“Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven”

Susan D’AndreaBy: Susan D’Andrea

The phone rang on Labor Day weekend of 2011. One of my sons and I were in Pennsylvania to attend my niece’s wedding. My husband John was home in San Antonio, Texas. He had watched an ABC News special about Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. John started reading the book and was convinced that this book would protect us from cardiovascular disease, despite our high blood pressure and family history of heart attacks and strokes. By the time I was halfway through the first chapter, Dr. Esselstyn had convinced me that a vegan diet with no added fat would guarantee we would not have a heart attack. We were committed.

Next we watched the documentary Forks Over Knives (which is available on Netflix and various streaming websites). This strengthened our belief that a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet would protect us, not only from cardiovascular disease, but from cancer and a host of other illnesses. Our oldest son and his wife watched the movie and joined us. Now we had support and an opportunity to share favorite recipes.

We wanted so much to do this that every time we tried a new recipe, when we asked the blessing, we asked Heavenly Father to help us like the new dish. We have liked everything we have tried.

In July 2012 I read an article in Meridian Magazine by Carolyn Allen, “The WOW in the Word of Wisdom,” which included a PowerPoint slideshow on diet and the Word of Wisdom. For the first ten months of eating a WFPB diet, the motivation for my husband and me was to stay healthy. The PowerPoint slideshow taught me that the Word of Wisdom diet is a gift from Heavenly Father, that this is the way He wants us to eat in order to stay healthy throughout our lives. Suddenly I found joy in filling my grocery cart with fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and in cooking and eating this way.

It has been almost three years since our journey began. We continue to read and learn more about WFPB eating. We continue to reap the blessings of increased health, energy, and joy in eating the way Heavenly Father wants us to. Our doctors are thrilled with our results. John quickly got to his goal weight and maintained it. His cholesterol went from over 200 to 112! I lost 20 pounds initially, and am presently working on losing the rest. My blood pressure went from 140/90 to 123/72.

John and I pretty much do WFPB eating 100% at home and when just the two of us go out together. When eating with non-vegan friends and family, our level of success varies. Social situations are our weakest link, but we try to make healthy choices. For those difficult times, I try to remember the words from the hymn, “Praise to the Man,” that I put in a tiny frame on my computer desk next to a small picture of the Savior: “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”

We testify that:

All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen. (D&C 89: 18–21)

My husband John and I live in San Antonio, Texas. We are both 67 years old and retired. John was a research scientist with a PhD in Physiological Psychology, and I am a retired teacher with a B.A. and M.A. in Elementary Education. We have been married almost 49 years. We have four sons and eight grandchildren who are the joy of our lives. We enjoy traveling with our fifth wheel trailer and our German Shepherd Izzy to visit our sons and their families. At home John is a ham radio enthusiast, and I love family history.


  1. This is J. Neil Birch, Jane Birch’s eighty two year old father. I quite often tell people I know well, how eating the Word of Wisdom Way has really changed my life. I began eating that way several months before my eightieth birthday.

    I had suffered from type 2 diabetes, diverticulitis and high blood pressure and had several growths removed by doctors from my intestines. I will turn eighty three years of age on February 13th 2015. I’m five feet nine inches tall and about ten years ago weighed about 230 pounds. I was able to lose much weight and overcome the diabetes by my making peanut butter (of all things) my main food. I don’t recommend anyone do that, but it did help prepare me for the time when my eldest child, Jane Birch, who was just beginning to write her book, “Discovering the Word of Wisdom..” made an appointment with me by phone to drive up to Murray, Utah where my wife, Melva and I live, from her home in Provo, Utah to teach me “how to eat the Word of Wisdom Way!” This happened early in 2011 not long before my eightieth birthday.

    To make this account of my rapid and permanent transformation into a very very healthy man shorter I’ll skip a lot of details. I made the transition to eating the “Word of Wisdom Way” very quickly and permanently. In the two and a half years I’ve been eating this Way, I’ve never even had a cold or a head ache or been sick in any way. I exercise for fifty minutes six days each week on an “Adaptive Motion Trainer at our local Murray, Utah Recreation Center. It is perhaps the most challenging exercise machine they have there, but after beginning to use it on May 17th of this year I have not missed one session of my fifty minute exercise routine because of not being “up to it!” I’m a living witness that grains are the “staff of life!” Today, before going to exercise I worked several hours very hard digging up some huge weeds from our yard which were threatening the immaculate garden of our neighbors just across the fence behind us but that didn’t slow me down one bit in my exercising! I’m actually looking toward living past one hundred years of age!

    When I went in for my annual physical examination in March of this year, from our regular doctor, I was surprised and became very pleased with what he told me. With his staff of about four people listening he announced that I, out of all of his eighty two year old patients and those older than that, J. Neil Birch was the healthiest! I’m still 5’9″ tall but I now weigh 135 pounds and people often call me “skinny!”

    I really appreciated and was deeply touched when reading that which you mentioned in your account I just read a few minutes ago:

    “John and I pretty much do WFPB eating 100% at home and when just the two of us go out together. When eating with non-vegan friends and family, our level of success varies. Social situations are our weakest link, but we try to make healthy choices. For those difficult times, I try to remember the words from the hymn, “Praise to the Man,” that I put in a tiny frame on my computer desk next to a small picture of the Savior: “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”

    I really admire both of you and can almost surely predict that each of your personal doctors will also be pointing out to you after one of your upcoming exams in the near future that you are both very healthy examples of what eating the “Whole Food Plant Based Way” (or “the Word of Wisdom Way of Eating,” which is the way I prefer saying how I eat.) can to for people!

    I’m very confident that you will continue as I’ve been blessed by the Lord to be able to do, to experience the best health you each have ever had! I’m very sure the Lord will surely continue to bless both of you!

    Your Ardent Admirer, J. Neil Birch

  2. Thanks for sharing Susan. My favorite part was you praying over a new recipe that you would like the new food. That has never occurred to me. What a great attitude!

  3. Last year, In January of 2013, I was exposed to Forks Over Knives. My husband and I discussed the film and felt that the information made sense. We have been struggling however because he burns between 3500 and 5000 cal per day and we just don’t see how he can chew all of those without adding some meat and fat. We also have young children and don’t know what to substitute for the milk. Oh and I also really enjoyed the realization that we can pray about liking the food.

    • Hi Leah!

      This is absolutely doable for your husband! The key is whole grains: lots of whole wheat bread, steel cut oats, brown rice, along with potatoes and beans of all kinds. You could throw in some nuts, which are high in fat, but I would not go overboard. Get your calories from grains (Including corn and beans). This is what God has ordained to be the “staff of life,” or the bulk of our calories. God knows best what will fill us up and satisfy us, and He ordained grains for that purpose.

      You may also be interested in reading some articles I wrote recently on grains:


      Milk substitutes are super easy now because almost every grocery store carries a variety: rice, soy, almond, oats, hemp, etc. try them so and choose the one you like best. The more you use it, the more you will grow to like it.

      Best wishes. Let us know how it goes!

  4. I wonder about foods that are now largely genetically modified. Now that most all of our corn and soy products are GMO, I doubt they provide the regular nutrients and benefits like they did when they were closer to the way God created them. Do you recommend buying organic because that is the only way to know it isn’t GMO? Or what are your thoughts about this issue?

    • Hi Lina: Thanks for your thoughtful question! I thought I’d offer my opinion in case it is useful.

      If you can afford it, I don’t see any downside to buying non-GMO or organic. There do seem to be some advantages, though perhaps not as many as some people claim. I think we should be eating so many nutritious foods that the difference in nutritive value between organic and conventional does not make a difference for us health-wise.

      I feel some truths are more important than others. I personally feel the question of GMO is less important than WHOLE FOOD and PLANT-BASED food. People were getting sick on the standard American diet long before GMO’s. Likewise, there are lots of people who are getting well and healthy on this diet even if they continue to eat GMO foods. I encourage people to study GMO’s and related issues and decide what they feel is right, but to not get distracted from the main problems!

      I’ve written a bit more on this here: http://discoveringthewordofwisdom.com/wfpb-guidelines/ (search for the word “organic”).

  5. Thank you all for your positive comments! The support of so many readers living the WFPB way of eating is so motivating. Sharing success stories, ideas for tackling the challenges, Jane’s book, and other resources helps so much. 🙂

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