By: Sue Reuser
I’ve been interested in physiology since I was in college, but when I was young I was not necessarily concerned about my own good health. In fact, I was a smoker for almost 20 years. After getting married in 1980, it was only in consideration of my new family of four children that I finally quit.
I first became involved with Dr. John McDougall’s plant-based diet in 1985 when I heard him interviewed on a radio talk show. McDougall sounded very extreme to me at the time, but everything he said was so logical that I couldn’t deny its correctness. It was completely different from everything that I had been taught about food and what I had always eaten, but deep down I just knew that he was right.
In 1985 I talked my husband into both of us enrolling in Dr. McDougall’s 12-day program. It was for him, not me. I didn’t need it. I was healthy, active, and trim, but at 30 he could not get insurance because of his high blood pressure. We attended the program together. Even though we had enrolled for my husband, the science soon convinced me to switch to a low fat starch-based diet.
Changing my diet was not easy. A huge part of my diet was sweets, and I sure didn’t want to give those up! Meat was not a problem for me. In fact, I liked the idea of not killing animals to eat them, but I still couldn’t imagine how I would feed a family without using lots of hamburger and cheese. Even though I had lots of questions, I was able to work things out. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think that even back then (before I joined the Church) I was feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost.
It was only later that I realized that the McDougall program most likely saved my life. My mother died of breast cancer when I was 10 and she was 49. My sister died of breast cancer when she was 51. If I hadn’t changed my lifestyle I probably would have been dying of breast cancer in 1994 instead of getting baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and getting a new and happy life.
After I joined the church and read the Word of Wisdom for myself, I was delighted to know that Heavenly Father loves us enough to give us direction in how to take care of our bodies and the promise to be able to run and not be weary. Thanks to Dr. McDougall I had mostly been living the Word of Wisdom for years, and because I had seen with my own eyes the experience of others and had experienced for myself the healthful benefits of living this way, I knew it was true. It was wonderful to see that the gospel fits in so nicely with the correct science of nutrition!
My testimony of the Church was still pretty weak and shaky at this point, but after reading the Word of Wisdom I was so glad that I had chosen this church! The growth of my testimony of the gospel took a giant leap forward. I was shocked, however, to find that all of the members who I talked to about the Word of Wisdom would staunchly defend the Standard American Diet and even condemn me for trying to eat only whole plants and no meat.
Being an active Church member while following the McDougall lifestyle has not been easy when so many of our activities involve food. I’ve tried many strategies from just not attending to making a low fat vegan dish to share. It was even more difficult when I was Relief Society president and responsible for many meals. The easiest was a baked potato bar, and when I had time I could make a hearty low fat vegan chili. If someone else made the chili, I’d just bring a jar of salsa. I also learned to eat before I went to a dinner and to put a baked sweet potato in my purse. They are great for meals on the go.
This next part is the hardest part to share, but probably the most important. Who likes to admit failure? Sadly, over the years I got lax. More and more often I would indulge in bad food when with friends. Mostly it was desserts (I am a sugar addict), but I’d even eat a slice of pizza or some funeral potatoes that are loaded with high fat dairy. My weight and blood pressure both started to increase. I would try to stay away from doctors because they told me I was just old and needed to take medication. I didn’t, but I was discouraged. I didn’t feel old. I was eating 90% or more whole food, plant-based, was active, still trimmer than most and was told to take medication for the rest of my life.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I started to indulge in butter. I had some leftover butter in my house that I had bought because I felt that I should feed guests what they wanted to eat. I had always loved the taste of butter, and it was so quick and easy to make toast (whole wheat of course) with butter when I came home hungry. I started buying more butter. I only indulged for a few months, but then in 2012 I had a small stroke. I thank the Lord for my complete recovery and for the wake-up call. I cleaned out my home once again of all bad food and determined to keep my diet whole food, plant-based. Now I’ve made it to 98%. (Hey, it’s not easy when you are an addict living alone in a world with other addicts who happily feed your addictions! But I’m blessed to know that I’m not really alone but always have the Lord by my side.)
The great news is that I’ve never felt happier and healthier in my whole life, and I’m 68. I’m currently serving a full time mission in the Family History Library, and it is so much fun! But it breaks my heart to watch so many of my friends and family members making themselves sick just with what they eat. I see so many wonderful people on Temple Square each day, struggling with health problems. It’s not God’s plan that so many of us be sick and in pain just because we are older.
I have witnessed many people improve their health dramatically by switching from the standard American diet to a whole plant food based diet, and they enjoy it. It’s never too late to start eating whole plant foods. The DVD “Forks over Knives” is an easy way to learn these principles. My highly recommended reading list includes:
- Scriptures – D&C 89 – the word of God
- Discovering the Word of Wisdom – Jane Birch – spiritual perspective plus lots of practical help
- The Starch Solution – John McDougall, MD – medical perspective plus lots of practical help
- The China Study – T. Collin Campbell, PhD – scientific perspective – I was already sold on this before I read this book but found it enlightening. I’m so glad that I did!
Sue Reuser is 68 years old. She is serving a full time senior mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the Family History Library near Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is single and has no children so although she is enjoying working on her own family history and serving in the Family History Library, she looks forward to serving the Lord wherever she may be called. She previously served a mission in the Employment Center in Honolulu Hawaii. She loves music, animals and spinning and knitting wool yarn.