“Max told me to go home and read the Word of Wisdom 20 times”

ryan-egbertBy: Ryan Egbert

My health journey started when I was 13. My best friend and I challenged each other to go one month without carbonation. After succeeding I realized there was no point in starting again when everyone knows it is healthier to not drink carbonation. It was a small challenge for me but before long I had fully adapted, and I had no desire to drink carbonated drinks.

Around the same time a school teacher showed us a video of the ironman triathlon held in Hawaii. I remember seeing people in their 80’s accomplishing this amazing physical challenge. For weeks after I thought to myself, “I want to be that healthy when I am a grandpa.” I wondered how someone became that healthy. I thought mostly about the exercise program and hadn’t considered that diet might be the primary issue.

At the age of 16, a friend’s father mentioned meeting someone who competes in the Ironman. I jumped all over the opportunity and arranged a meeting.

Max Burdick (known as IronMax) was a 76-year-old man who didn’t just shake your hand; it became a tug of war to pull you over. Max started our conversation by telling me his story. He was dying of cancer around the age of 40. An acquaintance from his high school came to visit him in the hospital. He told Max that his father had been diagnosed with cancer. His father prayed and fasted and went to the temple. He believed that God knew how to cure his cancer. Finally he had a spiritual experience in reading that “the destroying angel will pass them by” (D&C 89:21) and knew that the Word of Wisdom was God’s answer to how he could overcome his cancer. Max’s friend had used the same diet to overcome his cancer and now he was telling it to Max. He told me he realized what an “outrageous” claim he was making, but that he was living proof that it is true.

He told Max to read D&C 89 twenty or so times before he came back to visit him. Max read and upon meeting again Max learned the diet. After a few months on this diet, Max said the doctors claimed it was a miracle because he was cancer free.

Max told me to go home and read the Word of Wisdom 20 times. I think I read it 6 or 7 times and thought I learned everything I could from it. At our next appointment he quizzed me. He asked me, “What is to be the staff of life?” I remembered reading it, but I couldn’t answer. He asked, “What grain are you to use to feed an ox?” I couldn’t remember. “What grain is for man?” Again I couldn’t remember. He told me he should send me home again and this time really study the Word of Wisdom before we met again, but he had mercy on me and explained things to me anyway.

  • He told me that grains are to be the staff of life and that Wheat is for man. We then read D&C 89:14.
  • He said the interpretation he had been taught was that “in the season thereof” (D&C 89:10-11) meant to eat foods in their natural state, and he ate them uncooked.

He then asked me to read verse D&C 89:12-13:

12 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;

13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

We had a little discussion on eating living things with thanksgiving, and I admitted/agreed that I believed the vast majority of people do not appreciate the sacrifice of life that comes with their food.

He said that his belief was that passage meant to not eat any meat. I asked about dairy and eggs. He said because dairy and eggs were not mentioned as things to eat or one of the things to do, they didn’t eat them as part of the diet. He only did the things the Word of Wisdom said to do.

He said after leaving the hospital cancer free he stayed on the diet. After a few months on the diet, he had so much energy from eating this way he had to “burn it off” so he started running. Before he knew it he was doing triathlons and worked his way up until he was doing the full ironman every year in Hawaii and winning his age group most years.

After meeting with Max I had lots of motivation to change how I ate, but I had very little life experience. I didn’t even begin to comprehend what I was getting into. I quickly realized how many foods had meat or dairy or eggs in them. I cut out food after food after food from my diet for about a year. I eventually was eating only a few things (this is a mistake others make as well.) One of my few foods was bean burritos. One day I happened to look a little closer at the burrito and saw meat in it. I found the package and realized that what I thought was bean burritos this whole time was actually bean and beef. I was crushed. I thought I had been so good for that year.

I had a serious pondering that night. Is this something that I really wanted to do? Was it worth it? At the end of it I decided I wasn’t going to give up. That night I went and told my Mom I wanted to keep trying this but I didn’t know what to do. She gave me the idea to start getting some vegetarian magazines and we could start cooking those meals together. She started cooking vegetarian meals to the dismay of the rest of my family. That next year and a half before my mission was good for me. My food options began to grow month after month, but it was a constant challenge, and at times overwhelming.

After changing my diet, I never felt very different, and I often wondered if my diet was helping me. I had two experiences that told me it was. The first was when I was 18 and I went to donate blood at my college. They tested a drop of my blood for my hemoglobin count; my count was two times the average. (If I remember correctly they like to see 12 or so and mine was 23.) They said they were running an experiment on how lifestyle affects a person’s blood. They asked if instead of donating my blood they could interview me and then run tests on my blood so they could try and get a correlation between my lifestyle and my blood. The second was getting my wisdom teeth out. The anesthetic kept wearing off too fast and my bones and gums were so healthy the doctor couldn’t pull the teeth out. The doctor also said that sewing my gums was like sewing through leather.

I went on my mission to Brazil and tried to eat healthy when I could, but I ate whatever was given me. So the diet went to the wayside. Upon returning from my mission I found it very difficult to pick up the diet again. Soaking wheat, dating, singles functions—it all was a little too much. But I did still eat healthy.

My wife was eating a traditional American diet when we first married, but over time we have settled on the same place together. We make smoothies (they aren’t always green). We eat our porridge. We have no meat, dairy or eggs in the house. We are whole food plant based. Our struggle now is how we feed our kids. That is the next phase of the journey.

Since being educated on the Word of Wisdom diet 24 years ago in 1992, I have watched the waistline of America expand dramatically. I have watched people try to solve their health problems through pills and everything but the Word of Wisdom or diet. I remember when the Atkins diet became so popular, I referred back to the Word of Wisdom and knew the answer that God has given us. Right now there are people saying to stay away from grains. Again, I believe we should refer to the Word of Wisdom to get our answers.

I don’t believe most people have a clue as to the true power of the Word of Wisdom. I believe the things that the Word of Wisdom tells us to “do” are just as powerful if not more than the “dont’s.” It is through the “do’s” that we will be able to “Run and not be weary and walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20) I believe that staying away from alcohol, tobacco and drugs will keep the destroying angel at bay (D&C 89:21). But I also believe making grains the main feature of our diet, particularly wheat, eating lots of fruit and vegetables, and very little meat will keep the destroying angel at bay for decades. And that those who do will have the healthy long lives that God wishes for us.

Ryan Egbert (40) lives in West Jordan, Utah. He served a mission in Brazil, graduated with an MBA, and has been working in financial services since 1998. Ryan and his wife Bonnie have a son David and a daughter Lexi. Ryan loves being in the outdoors. He enjoys canyoneering, rock climbing, mountaineering, back woods camping, shooting, and most other outdoor actives. He also loves to teach everything from Red Cross first aid, CPR, and wilderness first aid course to, NRA shooting, scout climbing and canyoneering, time and life management classes, even beauty pageants and enjoys filling in for his boss at BYU’s personal finance class.


  1. I love reading about Ryan as a teenager with such great desires to have a strong and healthy body that he was willing to do things most teenagers would never consider. Thanks Ryan for sharing your story!

  2. This is a wonderful story. I went vegetarian in my teens, too. Unfortunately, I had zero support and only the books I could find in the library. As a teen convert, I had no idea that it fit so perfectly with the Word of Wisdom. It took until my forties to get it right. I love how I feel when I eat properly according to WOW. Thanks again for this inspiring story.

  3. Ryan, Like you I also eat the Word of Wisdom Way and have been doing so, going on five years. Before my dear daughter Jane patiently and thoroughly taught me how to eat in accordance with what the Lord has taught us in D. & C. 89, verses 10 through 21, I had some serious health problems. One of them was Type 2 Diabetes, but there were others too, but I just can’t remember their names. It has been a long time since I began fully eating the Word of Wisdom Way. I’m actually glad I don’t remember the names of those other medical afflictions I suffered from. Their names would just bring back unhappy memories!

    I particularly appreciated the following which you told us in that which you submitted to my daughter, Jane Birch:

    “I don’t believe most people have a clue as to the true power of the Word of Wisdom. I believe the things that the Word of Wisdom tells us to “do” are just as powerful if not more than the “dont’s.” It is through the “do’s” that we will be able to “Run and not be weary and walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20)”

    May the Lord continue to bless you and the rest of us who may be reading this,who are eating the Word of Wisdom Way or are considering doing so!

  4. I like how you went straight to the source to get your information. The Word of Wisdom is right in front of us, yet so many members of the church are searching elsewhere for their nutritional advice. I believe that those who truly want to know what they should be eating will be led to this lifestyle. Thanks for sharing

  5. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I’m sure that you are inspiring the youth that you are serving by your example of your healthy and active life style. You are passing along the inspiring lessons that Max gave to you. What a beautiful family!

  6. Ryan, this story was very inspiring for me to read. Once again I am reminded how powerful a mentor and testimony is of finding a doable path when so much change is required. Your patience with yourself seems key to me. The idea of two steps forward and one step back can often derail a desire to improve, but you realized the burritos weren’t the best, ate what was served to you on your mission and determined to go forward with the revelation found in the Word of Wisdom. I applaud your tenacity. Thank you for sharing.

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