Heaven and Health: A Dietary Journey

Pepperoni pizza

“We ordered five Little Caesar’s pizzas for you guys, and we need you to help us finish all of it! Two slices for you?” 

Somewhat apologetically but firmly, I respond, “No, thank you, I’ll pass. I brought my own snacks.” 

I wasn’t always so confident. My health journey has taken me a long way, and it continues today.

High school: roots

I think it all started when I had food poisoning from chicken twice in one week in high school (a pretty funny story for another day.) Then it happened a few more times before I left on my mission.

Mission: Going meatless?

I was enchanted with my mission, the people, Texas, the Spanish language, and Latino culture. However, I learned to resent the food situation.

While I recognized good flavor and appreciated the love and service of those we visited, I left practically every dinner appointment feeling terribly ill. Between the oiliness, spiciness, and mere quantity of food, every day became painful.

Finally, toward the end of my mission, my stomach pains worsened and began to noticeably affect my work. I contacted my mission nurse. After a consultation, she suggested I go off meat for a couple weeks and see if it helped.

I felt awful when I told the members. I could see the concern in their eyes when I told them I needed to avoid meat. They were Hispanics living in Texas, two very meat-centric cultures; I knew most of them didn’t know what they could make for the missionaries without meat!

Oddly enough, eating vegetarian helped. Even though there were occasions when I couldn’t avoid meat entirely, having the ability to tell those around me that I medically needed to cut back on meat gave me the power to come closer to giving my body what it needed.

Overall, avoiding meat as much as possible helped me feel more normal and complete my missionary work.

Home: Worth the… weight?

Coming home was a tough part of my health journey. I finally had control of what I ate all the time, but I was still suffering from a year and a half of bad eating.

One of the hardest things was trying to fit into any clothes, especially pants. I knew I had gained quite a bit of weight on my mission, but I had pretty successfully pushed weight concerns aside for eighteen months.

But when I tried pulling my old pants on and they barely made it over my knees, it started to hit me that I had lost my body. No matter, I tried to tell myself, I’ll just wear my biggest and stretchiest pants. When those were also a no-go, I finally broke down and cried. 

My sweet mother jumped to the rescue and bought me two new pairs of jeans that fit. With somewhat renewed confidence, I resumed college on Monday. 

I reveled in the new control over my diet, but I still felt sick quite often and so uncomfortable with my body.

Coming to my rescue again, my mom got me in for an initial evaluation and consultation with her personal trainer. After taking a lot of measurements, he prescribed a personalized macros diet to me and a few workout routines to alternate between.

The diet required quite a bit of protein, but I could mostly get by with Greek yogurt, eggs, protein powder, and protein bars (when I could afford them). 

Overall, I felt pretty good on this diet!! I could eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I avoided most fatty foods. I loved having smaller, more frequent meals; I’d always preferred having small meals and snacking throughout the day.

Between the diet and exercise, I lost about 75% of the weight I’d gained on my mission, and I think the rest of the fat I replaced with muscle.

Three months after returning home, I felt confident in jeans, and was nearly a pre-mission pant size. (This was my Sam Sparks Halloween costume, taken the night I first talked to my husband!)

Although it helped for a time, going vegetarian and tracking my macros wasn’t a perfect, forever answer.

After just two or three months, I identified that eating so many protein bars and shakes became tough on my body, so I let them go. (It was also beyond my poor college student budget.) I gradually stopped tracking my macros, started eating a little meat, and began to deviate to other workout routines.

The last straw: Learning to say no

When I got in to see a doctor, what I had already guessed was confirmed: I had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). I know, it sounds like a bad joke. The best solution is to just avoid foods that upset my stomach. 

This was just the final straw in committing to doing what I needed to do: 

Say no to food my body doesn’t want.

I learned to take control of my health. I learned to trust what my body wants and especially what it doesn’t. I learned to take note of foods that didn’t sit well with me, find patterns, and avoid common ingredients. 

Now, I’m sure a lot of people think of me as just a very picky eater. I won’t eat anything too cheesy, too meaty, too fried, or too oily. I’ll stop eating something if I detect that it’s not making my body happy. That has even meant turning down food that were once favorites. (It’s nothing personal, Chick-fil-a.) But the happiness I’ve gained by treating my body well is worth much more than the pain of poisoning myself.

Heaven and health: Godly guidance

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

1 Corinthians 6:19

I’ve tried to involve the Lord in my health journey, too. I was inspired to do this:

Read the Word of Wisdom and pray about how to include it in your life. 

He created you in His image. Your body is a precious gift. The Lord is concerned about your health and wants you to treat your body with respect. 

Back when I decided to avoid meat, I read the Word of Wisdom, and I felt that it was something the Lord was pleased with. Now, rather than avoid meat entirely, I feel that the Lord wants me to instead focus on eating fresh foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Most members of the Church are pretty good at following the most restrictive parts in the Word of Wisdom. As identified in Doctrine & Covenants 89 and clarified in For the Strength of Youth, members are to avoid coffee, tea, alcohol, smoking, and other illegal and addictive drugs.

However, I think we could collectively do more to follow the counsel to: “eat nutritious food, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Practice balance and moderation in all aspects of your physical health. Also, avoid extremes in diet…” For the Strength of Youth, “Physical and Emotional Health”

I’m still learning how to do this. (Pregnancy has made my health a new beast to conquer every other month.) But I know the Lord is eager to help us achieve health in every situation and stage of life.

My new favorite kind of pizza (if that’s what you can call it!). Pro tip: a quick trip to Israel might do wonders for resetting your palette and healing your gut! It did for me!

I invite you to evaluate your health. As you do so, pray for the Lord to advise you. Seek guidance in Doctrine & Covenants 89 and For the Strength of Youth, “Physical and Emotional Health”.

You might be guided to a specific diet, such as vegetarianism, veganism, or paleoism. You might be asked to include a specific food into your diet, such as grains or fruits, or to exclude a specific food from your diet. Or you might feel guided to a general practice of moderation in your diet.

I’m confident that, whatever direction to which He leads you, if you ask Him, God will grant you power to take control of your health and ability to listen to your body. I testify that these promises are true:

“When you are obedient to this law, you remain free from harmful addictions and have control over your life. You gain the blessings of a healthy body, an alert mind, and the guidance of the Holy Ghost. You will be prepared to serve the Lord.”

For the Strength of Youth, “Physical and Emotional Health”

What do you think?

How have you felt the Lord lead you to health? How do you think the Lord wants you to eat and treat your body?

One thought on “Heaven and Health: A Dietary Journey

  1. I totally agree that as a society we need to change our health habits. It’s absolutely ridiculous how many health problems we have, of which (in my opinion) many could be solved if we increased our fruit, vegetable, and water intake!! Just the real, pure basics that our bodies need. It’s interesting that those who eat healthy are the “weird” excluded ones from society. Although I haven’t had any dramatic health issues, I’ve recently changed my diet due to postpartum weight gain and other minor health issues. I have dramatically increased my vegetable, fruit, and protein and decreased my carbs. The results are astounding. So many little health things I’ve had disappeared over night. Now to be real- I am definitely a sucker for French fries and ice cream- but I think sometimes we’ve made the exceptions the daily habit. If we want to change the way society eats I think it starts with us individuals and as families:)

    Like

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