By: Wendy Hardy
Growing up, my family ate mostly whole foods with little junk food. We rarely had soda, cookies, or potato chips. We did have animal foods, but I hated to eat cheese, eggs, or milk. My health was very good overall. I spent a lot of time playing outside, jumping on the trampoline and riding my bike. I was physically active and involved in extracurricular activities such as softball and drill team.
The summer before I started 3rd grade I was bucked off of a horse and fractured my wrist. When I had the x-rays done the doctor said that my bones were brittle. I have a family history of low bone density on my mother’s side, and there are many family members on that side with a history of multiple fractures. However, I did not have any more incidents for many years.
When I received my patriarchal blessing as a young woman there were some things that really stood out to me. There are a few references to me receiving a healthy body. There was also instruction for me to “eat and drink only those things that ensure good health, and to abstain from all others.” I thought it was wonderful news that I had been given a healthy body. I didn’t really take the admonition too seriously though. I always enjoyed eating healthy food (although I didn’t really understand what things were healthy), but I didn’t abstain from any foods. I just didn’t have them very often (in my eyes).
As an adult, I’ve always been interested in health and diet. I love learning new things and if I feel like what I learn is beneficial then I will wholeheartedly adopt it into my life. Several years after starting our family I came across the book Nourishing Traditions. It teaches all about eating whole foods and taking time to prepare them for your family and how important that is. I read the book and a lot of it really resonated with me. There was great information about vegetables, grains, and beans. There was also a lot of information about dairy, meat, and eggs. It seemed to make sense to me.
After finding this information I started making changes in the way we were eating. We started using a lot of dairy products. After all, we are taught that dairy is important for bone health and our family had a history of bone density problems. In fact, some of my children have inherited this mutated gene for low bone density. Some of them have had multiple spinal compression fractures, so I wanted to make sure they were getting the best nutrition they could!
We started buying whole, raw milk (first cow and then goat), making kefir that we would make into smoothies every day, using a lot of butter and cream in cooking, and eating a lot of Greek yogurt (we bought it in bulk and had it all the time). We also used a lot of pastured organic eggs and chicken. We ordered a quarter of a beef that was organic and grass fed. We started eating a lot more beef. I also made bone broth regularly to use in cooking. We did this for a few years. I knew that we were not eating meat sparingly, but I didn’t think enough about it to make any changes to what we were doing.
During this time I fractured my pinky toe after walking into a closet door. When I went to the doctor and had the x-ray taken they told me that the borders of my bone were diffuse, that I didn’t have a lot of mineral and my bones were very thin. This had me worried. Shortly after that I became pregnant with our fifth child. My broken toe never fully healed the entire time I was pregnant. I limped around during the whole pregnancy. After I delivered our son my toe finally healed.
When our baby was about four months old I started getting back pain. I was 34 years old at the time. I wasn’t sure why it was hurting, but I had to be careful about the activities I participated in and how I moved. Some of the things that caused me pain were lifting a box of fruit, hopping off of a stool I had been standing on, and riding on a jet ski going over some waves.
One morning in November 2013 I bent over to get something out of a lower cupboard. I couldn’t quite reach it, so I bent over a little more. All of a sudden I heard and felt a loud pop in my back. It was an instant wave of intense pain and I collapsed on the floor. I could not get up without my husband’s assistance. He had to carefully walk behind me and take all of my weight. He got me to the couch (with a recliner) where I stayed for many days. After about a week and a half I was able to move very carefully. I was able to get an MRI done and found out that I had a burst vertebra, with many compressed vertebrae (which had happened over the course of the last several months). When I bent over I had actually burst the vertebra because there was so much weakness.
Between then and New Year’s Eve I had a few more fractures and felt completely helpless. I could not lift my infant son, and I could not do any normal activities. Just after Christmas I was unable to get off the couch again. I stayed there day and night and had to have help to do everything, including going to the bathroom. It was very humbling. I was totally reliant on my husband, children, and others.
On New Year’s Eve our compassionate service leader stopped by to bring dinner over and realized how bad the situation was. She arranged for me to get a priesthood blessing. Two brethren from our ward came over and gave me a powerful blessing. The Spirit was so strong in the room. The only thing I remember, besides the feeling of the Spirit, was that I was blessed to recover and heal, and that I would be able to again take care of my family. Little did I know how much I would rely on this blessing through the coming months. It was definitely fulfilled, but so much slower than I imagined. I really didn’t realize how much healing I needed and how much I had to learn before I could heal.
I was able to move from the couch to the bed. This is where I stayed for months. My sweet mother came to stay with us for the better part of five months. At first she was there full time. After a few weeks she started going home on the weekends. After a few months she would come for several days during the week and by the time school got out at the end of May I was able to do a little bit on my own (get out of bed myself and use a walker), and she didn’t need to come as much. I used a walker for many months to get around.
I had a DEXA scan done in January 2014. The lower the T-score score, the worse the bone density is, with 0 being normal and healthy, -1.0 to -2.5 is considered osteopenia, and -2.5 or lower is considered osteoporosis. My bone density was terrible. The total T-score for my spine (L1-L4) was -3.91. The total T-score for my hips was -2.43. I had also lost 2 ½ inches in height.
This deterioration of my bones happened in a few short years. A previous DEXA scan in 2010 indicated that my bone density was a little low, but not too bad. I feel like it really decreased during the time we were eating a lot of animal products. The only thing doctors could offer to do was have me take a prescription for osteoporosis. I declined to take anything. I had read about all the bad side effects. I had also seen some of those bad side effects in some of my family members.
I had so much help from my ward members and family during this time. They brought meals, cleaned my house, took my kids to school, watched them while my mom took me to appointments, and invited them to come play. It was amazing!
I also had a few people who were inspired to come talk with me and share information that was helpful. One of my neighbors, Cynthia Sumner, came over to share with me about a plant-based diet. She encouraged eating a lot of salads and incorporating more plants in my diet. I was so resistant to a plant-based diet at first. I had so much faith in the information I had learned earlier about using organic, grass-fed, raw, and pastured animal products. She also had me start using some herbal products that really helped with the pain I had.
I did so much research during this time when I was flat in bed. I eventually came to the conclusion that a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet would be beneficial. I couldn’t find a lot of information about osteoporosis and a plant-based diet, but what I did find looked promising. I also read the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. After reading that book I was convinced. I immediately ditched all animal products. This was in November 2014, about a year after my burst vertebra. Other helpful resources I found were the documentary Forks Over Knives and the website drmcdougall.com.
At first it was a little difficult to figure out what to eat. The thing that was the hardest to give up was cheese. I craved it for about a month and then I no longer thought about it. After finding some recipes that our family enjoyed it became so much easier. I no longer even think about it. I love my food!
After a week or so of eating this way my bone pain started diminishing. It was a miracle. I slowly started healing and improving little by little. It was a slow but steady improvement. Soon I no longer needed to use the walker. I kept getting stronger and stronger. I remember how excited I was when I was able to lay down on my side or stomach, take a shower by myself, and carry things. Little milestones were so exciting!
Then I was able to start doing some weight bearing exercise. At first it was doing lunges with the aid of my walker. Then, I was able to do some other exercises with just my body weight. Over time I started adding weights. I now do weight bearing exercise regularly (at least three times a week) to help build my bone. I am also able to do things I never thought possible such as digging with a shovel out in my yard and carrying in loads of groceries. I feel like my diet keeps me from losing bone and the exercise helps to build bone.
I have had several DEXA scans over the last few years which document my improvement in bone density. The DEXA scan I had in September 2015 was not good. It showed my spine was a T-score of -5.3 and my hips were -2.4 and -2.5. I was so disappointed because I had been eating plant based for almost a year. I attribute the decrease to my inactivity and to my diet before I changed to a plant based diet. I was doing so much better as far as getting around, but was not back to where I was before getting fractures.
In September of 2016 I had another DEXA scan. I had improvement and I was so excited! My T-score for my spine was -4.6. My right hip was -2.0 and my left hip was -2.2. The most recent DEXA scan was in October of 2017. I had even more improvement! My spine was -3.6 and both of my hips were -1.5. My wrists are still quite low in bone density (-6.4 and -5.2), and I plan on incorporating more weight bearing exercise for them.
I am always refining my diet as well. After about six months of eliminating animal products I also eliminated oil. I have also decided to not eat sugar or flour, and I rarely eat salt, only in condiments occasionally. I have simplified how I eat as well. I am perfectly happy eating a sweet potato, steamed broccoli, and a salad. I love whole natural plant foods and I feel so good now that I eat this way.
I know I was led to do these things by the Spirit. Thinking back to my patriarchal blessing, I knew that food was key to my health. At first, I was so confused about being told that I had a healthy body, because I was obviously not in good health. But then I realized that I did not understand what foods were actually healthy. As I learned more, I then knew what foods my body needed to heal and to thrive. I was told to abstain from anything that did not ensure good health. I now do that!
I also turned to the Word of Wisdom. I read and studied it. I also searched online to see if there was any other information that someone else had shared about it. I came across Jane Birch’s book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. After reading some of her book I realized that the Word of Wisdom never mentions dairy. I decided that I would only eat the things that it endorses: fruits, vegetables, and grains. It is so nice to know that the Lord knows what is best for us and our bodies. He has given us the guidance to have our best health.
Besides improving my bone health I have received many other blessings. My skin looks so much better than it did before. It is more clear, and I don’t get bumps (keratosis pilaris) on my arms anymore. My keratosis pilaris was so bad before, and it cleared right up. I have more energy. I think more clearly. I feel lighter after eating, and I weigh about fourteen pounds less than my previous low.
I cook WFPB meals for my family, and they are happy to eat the food I make for them. They do eat other food when they are not at home, but they eat mostly this way. I know that it has blessed their lives as well. My children that have low bone density have had minimal problems, and I am so grateful for that. I am so grateful that I am able to teach them how to live healthfully and to have the Spirit more abundantly in their lives as they live closer to the Word of Wisdom.
I know that many people interpret the Word of Wisdom in different ways, but I feel like I am living the Word of Wisdom the closest I ever have and am enjoying the blessings of it. I feel like I have more compassion as well, for others and for animals. I am receiving health in my navel, marrow in my bones, and great treasures of knowledge. I am able to run without being weary and walk and not faint. I really feel like the destroying angel has passed by me. I hate to think where I would be if I had not made the changes I did.
Wendy Hardy is 38 years old and lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah with her amazing husband and five beautiful children. She is a dental hygienist, but is able to stay at home to take care of her family. She loves learning about health, doing yard work and gardening, doing family history work, and spending time with her family.