. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. We know that we’re on the right path and helping him grow.
The biggest change for me came unexpectedly, when my husband said I was looking more muscular. Truthfully I hadn’t really noticed the outward changes. Despite being aware that my clothes were feeling saggy, I hadn’t once stepped on the scale. When I finally did, I was shocked to learn that I had lost nearly 20 pounds! Without even trying! I realized I should probably at least buy some new pants, and again I was shocked to discover that I had gone from a size 14 to a size 8! It was the first time in my entire life that I had actually lost weight, and I had done it all without counting a single calorie or setting foot in the gym. All I did was change my diet.
— Spreading the Good Word —
With this body transformation I felt I had stumbled onto the secret of weight loss and the proverbial fountain of youth. Even my husband lost nearly 25 lbs. without fully getting on board. And everyone around me has taken notice. I am continually getting compliments on my appearance and women are always asking me what I did to lose weight, to have such a glow, and look so happy and rested. I knew it was time to help spread the word, so I started a blog.
I founded my website, HealthyLittleChanges.com, in late 2014 with the goal of encouraging people to make one little change at a time. Out of everything that I’ve learned about health and nutrition, perhaps the biggest lesson is that change doesn’t have to be sudden and monumental; every little mental shift, every small decision, every ingredient swap you make really does matter. These healthy little changes begin to gain momentum, healing your body and building your confidence and spurring you on to take better care of yourself and your families, until the next thing you know, you’re an entirely different person — a happy, healthy, joyful person who slowly gained control of life, one little change at a time.
The message is resonating with readers just as it resonated with me the first time I learned it. Over the past year my website has had thousands of visitors from more than 20 different countries, and I’ve been able to build a business teaching nutrition to moms and families and speaking on whole foods, plant-based eating for beginners. I am moving this business forward with confidence because I know the Lord has blessed me with this knowledge and the ability to share it with the world, for it is His message: that our bodies are His greatest gift to us, and He has provided a way for us to maintain these sacred temples and live long, happy, healthy lives free of illness and pain. It is a message I am honored to carry to the world for as long as the Lord will sustain me. And I know that if I keep to the ideals given in the Word of Wisdom and keep “experimenting on the word,” I will be sustained.
Lindsay Maxfield is a wife, a mother of three, and a plant-powered foodie living in the Salt Lake Valley. She has been educating the public on health and happiness since 2010 as the founder of KSL.com’s Happy Living section and now as the founder of the website HealthyLittleChanges.com. She first learned the power of positive psychology while recovering from a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 2004 — a condition she worked tirelessly to completely reverse. She discovered the additional healing powers of a whole-food, plant-based diet after giving birth to twins in 2014 and now words to spread these messages of health and happiness through Healthy Little Changes and by teaching cooking and nutrition along the Wasatch Front. She is at work on a book about helping families eat healthy together.