At the age of 36, shortly after moving with my husband’s job transfer from southern California to Houston, Texas, I began experiencing bloody diarrhea and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I was given a drug to take but not any dietary advice other than if a food upset my system, to avoid eating it. Soon all my symptoms disappeared, and I was glad to put that experience in my past and not think about it.
I had grown up in west Texas eating fried chicken, fried potatoes, fried okra, bologna and Miracle Whip sandwiches on white bread, Pop Tarts, and all the other things we kids in the ’60’s and ’70’s ate. Missionaries brought the gospel to my family when I was 10, and my parents immediately stopped smoking, drinking tea, coffee, and beer, and we became devoted members of the Church.
Attending BYU in 1976 was a dream come true for me, and I discovered a whole new cuisine which seemed to consist of casseroles made with cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup, dainty crescent rolls made with an incredible amount of margarine, and of course Jell-O! My husband Craig, from southern California, and I were married in 1980. He had definite likes and dislikes in food choices, and of course I wanted to please him, so most of our dinners were a variation on ground beef: spaghetti, tacos, beef stroganoff over rice, chili, etc. Of course we didn’t know much about nutrition beyond making sure to eat enough protein. We definitely did that.
My husband was transferred a couple of times with work and each time we moved, I experienced a flare of ulcerative colitis, but with treatment I would get well, then go for years without symptoms.
After our four children were grown, Craig and I had the privilege of serving a mission in the same place he had served as a young man: Hong Kong. I had never worked outside our home so serving in the busy office of the Asia Area presidency was a challenge, but it was rewarding, and the time we spent with the other couples in the office was wonderful. However, I began having symptoms of ulcerative colitis again.
I just knew because we were busy serving the Lord that the flare would stop as it had before, but my symptoms worsened. I lost an alarming amount of weight, so more and aggressive drugs were prescribed, and I finally had to be hospitalized. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and after a week of blood transfusions and immunosuppressant drugs including steroids, I had to be sent home. Craig and I were heartbroken.
We arrived home from Hong Kong in 2011. I began researching Crohn’s disease by using Google Scholar. I learned that food could be used as medicine for healing inflammation. I found a book by a nutritional biochemist, James Scala, PhD, which was originally published in 1990. The New Eating Right for a Bad Gut presented logical reasoning for how the gut operates and heals and was a springboard for me to learn about the healthiest ways for me to eat. The author’s advice was to avoid most animal products, which further inflame the gut, and instead eat unrefined, whole foods with little oil or fat. While he did include fish and nonfat dairy products in his diet, he claimed carbohydrates are the best fuel for the body. He backed up every point with medical studies and charts. It wasn’t hard to note the correlation between the advice he (and other experts) offered and the guidelines in our Doctrine and Covenants. I became more interested in how the advice of noted physicians and nutritionists often echoed what had been given to us as a Church back in 1833!
Around that time my husband happened to be chatting with a kind man in another ward, Alan, who was trim and fit in his 60’s, so he asked Alan what his secret was. Alan had been overweight and suffered a mild stroke a number of years ago. The experience really scared him and his wife so they determined to eat healthier. They discovered The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and immediately began implementing the guidelines in that book. My husband gave me the book for Christmas 2012 so I also read and incorporated the advice in my diet as well, specifically avoiding chicken, eggs, pork, and beef, and trying to eat more raw and cooked vegetables. I tried to substitute fresh fruits and nuts for desserts, though I have to admit there were tempting cakes, pies, and cookies I partook of at events and gatherings.
Even though I was eating fairly healthy, at my annual physical early in 2015 my blood test results revealed that I had elevated blood glucose levels. Although I was not technically overweight (according to the BMI charts) I did weigh about 15 pounds over what I weighed when I was married. I hadn’t thought that was much to be concerned about, but my cholesterol was high and the threat of having to deal with “pre-diabetes” and the predictable road that would take me down scared me.
My husband was training to accompany a Scout troop to Philmont, so he encouraged me to walk/jog with him three miles a day. I had always been fairly active with walking our dog, bicycling, taking aerobic and yoga classes, and finding ways to keep from being too sedentary, but joining him moved me to the next level. In addition, I tracked my calories daily and gradually learned to be careful about the amount of food I ate.
I was already used to avoiding almost all meat and animal fat and eating mostly vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, but I was sneaking in cookies and other treats just often enough to stay on track! Realizing that I had to stay away from processed foods, which had added fat and harmful additives, I used recipes from The China Study Cookbook and from Dr. John McDougall. I also cut way back on the number of treats/desserts I ate.
I was blessed to successfully lower my blood sugar to normal levels and lose that extra 15 pounds by about a pound a week (though for the first two weeks I did not lose weight and almost gave up!). At my six month checkup on October 1, 2015, my doctor declared that I was a highly motivated patient and that my diabetes issue was now resolved! That was a triumph for me.
I have been incredibly blessed with a gradual return to health and have finally been able to stop all drugs but one, which I take for the peace of mind knowing I am doing all I can to keep this disease at bay. I have not had one Crohn’s flare in the four years since we came home from Hong Kong and even my gastroenterologist is amazed. This doctor firmly insists that there is no connection to food with Crohn’s disease, and I can eat whatever does not cause symptoms, but I know that eating whole foods, plant based is my way of assuring that I remain healthy.
I believe it is respectful to take care of the gift of this body Heavenly Father has given me, especially with experiencing healing from what might have been a devastating disease. I am so grateful for the peace that good health has given me. I acknowledge that some people are called on to suffer health problems as a trial, but I also think some people’s food choices create avoidable health problems. I have to acknowledge, though, that even after all of the choices I have made with eating healthy, I believe the Lord has blessed me and made up the difference in my efforts to eat well and has healed me. It’s not simply by eating better that I have regained my health: it is a miracle, albeit quiet and gradual.
As I have become more sensitive to scriptures which address eating and food, such as Moses 2:29, in addition to Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, I realize that good health can be one of the hidden treasures from God.
Tussy Norman is 57 years old. She met her husband, Craig, at BYU, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in interior design. After living in all four time zones in the continental United States, she and her husband put down roots in a suburb southeast of Houston, Texas called Kemah, near Galveston Bay. They have three sons, a daughter and son-in-law and are excited about taking their five-year old grandson tent camping, an activity they enjoy. They also enjoy hiking and exploring parts of Texas and the southwest they haven’t been to yet. Tussy also enjoys walks with her neighbors and their dogs. She likes to read, especially biographies and historical fiction. She also loves providing a great program for the Cub Scouts in their ward.