My first venture into the Word of Wisdom “do’s” was in 1979. My husband said he wanted to try Vegetarianism. I’ve asked him since what prompted him to suggest that change in our lives, but he can’t remember. I remember sitting down with my in-laws to tell them about the change we were making. My father-in-law was almost scornful. I still remember to this day his negative attitude. My family was much more supportive. I had grown up with whole wheat bread (in the 60’s when Wonder Bread was all the rage), raw milk, and raw sugar. My father showed me some recipes for seitan and tofu.
My husband and I were enjoying life . . . but we weren’t concerned about nutrition. We had big salads with Russian dressing (mayo and ketchup), guacamole, and tortilla chips for dinner. Tofu patties (tofu, scallions, egg and wheat germ) fried in olive oil was another entree. I got a hold of the Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook, which became a favorite. I did notice that the meals that attracted me where the complicated “fancy for company” meals . . . I wasn’t understanding the beautiful simplicity of eating “meat-free.” Alas, after a few months of this way of life our four-month old son was diagnosed with Spinal Meningitis and was hospitalized for two weeks on IV antibiotics. As a nursing mom I stayed with him and ate whatever they brought me. Our new lifestyle took a back burner, and we never got back to it.
By 1992 I had ballooned to 350 pounds (six pregnancies hadn’t helped). I yo-yo dieted along the way but never turned back to plant-based eating. I was very sick and always exhausted . . . due to the fact that I wasn’t sleeping. My body had started to shut down certain functions to give energy to just staying alive. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and given the amazing opportunity to reboot my metabolism. My doctor advised me to eat a low-fat diet . . . no more than 30 grams of fat each day. He advised me that one way to cut fat was to eat vegetarian.
I remembered our younger days and the venture we had made in that direction, and I launched myself into it with enthusiasm. This time I read about nutrition, and I fed my family balanced meals. We weren’t eating meat but still eating dairy and eggs, and I was able to lose 80 pounds. As time went by, the more I read, the more I was drawn to perfecting my diet. I was almost to the point of being vegan when I became pregnant with #7. I started CRAVING meat and went back to eating it (this was my “time of famine”) and regretfully stayed there (again) for many years.
In approximately 2008, I realized I wasn’t feeling at peace with my food . . . again. Immediately I knew what I needed to do. This time it was a very quiet change . . . no trumpets or banners, just small changes here and there. Once again it felt like I was where I was supposed to be, eating meat (very) sparingly. But being a mere mortal, I was still dealing with life and appetites and the ways of the world. I have learned since then that I have a powerful food addiction to simple carbs, particularly sugar and flour items, and the lure of those sugary, salty, crunchy, oily (insert any adjective that is not Wholesome or Natural) pulled at my appetites, and I did partake.
By the end of 2009, I had junk food’ed myself back up to over 300 pounds! And gradually the fog in my head, created by the sugar/flour addiction, blurred my view of the path I knew I needed to be on, and my resolve got lost amidst “the food.” I really did want to get healthy. I really did want to lose the excess weight that had tormented me my entire life, but I couldn’t make it happen. I found myself thinking, maybe if I wasn’t 150 lbs overweight I could do it, but I felt I was losing the battle . . . there was no hope . . . I was too far gone.
Then a friend of mine introduced me to a diet program that involved eating 5 Meal Replacements and only one “real” food meal (protein and vegetables) every day. She had lost an amazing amount of weight and felt great. Maybe this was my answer? A plan started to form in my mind to lose the weight and then implement all my nutritional learning (including eating vegetarian) to keep the weight off thru healthy eating. So I committed to this program for 2.5 years, and I was able to lose 145 pounds!
I was feeling pretty proud of myself, but now came the time to leave the processed Meal Replacements behind and learn to eat “real” food. It was NOT a good transition. Old habits and that darn addiction left me in total confusion as to how to proceed. I learned about Clean Eating and that sounded like a great idea . . . but Clean Eating involves whole grain flour and natural sugars and fats. As the weight (once again) started to come back, I was getting panicky. During this time, we went on an Alaska Cruise, and I went berserk. Clean Eating flew out the window, and the one week at sea resulted in gaining 15 pounds!
On the cruise I remember feeling as out of control as an alcoholic. That made me remember an acquaintance who had lost a lot of weight on a 12-Step program for food addiction. When I thought about having an addiction, everything fell into place and for the first time in a long time I felt Hope. When I got home I attended my first meeting and knew I was where I would be supported and safe from the torment of my food and weight.
But what does that have to do with the Word of Wisdom and whole food, plant-based eating?
Part of the 12-Step process is to realize that your addiction has made your life unmanageable and that there is One who can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. I turned to the Lord in prayer and asked him what he wanted me to do about my food. I felt directed back to the Word of Wisdom. Again I prayed, more specifically this time, “Am I supposed to be a vegetarian?” The answer came quickly and powerfully that that was what I needed to do with my food going forward. That was in October of 2012.
In April of 2014, I was attending Women’s Conference at BYU when I found Jane Birch’s book Discovering The Word of Wisdom in the Bookstore tent. I opened the book to a random page, and as I read the words I thought, “I agree with that!” I could never figure out why there weren’t more LDS following the Word of Wisdom and eating a vegetarian diet. It seemed so obvious to me! And finally here was someone who saw what I had seen and felt what I had felt. It was a wonderful day!
During the last year, I have been fine-tuning my diet as I’ve feel impressed to. Now I rarely eat ANY animal products. The exceptions are usually 1) when I’m traveling and availability is sometimes an issue (I try to plan and pack but sometimes something goes awry); 2) restaurants where I don’t have as much control over things like butter and cheese garnishes (I try to remember to ask but it’s so far off my radar because I forget that people include those things in meals). Although it is a little funny when I specify no cheese on anything and then order Blue Cheese Dressing (on the side) for my salad (one of my sparingly occasions).
What have been the results? I have maintained a 200-pound loss (from my heaviest weight) for 2.5 years now. My addiction is kept at bay by avoiding sugars and flours (of any kind) and weighing and measuring my portions for my meals with NO snacking in between. I participate in a weekly Addiction Recovery meeting offered by the Church. There is a joyful peace in my life knowing that I am on the path the Lord wants me on. I had dabbled with that path throughout my adult life, but it had never occurred to me to ask my Heavenly Father about eating! That was such a little thing in the grand scheme of things, but I have learned that the Lord is willing to walk with me through the little things as well as the big things. All I had to do was ask.
Through the LDS Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) I’ve learned to live the crucial first three steps in overcoming addiction:
Step 1- Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.
Step 2 – Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.
Step 3 – Decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
I know that the battle I fought with food all those years was a fight of my Natural Man against my Spiritual Man (aka Satan vs. The Lord). I tried to fight that battle on my own, but the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible for me to never have to endure that struggle again without Him by my side. Through the personal revelation I received when I asked the question I understand 100% that eating a whole food, plant-based diet is the Lord’s will for me. To quote Joseph Smith:
I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation. (Joseph Smith History 1:25)
Sheri Farley lives in Citrus Heights, California. She was born in 1956 and married in 1975. She and her husband have 8 children and 27+4 grandchildren. Sheri has run a Bookeeping/Accounting/Payroll business since 1990. Her past “careers” include banking, administrative manager, gourmet gift basket sales, and waitressing (who hasn’t?), but her favorite career is being a Mom. She also loves Disney Parks and Cruises (over 100 days with Mickey Mouse!). At Christmas time she and her husband become professional residents from the North Pole as Santa with his Mrs.
Sheri is happy to help mentor others trapped by food addiction and low self-worth. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. See also her Facebook site, Hope Restored. Having lost over 200 pounds, she now understands that “the weight was a symptom not the problem.” She wants to share her message with anyone who feels that there is no hope.
Note: Cy Welch referred to Sheri Farley and her husband in his earlier story.