Updated: May 30, 2020
Over the past several months I have received several requests from family and friends for a list of resources that have informed mine and my husband’s decision to transition our family to a plant-based diet. I hope this list will aid anyone who is seeking better health and trying to find the best way to take care of their body.
Before presenting those resources I would like to give a brief history of my own health and why I sought out a different way of eating than the standard Western diet.
There are typically three reasons that someone will adopt a plant-based diet: for their health, for the planet (climate change), and/or animal welfare. For me there has been a fourth reason: religious, which has over time turned into a deeply spiritual purpose (but more on that another time).
My challenges began at the age of 13 when I started to put on weight. Although my mom had studied nutrition in college and was a wonderful resource and support to me, my struggle in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight would continue through the remainder of my teenage years. Despite being young, my observations of other family members who struggled with their weight and similar health issues was a great motivating factor in establishing healthy patterns of living and learning to take care of my body.
My devotion to health and my effort to eat in a healthy manor was valiant, but the results did not match, leaving me, and at times my parents, perplexed and confused. As a result I began to believe that my body was unable of achieving a healthy weight. Although I did notice a positive difference in the way that I felt when eating wholesome, healthy foods, eating became a daily ritual largely centered on self-denial and self-deprivation, not to be thin, but to avoid becoming more overweight.
Then I began having children.
Each of my pregnancies began the same: with a commitment to healthy eating for my baby and to stay within the recommended weight gain range.
Each of my pregnancies ended the same: with a confusion as to what I did wrong and how my eating habits could have resulted in so much excessive weight gain.
My second pregnancy with my son was especially difficult as I struggled with wide fluctuations in my post-meal glucose levels, the excessive accumulation of amniotic fluid, excessive weight gain, and a very large baby. I received diabetic counseling with a registered dietitian, but after looking over my food journal and reviewing my eating habits she was just as perplexed as I was and commented that I not only ate healthier than any patient she had ever worked with, but that I ate healthier than she did.
After my son was born I was advised to lose weight and change my lifestyle habits to avoid becoming diabetic. I was also diagnosed with PCOS.
I was confused. My only beverage of choice was water. I did eat treats, but not on a daily basis. I avoided sugary cereals, chips, crackers, and most prepackaged foods. I typically ate a large salad for lunch with some type of animal protein, and was careful to not drench it in salad dressing. I predominately ate whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, and thought my dinners (which were typically made from scratch) were a healthy balance of all of the food groups, including meat and dairy.
Not knowing where else to turn, I decided to read the Word of Wisdom, a law of health given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although cultural practice of the principles found therein centers on abstaining from the don'ts (alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea) there is an incredible list of dos that is unfortunately largely ignored.
As I read over the words, I paused and wondered what was meant by the recommendation to use meat "sparingly" and that it pleased God to not use meat except "in times of winter, cold, and famine."
I decided that I wanted to try a vegetarian diet, however I was met with resistance by family and lacked a supportive community and the scientific research to support this diet as a means of reversing my health challenges and maintaining a healthy weight. I also faced the challenge of not really knowing how to cook without meat in a way that was filling and satisfying, and so my constant hunger made me think that my body needed meat and that a vegetarian lifestyle was great for lean individuals who lacked a big appetite.
I did, however, commit to eating meat less and over the next several years slowly decreased the amount of meat in our diet to make it a more "sparingly" component. I also began to research diet and to make changes in where our food came from (buying local and organic when possible) and how we ate (not eating late at night).
There is so much more to this story, including a short lived experiment with both KETO and Paleo diets following my diagnosis with Hashimoto's, but the place I want to take you next is my pregnancy with Rose last year.
I finally believed that I had the answer to my challenges regarding excessive weight gain during pregnancy and this time was the time I was going to get it right. I needed to eat a low carb diet and keep my insulin levels low.
I was highly discipled, not just to avoid gaining weight, but because I was determined to do everything I could to ensure this pregnancy ended with a live birth. Because we had no answers as to why our two daughters were stillborn in 2017, I wanted to minimize any complications and give this baby and my body the best chance of success.
Unfortunately I failed my one hour glucose test so miserably that they didn't even bother to have me take the three hour test. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 28 weeks and I cried, feeling like a failure, not just in this pregnancy, but in my nearly twenty year pursuit to avoid my family history of diabetes. Now here I was administering daily insulin shots and, as in previous pregnancies, testing my blood sugars after every meal.
The glucose numbers that I collected and presented to my doctor were always met with praise. Despite the discouragement I felt, I thought I was doing an excellent job. I ate low glycemic index fruits and vegetables, religiously abstained from all types of sugar including maple syrup and honey, limited my starches, ate lean protein, and included a generous amount of healthy fats in my diet--which I had learned was essential because it did not impact blood sugar levels.
Thankfully my pregnancy with Rose was a success, something I tried to keep in the forefront of my mind as I came home from the hospital and stood on the scale. However, there was little that could soften the blow of discovering that I was the heaviest I had ever been post-delivery. I tried not to cry and to tell myself that I had done an amazing job, but ultimately feelings of failure weighted heavily on my mind and I felt lost because I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I spent the next two months waiting for my body to relinquish some of the weight, as it had after my previous deliveries, but as Rose crossed the two month milestone I faced another unpleasant reality: the scale hadn't budged, not even by a pound.
In addition to my lack of weight loss my thyroid was giving me a lot of problems, I was waking up with swollen hands and feet, and my joints, especially in my hands, ached.
The Word of Wisdom promises blessings of health and energy to those who abide by its principles. For nearly a decade I had tried to live by its teachings, for nearly two decades I had made it a priority to eat healthy, exercise, and educate myself on the subject of nutrition. I wondered what was possibly keeping me from receiving the promised blessings of health found therein, and so I once again opened my scriptures and reread the passages.
A thyroid doctor’s recommendation nearly two years ago to try a vegan diet came to mind as I reread the words “nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”
I looked outside my window on a sunny, summery day and thought “it’s not winter, it’s not cold, and we are not experiencing a famine. I guess I will try to not eat meat for a three month period of time and see if my health improves.”
That moment changed everything.
I immediately started losing weight and lost a total of 40 pounds in an eight month period of time, while still eating a generous amount of food to support my desire to exclusively breastfeed my daughter.
Left: 2 months post delivery. Right: 9 months post delivery.
The swelling in my hands and feet has completely vanished. My joints no longer hurt. I have more energy and my thyroid symptoms have mostly subsided. My doctor decreased my thyroid medication. My TSH, T4 and T3 have all improved. My antibodies continue to decline. My cholesterol has dropped. My A1c has improved to an astonishing 4.6. And more than anything else, my mental health has improved dramatically (something I plan to discuss in a future post as well).
My physical stamina has improved dramatically. I love feeling light on my feet, I love the ability to attend a fitness class without feeling like I am going to die, and I love not needing an afternoon nap every day after lunch. It's amazing!
One of the other amazing changes has been the ability to eat until I am full, to feel satisfied after my meal (rather than still feeling hungry), and to not be hungry for hours! This is a first in my life!
Once I made the decision to try a vegan diet, resources began to surface. I dove head first into consuming anything and everything I could. No pun intended, but I literally devoured the feast of information before me with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and truth.
I think back to nearly a decade ago, to when I first turned to the Word of Wisdom and desired to try a vegetarian diet. My instincts were correct, the promptings from the spirit were real and true, but I let cultural traditions and the wisdom of men get in the way of trusting God and his wisdom in how I should eat, a way that made me more sick and exacerbated my problems. Trusting Him has made all the difference and helped me discern truth from error as I have looked more closely at the science of nutrition and sought learning "by study and also by faith."
Because my journey for health is intertwined in my religious beliefs, you will find lots of religious resources in here, particularly scriptures and quotes from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know that we are advised to not take everything that is said by a General Authority as doctrine, but I have found their insights to be of interest and consideration.
Over the past few months my understanding and gratitude of the Word of Wisdom has increased tremendously. I’ve seen these changes bless my life, my husband's life, our children’s lives, my parents' lives, and many of our friend’s lives as well. It is my belief that the Word of Wisdom extends far beyond the cultural adherence to simply abstain from "strong drinks" and "tobacco" and that as we adhere to it more fully we will experience the promised blessings to a greater extent in our lives.
Now, finally, here are my resources. Let me just say that there is more out there than what is contained on this list and I will add to this as I continue to learn.
1. Plant-based doctors that I follow (many of whom did not start off as plant-based doctors, but now have years, some decades, of experience in reversing chronic disease in their patients). I especially love watching their interviews or other videos on YouTube.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell (he is not a physician, but has decades of experience and has conducted hundreds of studies documenting the correlation between diet and disease)
Dr. John McDougall (In my opinion, his dietary recommendations most closely follow the Word of Wisdom, and are what I have primarily used for our family. His dietary recommendations have been coined the “Daniel Diet” by many.)
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
Dr. Neil Barnard
Dr. Garth Davis
Dr. Dean Ornish
Dr. Michael Greger
Dr. Joel Fuhrman
Dr. Pamela Popper
Dr. Michael Klaper
Dr. Doug Lisle (a weight loss expert)
2. Documentaries (Start with either Forks over Knives or The Game Changers)
The Game Changers (I recommend watching this one before you show it to your children. My children have seen selections from this film, but not the whole thing).
What the Health
Discovering the Word of Wisdom Stories from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Prepare Ye by Ezra Taft Benson
Finally, here is an incredible interview with an amazing heart surgeon from Loma Linda, California (he is a Seventh Day Adventist). He retired at the age of 95 and passed away two years ago at the age of 104.
4. Books (The Starch Solution and The China Study are always where I recommend people begin). My favorite book is How Not to Diet.
The Starch Solution, Dr. John McDougall
The China Study, Dr. T. Collin Campbell
Disease Proof Your Child, Dr. Joel Fuhrman
Eat to Live, Dr. Joel Fuhrman
How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
Proteinaholic, Dr. Garth Davis
How Not To Die, Dr. Michael Greger
How Not To Diet, Dr. Michael Greger
Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective, Jane Birch
Mastering Diabetes: The Revolutionary Method to Reverse Insulin Resistance Permanently in Type 1, Type 1.5, Type 2, Prediabetes, and Gestational Diabetes, Cyrus Khambatta and Robby Barbaro, MPH
29 ¶ And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
Man is accountable for shedding the blood of animals and of men. God establishes with Noah and his sons the same covenant He made with Enoch.
10 But, the blood of all flesh which I have given you for meat, shall be shed upon the ground, which taketh life thereof, and the blood ye shall not eat.
11 And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.
8 ¶ But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
10 And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.
11 Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
12 Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.
13 Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.
14 So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.
15 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.
16 Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
1 A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion—
4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.
6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.
7 And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.