In 1989, I was 50 pounds overweight (it could have been much more, but because my genes are good, it was “only” 50 pounds). I had gotten divorced a year earlier. I was depressed and struggling to care for my large family. We relied heavily on government help to buy food and ate a pretty “standard” diet. I’d been exposed to some herbal and alternative health experts in my teens, so I knew, for example, that sugar wasn’t good for me or the kids, but it seemed too hard to avoid, so as a single mother, I just didn’t try. I had numerous health problems, though I was only 31 years old, including not being able to sleep because I woke up several times a night to take antacids. I also had gall bladder problems and allergies.
By June of 1989, things had gotten pretty desperate for me, and my bishop decided I needed a break before I broke. He arranged for my children’s father and new wife to care for the kids while I took a bus to my parent’s home 350 miles away. On the bus, I read a book about co-dependency which suggested that if I identified with the book (I did) I was probably a drug addict, an alcoholic, or a compulsive overeater. I was active in the Church and had never used either drugs or alcohol, but I had to take an honest look at my food. I came home and joined a 12 Step group for my problem and realized that my main addictive foods included meat and dairy. I gave up meat then, but I struggled for another 15 years before I could face the idea of giving up dairy, and then only because my compulsive eating was again out of control, and it was absolutely clear that the only foods that were really serious problems for me were dairy-based.
That was in 2004, and I haven’t eaten any animal foods since. I lost the 50 pounds, and my health problems mostly disappeared. That was the end of my indigestion and gall bladder troubles. Today, at 55, I am healthier than I was during most of my 20’s and 30’s.
I hadn’t realized how addictive dairy and meat could be until I completely gave them up. I had dabbled in the raw food lifestyle for a couple of years before meeting my husband (we married in 2008). He had studied the Word of Wisdom deeply and was even more committed to it than me! My husband has a degree in nutrition, and he showed me that the casein in cow’s milk is addictive to our brain and physiology in similar ways to opiate drugs. No wonder cheese is often the last thing for vegans to give up! Casein is much more concentrated in cheese!
With my increased health I have learned to enjoy activities that require a healthy body such as hiking and swimming, but my favorite activity is finding and adapting whole foods to create beautiful and delicious dishes. Because of my eating disorder, I have always been interested in cooking, and have spent much of my energy in the last nine years finding ways to make my whole food diet really enjoyable. We enjoy foods from many cultures, including Ethiopia, Kenya, India, and Morocco, just to name a few.
The Word of Wisdom is a powerful gift if we are willing to really study and apply it. Application is the critical part, and just like all gospel principles, if it is not applied, it cannot bless us. Of course, the physical benefits of keeping the Word of Wisdom are just one part of the blessing. The spiritual blessings are the other part, and these can be even more significant.
My physical recovery is far easier to identify and share because the spiritual side of keeping the Word of Wisdom has been very personal, intense, and so big it is hard to explain. Due to the abuse in my childhood home and in my first marriage, I struggled with many emotional and spiritual wounds. It was as I kept the Word of Wisdom, giving up my addiction as a way of handling my feelings, that I began to experience the true grace of Jesus Christ. Over the years, the spiritual blessings have flowed in as I became willing to do the will of the Lord, including His injunction that it is “pleasing unto me” to avoid the use of animal flesh. I have learned to feel the Savior’s love for me as I allowed my body to become more purified of the excesses, and that love has transferred into love for others, including the creatures that are here to share our mortal existence.
Additionally, I have seen literal fulfillment of the promises of wisdom and hidden treasures of knowledge. Not only do I function better mentally, I am able to feel more of the Spirit as I study the gospel, and have been amazed at how the scriptures and the gospel are open to my understanding. Of course, the promises of health are verified, and as I see others my age suffering from various health issues, and even dying from chronic disease, I am awed at how the “destroying angel” has passed me by again and again.
My husband was counseled in his patriarchal blessing to study and understand the Word of Wisdom, and he has been blessed with the ability to be mentally “on top of his game” by obedience to these principles. At 55, he is very alert. He is able to develop a wide and deep knowledge of almost every area he chooses to put his effort into, including using plants to restore health. He has witnessed healing of paralysis of many years, broken backs, and many other traumas and illnesses through the use of the medicinal plants that have been given to us. It is clear that although poor health is the “norm” for people in our age group and sometimes even younger, it is not necessary.
Both of us are deeply grateful to our Heavenly Father for the blessings of the Word of Wisdom. I have become aware that He does not want us to suffer unnecessarily from illness and pain in this life, though sometimes we do. He has given us the Word of Wisdom so that we can experience the best possible physical health as we travel this mortal existence as another of the evidences of His love for us.
Winona Davies is 55 years old, with 10 children, 9 living. She is a licensed Mental Health Counselor and is currently working on becoming a Master Herbalist. She lives in St. George, Utah where she enjoys her garden, fruit trees, and creating delicious and healthy dishes for her very appreciative husband.
Winona Davies was interviewed on this episode of Mormon Vegetarian.