Up until the last year of my life, I have lived with one foot in the camp with the “health nuts” and one foot in the Standard American Diet (SAD). When I was a child, my mother taught me to love wholesome foods, vitamin supplements, and occasional fasting for detoxification. I was never really taught how to cook, however, and when I became an adult and got married, I wanted to please my family. Although I started out trying very hard to cook from scratch and make healthy foods, eventually I found that my family liked it better when I made recipes that were less healthy.
I had vowed to never let my children drink soda, but as many years went by (years of overwhelm that can wear a person’s resolve down), I not only started allowing my kids soda, but also found myself drinking Diet Coke daily… sometimes twice per day. My kids hated chunky vegetables in the soup that I loved to make, so I stopped making it and made the creamy soups that made them happy. My husband at the time seemed to appreciate it more when I gave in and kept the peace by serving less healthy foods, so I felt like I was alone, and I gradually gave up my resolve to feed my family in a healthy way.
Although I had never struggled with weight, energy, or general heath after my first two babies, things started to change after baby number three. I couldn’t get rid of the last 10 pounds of baby weight, and I started to feel really tired and achy much of the time. My stress level was high, and I was overwhelmed with small children. I basically ignored the problem, and coped by doing yoga to ease the muscle tension that at times would overwhelm me. I wasn’t really exercising much and my cooking was “survival cooking”… cheese quesadillas and juice, you know, convenient kid food.
After baby number four, I knew things had to change. I was done having kids, and I needed to get my health back. So I basically starved myself. I didn’t have any ideas for healthy eating other than stuff my kids and husband would never eat, and I didn’t have time or money to eat separate from my family, so I just went super low calorie. It worked (because I was still young and had never really done anything like that before). I lost the weight, exercised a ton, and with that, my achiness and general pain problems went away, and I got my weight back to where it belonged. But I had to really watch my calorie intake because I was surrounded by cheese, soda, chips, and other survival foods that I had to really limit.
A couple of times I did the Master Cleanse (lemonade/cayenne/maple syrup drink) for a few days to take off pounds that had crept back on. Once or twice I went all “raw” and loved it! I felt great! It also felt good to eat closer to the way the food was created, and I knew that I had connected with something in my soul that felt right to me. But again, due to family dynamics that felt discouraging to such changes, I gave that up.
I went on like this for several years, going up and down 10 pounds, watching calories obsessively to keep things under control. I never questioned whether I was following the Word of Wisdom or not. Being one who never drank coffee or tea, I hadn’t really given the counsel beyond the prohibitions much thought. Occasionally I would pray for strength to keep my calories low, but other than that didn’t think that God had a bigger plan with food or anything.
Food and spirituality had seriously never been in the same paragraph in my mind. In fact, there were times I thought food was just plain “stupid.” I sometimes wondered why God had invented it because it seemed like a nuisance and a stumbling block that took up all of the time in my day, stole all of my money, and in the end, was a bone of contention between my children and I. I kind of hated food. I mean, I loved eating, but the whole nuisance of dealing with food seemed ridiculous, and I resented it. When discussing food with friends, I would always announce, “I hate cooking.” And I did. I hated paying for the food. I hated serving the food. I hated the whole idea of food. Why did God invent food?!? Being an overly philosophical person, I asked myself that question many times.
Several years went by as described above. My health seemed pretty good, I kept my weight down, tried to eat somewhat healthy without offending my family (failed much of the time), and seemed to be managing by counting calories. I still thought food was a big fat pain and I saw no point to it all.
A few years ago things took a serious turn for the worse. In my personal life, I suffered a divorce, the death of my brother, death of my father, moved several times, had two of my children move out, and started working full time (all within a two-year period). To say that I neglected my diet would be an understatement. I fell into a place of coping that landed me in front of Netflix with a big bowl of ice cream every night for a while. But I didn’t judge myself because I knew I was in transition. However, my body judged me! After only a few months like this, I gained a lot of weight.
After experiencing some very difficult personal disappointments after the holidays, I woke up in January of 2014 in extreme physical pain. My energy had really been lagging for months, and I had been starting back into the muscle pain and general exhaustion that had gotten me after my third baby. But this time it was ten times worse! Every part of my body screamed in pain. I could hardly get out of bed. Because of all of the difficulties I had been through, I figured it was all emotional, and I just needed rest.
My doctor determined that I had fibromyalgia and recommended that I go part time with my work. This was a big relief to me because I seriously was hardly able to function at all. I started buying 5-Hour Energy by the case, using it to get by. For six months, I meditated, did yoga, napped, and tried to relax. This was the advice I had been given for overcoming the stress I had been under for the past couple of years. I forced myself to exercise, as I always had, but it was a serious struggle, and I almost always had to take a 5-Hour Energy to do it. At this time, I was also taking an ADHD medication that woke me up and gave me energy. I found that if I combined the two, I actually felt decent. This frightened me as I had never, ever been one to use substances and hated prescriptions and pills.
I continued to struggle with what had now become 30 pounds of excess weight. Again, I resented food and didn’t know why God had made it. And Diet Coke, 5-Hour Energy, and methylphenidate are not against the Word of Wisdom, so I continued to get by. Ice cream in front of Netflix wasn’t against the Word of Wisdom either, and neither was Magic Shell, McDonalds, Pringles, or crash diets. And the Word of Wisdom doesn’t mention whether it’s best to buy organic or not, or whether you should eat double cheese on your spaghetti, or whether factory farms are morally objectionable. So honestly I never thought to look to the Word of Wisdom for help. It seemed so vague and unhelpful.
I truly believe that many roads lead to the same destination, and I was eventually led to the Word of Wisdom through an unlikely path. By fall of 2014, I knew something had to change. I was heavier than I had ever been in my life other than when I had been pregnant, I was still exhausted and in pain. The exhaustion had gotten to the point that I knew I could be diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue, but had no desire for the diagnosis. Doctors might throw pills at me. I had no answers, so I had to start looking for answers myself.
Looking back, I believe that God was leading me to the Word of Wisdom. It took me months of intense investigating to get there. First, I read Jillian Michael’s book, Master Your Metabolism. I knew that my metabolism seemed to be destroyed, and she suggested in her book that hormone imbalances and general deficiencies were brought about through eating factory meats laden with hormones and antibiotics, and eating produce laced with pesticides, as well as eating processed foods made from additives and chemicals. Fascinated, I dove in for more investigation. I watched Food, Inc., Fresh, King Corn, and other similar documentaries on Netflix. From there I read Fast Food Nation, The Food Revolution, The China Study, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. My education was continued through multitudinous Internet searches of related content.
I came to see that there is a whole movement of people who are concerned about how food is not only affecting our heath, but also our environment and our connection to ourselves and others in a spiritual sense. This community of people embraced ideas taught to us by our prophets, such as growing a garden, cooking your own food, respecting natural resources, eating with gratitude, and serving others. From this community, I started to see that there could be a reverence for food. For the first time I began to see beauty in soil, vegetables, and sunshine. I started to see dignity in standing at a chopping board, cutting vegetables all afternoon. I started to feel something Divine in this thing we call food. The impression was building in my heart and in my mind that our food was sunshine coming directly from God, if we wouldn’t interfere with its light by over-preparing, chemicalizing, and destroying it.
My curiosity became roused as to how we, as a nation, came to be where we are in terms of food, diet, and culture: so removed from the soil, so removed from our Maker, as to have developed this gluttonous diet of non-foods that not only do not nourish the body but also do harm to the soul. As I learned, I applied what I learned. I gradually changed almost everything about how I ate. I went totally plant based, and threw out meat, dairy, any and all processed foods. Around this time, I felt prompted to do a three-day cleansing fast of water only as I felt my body was very toxic. My thyroid had become inflamed to the point that I could hardly swallow. But after the fast, it went back to normal.
One day I was visiting with my sister, whom I hadn’t spoken with for several months. As we spoke, we were thrilled to discover that we had been on a parallel path of learning about food and nutrition. Apparently, she had been having health problems even worse than me. She had become pre-diabetic and had developed such pain and stiffness that she had begun walking with a cane. Her energy was gone. She felt awful. But through inspired avenues of learning, she had felt truly tutored by the Spirit as she had been lead from one source of information to another as she came to embrace plant-based eating. She too had completely thrown out any and all processed, pre-packaged foods. She had gone completely off of sugar, and made all of her family’s grain products from scratch, using old-fashioned methods of soaking the grains to increase digestibility.
My sister’s son had come home early from a mission with a serious intestinal problem that had wiped out all of his digestive bacteria. He was left unable to digest many foods and was frequently quite ill. My sister prayed fervently and went to the temple, begging for help to know how to heal her son and herself. She was ultimately led to the plant-based diet in addition to learning how to prepare grains in a more fundamentally healthful way and adding old-time fermented foods to help with gut bacteria. She helped me learn that the ancient practices of fermenting certain foods as well as the old time practice of soaking grains were the Lord’s ways of preparing these plant foods for the best health of his people. Refrigeration, antibiotics, factory production of food and additives have taken the place of these ancient practices. In so doing, the most healthful ways of preparing foods have been displaced by convenience. As we talked about the changes we were both making in our diets, we both marveled at how we had been led by the Spirit, independent of one another. We talked about how these truths were blessing our families and were returning us back to health. It felt as if we were discussing some hidden scriptures that very few have read, and we found comfort in each other’s understanding of what we were both coming to know.
All of this knowledge has required some hard work in the day-to-day operations of life, but honestly it’s been fun! I have to make more time for food preparation. I spend more time planning food and looking up recipes and ideas online. And all of this has blessed my life by making me slow down and enjoy the meditative experience of working with fundamental foods in their whole form (fruits, vegetables, grains). My children have been blessed as they have seen my enthusiasm and have been willing to try some new foods and give up some old ones. My daughter, in particular, has seen an increase in energy and general wellbeing with our dietary changes. And she loves some of the crazy things I’ve tried cooking (such as vegan cheese), and enjoys joining in the adventures of trying new recipes. I feel enthusiastic in this work because I feel it is fundamentally reverencing God with our food, rather than appealing only to convenience and hedonism (which is something that always troubled me about modern food preparation practices).
As I made these changes, I noticed that the preparation and consumption of my food started to take on a spiritual and ceremonial feel. While working to buy and eat foods as close to mother earth as possible I found that I felt a reverence for the foods. I loved holding a vegetable in my hand and noticing it as a gift from Heavenly Father. He made it for me. And that was not something I could say about a bag of Doritos.
Even though I wasn’t really looking for it, I felt as if I was being given the “great treasures of knowledge” promised in the Word of Wisdom. It felt to me as if light was being poured down on me as I took the time to chop, cut, sprout, ferment, stir fry, steam, and mix. I have been a meditator for years, and yet all of this work with pure foods felt more like a meditation than any of the meditations I had previously tried. There was something here for me. Something very, very REAL. And I had to admit that I was starting to understand why God made food. I still can’t explain it all, but it is a sense that is growing in me that as I consume the foods that HE made for me, in the WAY he made them, I feel His love. I feel Him feeding me and nurturing me. It feels like light coming into my soul and I feel so grateful.
Admittedly, I really enjoy cooking now. And I never had these feelings when I grabbed packages, cans, and bags and dumped the “food” out. That food was not only nutritionally dead, it was also spiritually dead. Truly, there is no law that is only physical in nature; all laws are spiritual too. The two are reciprocal. If something is physically bad for you, it is spiritually bad for you too. I have come to know this for myself in terms of food.
As for physical benefits, I have seen a total and complete return of my health. It took eating completely whole foods plant based for about six months, and my energy is completely back, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue is gone, thyroid function is normal, and my weight is back to normal. But I have worked for it. I literally have not eaten anything processed, have eaten no meat or dairy, and have had to read several books on vegetarian or raw food diets in order to make the changes. (Well, OK, you caught me! I have occasionally strayed from “perfect eating” because it’s near impossible to go out with friends, or even to a ward dinner and not have my diet challenged, but I believe in what Paul teaches that it is what comes out of a man’s mouth that defiles a man, and not what goes into it. Paul cautioned us against becoming too moralistic in what we eat, and so I have tried to remain flexible and accepting in public eating situations.) Has it been worth it? Oh my goodness, yes!!! The alternatives would be eventual disability coupled with prescription drugs and ongoing doctor’s visits. I shudder to think.
Spiritually, I feel like I am in much better alignment with Truth. I feel a much greater connection to the earth, and a greater understanding for God’s whole plan (including his use of food as part of that plan). I feel respect for the planet and gratitude for the miracle of “herbs yielding seed.” I even have a desire to grow a garden for the first time in my life! I used to do it at times out of sheer teeth-gritting obedience to the prophet, grumbling all the way about the cost and annoyance of it. Now I feel that gardening would be a reverent, almost worshipful activity of coaxing life through God’s divinely appointed laws, so that life can nourish life. Ahhh… the beauty of it! It is almost more than I can take in. You see, I really have been granted knowledge and insights into the heart and mind of God that I couldn’t have had access to any other way. I really do feel like I know Him better now that I understand on a spiritual level why he made food.
Shara Mitchell (40 years old) lives in Springville, Utah. She has a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and runs a private counseling practice. Shara is a divorced mother of four children ages 10 thru 17. During her free time, she loves to play piano, read, hike, and cook. Her children and she enjoy playing board games, watching silly YouTubes, and talking about science. Her children love to either eat the crazy things she cooks, or make fun of the crazy things she cooks….or both!