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This article is part of a series on the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Discovering the Word of Wisdom.

The 10-day jumpstart begins January 1: I’m sponsoring a free 10-day whole food, plant-based jumpstart. Everyone is welcome to join. See Join the 10-Day January Jumpstart.

Fresh Starts

We belong to a religion that believes in fresh starts. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it best:

Every day ought to be the start of a new year and a new life. Such is the wonder of faith, repentance, and the miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.[1]

If every day can be the start of a new year, the new year is a double fresh start for all of us. Making improvements to our diet is one of the best ways to enjoy a fresh start. No matter where we are with how we eat, there are always more blessings in store as we continue to improve. In today’s article, I’d like to recommend a key to success in the new year.

Key to Success: A Change in Identity

When we are baptized, we do more than make a commitment to God. We are reborn. We adopt a new identity. We take on ourselves the name of Christ and covenant that we will keep His commandments.

It seems the more explicit God’s commandments are, the easier it can be to keep them. As addictive as alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea can be, new converts routinely give them up before entering the waters of baptism. They’ve adopted a new life and know that these substances simply have no place in their new life. My friend and neighbor Diana Mahony expressed this well in her story of conversion to the Church:

When I was young, we lived in Cleveland where the winters were cold and humid. We’d get chilled to the bone, so I started drinking coffee very early in life. The adults didn’t see anything wrong with it. My grandmother added a little whiskey to my coffee so I wouldn’t catch cold going to school. Later, she gave me warm milk with a little whiskey to treat cramps. By the time I was a teenager, I consumed coffee regularly every day. I was a diligent and ambitious student and felt coffee was needed to get me through studying late hours.

But when I was 17, my junior year in high school, I went to an LDS cottage meeting that was missionary-oriented. They discussed the apostasy and the Restoration and Joseph Smith’s First Vision and some converts bore their testimonies. I heard that, and I immediately said, “Yeah, that is true.” It was so obvious to me. It rang like a bell. I never fasted, or studied, or prayed about it. I heard it and just felt, “Yeah, that is right.” That is just the way it was.

I went home and told my family I was going to join the Mormons, and they didn’t think anything of it. They thought it was just a passing thing. But the next morning at breakfast, I passed up the coffee. I said, “Mormons don’t drink coffee, so I’m not going to drink the coffee.” I never drank coffee or alcohol again. I had no desire. The decision was made. I loved coffee, but I wanted to be a Mormon, and Mormons didn’t drink coffee, so I didn’t drink coffee. Period. That was it. I didn’t have withdrawals. I was so excited about hearing the gospel, I could have given up breathing. It was like shedding a skin. Does a butterfly miss being a caterpillar? [2]

Diana embraced her new identity. She wanted to be a Mormon and “Mormons didn’t drink coffee,” so she didn’t drink coffee. “Period. That was it.”

Making a significant change in our lives can be hard, but these changes are much easier when they are integrated into the rest of our lives and deeply connected with our values and life purpose. Adopting a new identity makes change easier because the changes are grounded in the new way we view ourselves and our place in the world. It also helps others to view us differently and to know how to support us. Adopting a new food identity can make a world of difference in our success in the new year.

Bright Line Eating

“Bright line eating” can also be a key to success, and it is related to a change in identity. A “bright line” is a “clearly defined rule or standard, composed of objective factors, which leaves little or no room for varying interpretation.”[3] The concept of drawing a bright line between us and certain foods is easy to grasp. It means to clearly identify which foods we will not eat.

For Mormons, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea is a great example of drawing a bright line. These substances are easily identifiable and our commitment unambiguous, therefore the line between us and these substances is bright and compliance can be a non-issue. The Church makes it easy to avoid these substances because of the bright-line rules it has established.

With certain foods, it can be much easier to draw a bright line than to indulge in them occasionally. For some of us, keeping certain foods to a minimum feels almost impossible. We are constantly battling with ourselves over where to draw the line. Should we reserve them for holidays? Once a month? Once a week? Just a little every day? There is no bright line, and so we are always struggling with our desire for them. These are the very foods that we might consider drawing a very bright line around for the new year.

Which foods should we totally abstain from? Soda pop? Candy? Sugar? Meat? Cheese? Potato Chips? Chocolate? Ice Cream? Obviously, it would be easier for us if the Lord simply gave us the lists of “do’s and don’ts” in enough plainness to make them bright for us. However, this is not the Lord’s way. Instead, He gives us principles. This method has so many advantages.

First, teaching through principles helps us to learn to exercise our agency. Second, it allows each of us to apply the principles in our unique circumstances. Last, it helps us to focus on the meaning of the principle rather than just the letter of the law. Yes, it is good to abstain from foods that are not good for us, but it is even better to do it in order to keep holy and pure the marvelous mortal tabernacle we have, treating it as a temple of God.

The Lord knows which foods are better for each of us to draw a bright line around. We too can know what these foods are if we really want the Lord to tell us. It may take some time and experimentation, but if truth is our desire, we’ll receive a bright answer, which will grow “brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

Adopting a New Food Identity

Recovering alcoholics know it does no good to simply “cut back” on the alcohol. It is all or nothing. They must draw a bright line between themselves and alcohol and adopt a new identity of someone who does not use alcohol. Ever. Period. The same principle is useful in giving up smoking and making significant dietary changes. Karen Phelps has applied this principle several times, with life-changing impact:

Many years ago I was a two-pack a day smoker. At 21 I realized I had a terrible smoker’s cough. I had buried my grandmother who died from lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver two years before, and I knew I didn’t want the same fate. I had been smoking for several years at that point and had “tried” to quit smoking several times, obviously unsuccessfully. I chose a day I would quit, not taper down, not change a thing prior to that date. But I also decided that I would never use the word “try.” From that date on I would be a non-smoker, and that was my mindset. So right up until midnight, when I had my last cigarette, I was just doing my thing.

At midnight I walked into my roommate’s room, handed him my cigarettes, went back to my own room and went to bed. When I woke up, I was to be a different person. I wasn’t quitting to please anyone else, I wasn’t quitting so I could go to church, I was quitting solely and completely because I wanted to. And I never looked back. It was just a done deal from that day forward. I did a similar thing with alcohol. Later I jumped back on the vegetarian bandwagon in the same way. I just decided one day I was done eating living beings. I quit trying and just did it.[4]

Of course healthy eating does not need to be an all or nothing venture. Many less health-promoting foods will not sabotage our health, if eaten sparingly. However, the difficulty level of eating a food sparingly versus not at all can be quite dramatic, depending on the person.

We will know the foods we should probably abstain from because of the internal struggle we have in eating them sparingly or keeping them for rare occasions. For our own internal peace and for our success in our health goals, these are foods we may want to decide to never eat again. Once it is part of our identity, we will see those former foods as the type of foods we simply do not eat. Ever. Period. As strong as our cravings for those foods may feel today, after a relatively short period of abstinence, those feelings greatly diminish, then disappear.[5] We are then free! Is this not the Lord’s desire for us?

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)

Stories that Will Inspire You

The following are some stories from Latter-day Saints who decided to draw a bright line between themselves and certain foods they would no longer use. I hope these will inspire you in your resolve for the new year.

Maria Farley, “I planted the seed to see what fruits it would yield”

High cholesterol and heart disease was common in Maria Farley’s family, and her own health was falling apart; she felt sick, exhausted, and even depressed. Her younger brother’s stroke was a wake-up call and Maria realized she had to change. She decided to stop eating the foods that were harming her for 30 days. In that time, she lost 15 pounds and dramatically improved her health. She has now committed to the new diet for life.

Dave Hansen, “The doctor was giddy about my results.”

After multiple medical procedures to address heart disease, a new doctor helped Dave Hansen realize these procedures would never cure him of his disease. He decided to take this doctor’s advice and stopped eating the foods that were causing the disease in the first place. In just six months, the changes were so dramatic his doctor was giddy about the results.

Christina McIntyre, “I felt inspired to give my class ‘The Daniel Challenge’”

While teaching Daniel in the Old Testament to her seminary class, Christina McIntyre felt inspired to give her class “The Daniel Challenge,” even before fully understanding what that meant. A friend then introduced her to a whole food, plant-based “Daniel’s Challenge,” and she immediately jumped on board. Just ten days into the challenge Christina was experiencing many of the promised blessings in the Word of Wisdom, just as Daniel in the Bible had experienced.

Chad Harston, “As a radiologist, I had seen fatty plaque clogging critical arteries”

Dr. Chad Harston’s journey to plant-based eating started while he was deployed in Iraq as a medical doctor. He was struggling to lose weight and gain energy. The turning point was reading D&C 89, the Word of Wisdom. Why had he never considered this advice before? With time to study, he dove into the plant-based literature. His studies convinced him to change his diet, which led to the desired weight loss and resolution of several other intractable health conditions.

Join the January Jumpstart!

The New Year is a great time to make important dietary changes. Joining a group of like-minded individuals can be tremendously helpful when making a fresh start. You are warmly welcome to participate. By signing up, you’ll get periodic emails with helpful suggestions and encouragement: 10-Day Jumpstart Sign-up Form.

The focus of this jumpstart will be goals that lead toward eating whole food, plant-based (little to no processed foods or animal foods). You will choose whatever specific dietary goals make sense for your circumstances.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I’m excited to support you in this jumpstart!

Getting Started

To learn more about whole food, plant-based nutrition and how to get started, see: Getting Started. For tips on going “cold turkey,” check out this article: Strategies for Going Cold Turkey.


Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Watch the video “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film.”


[1] Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Best Is Yet to Be,” Ensign (January 2010).

[2] Quoted in Jane Birch, Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (Provo, Utah: Fresh Awakenings, 2013), p. 77.

[3] “Bright-line rule,” Wikipedia website (accessed December 21, 2016).

[4] Personal communication with Karen Phelps (December 22, 2017).

[5] Check out this timeline for nicotine withdrawal, which can be useful for anticipating the timeline for other serious addictions, Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline.