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

As part of the recent series on setting New Year goals to embrace a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) Word of Wisdom diet, I’d like to share the story of one Meridian reader. This person represents many others: good, faithful members of the Church who live with a certain misery and despair over their weight, their health, and the impact it is having on their families. Almost weekly, I hear from such a person seeking for help and wondering if there is still hope.

I’ve received permission from this person to share excerpts from her emails to me last year. I have left out some details to protect her identity and shorten the story. (Note that I responded to every email she sent me, but I do not include my emails to her.)

I hope her amazing story of transformation will inspire everyone who reads this!

August 26, 2015

Dear Jane,

I have been following your comments on Meridian Magazine for some time now. I am writing to you in a bit of desperation. I am over 60 years old, about 5 feet tall, and about 100 pounds overweight. I have always been active in the church, have a strong testimony, love the Gospel with all my heart. I am only saying these things to help you understand my situation a little better. I was usually a little chubby, but since my marriage, I just got bigger and bigger and bigger. I have not been good at serving healthy, nutritious meals, as the cheaper “casseroles with cream of soups” were always my go-to. I love cake, cookies, brownies, candy, homemade ice cream, chips and dip, homemade bread, etc. Sadly, I raised my children the same way, and now some of them struggle with weight issues. One day a while ago, my daughter said to me that she felt that I didn’t understand the atonement, because I tried so hard to live every law perfectly, and repent for the tiniest mistake, yet in some areas (I know she meant weight) I was not following the commandments. Though it was a bit painful, it was truly a needed wake-up call, but still I have not taken the steps to change.

One day a few months ago in my personal prayers, I said that I really wanted to get my life in order, but I just could NOT be obedient to healthy eating. I knew I was sinning because of my refusal to humble myself and control my eating. I have felt badly since admitting to the Lord that I just wouldn’t do that, but I really believed it was true! It makes me disgusted to think that terrible food means more to me than eternal life with God! And in reality, it doesn’t, but I knew I couldn’t lie to Him, when I wasn’t willing to change.

Two years ago, I had been eating more healthy for quite a while and had lost some 66 or so pounds, though I was still at least 50 pounds overweight. But I went on a trip, and we celebrated with foods I hadn’t tasted in a long, long time. Coming back home, I just went wild and eventually gained almost 45 of those pounds back. It has now been two years, and I am still here, almost 45 pounds heavier, and just hopeless. I really am huge, and it’s terribly noticeable being so short. I know through the years it’s been awful for my husband to drag around a gigantic wife, and it has been extremely embarrassing for my children. What is wrong with me!!!! I honestly sometimes wonder if it is just too late for me—kind of the mentality that this is who I am, who I’ve always been, who I always will be, and that there is just no hope for me. I KNOW that is evil thinking, but I honestly feel so overwhelmed at this point in life that I don’t know if I even want to change. How could I really give up the foods I really like—FOREVER?

I have had diabetes for 16 years now, and it is completely uncontrolled. Even with that, I don’t change. What is wrong with me? How can I love the Lord and the gospel, and my family so dearly, but have no desire (or little) to change! Is it even worth it at this point, or have I already proven to the Lord where my heart truly is, and have sealed my fate? I mean, I know that sounds drastic, and facetious, and it is, but sometimes I feel so hopeless and feel that I will never change and die in my sins. It is my one greatest sin, my thorn in the flesh. I have millions of others, but this is the one that I seem to refuse to let go of. I know it is a humility issue, and I know that weaknesses can be made strong through humility and faith, but I just can’t seem to desire even those things! I seem to always choose chips, chocolate, BYU fudge, etc. It was sad teaching in seminary about the Word of Wisdom last year, and knowing I was a wretched example, but even that didn’t lead my cold, obese heart to change.

I feel like the investigator that says “I know that your church is true, but honestly, it’s not for me at this time. I don’t want to give up alcohol, smoking, or pay tithing etc…Maybe someday. You are welcome to come back and check on me in a year or two.” That’s how I feel. Even today, knowing that I would be writing to you, I sought out the brownies, cookies, chips and candy! Why won’t I give up the things I really love for things that are not as appealing to me, but are much better for me? My family loves me, I am typically a happy soul, I try to help them all I can, they want me around, and even my little grandkiddies express great love for me. I know I am cheating them all of our time together as I pursue this sad lifestyle. Even my missionary son wrote me a few weeks ago asking if I was exercising, saying he wanted me there when he came home.

Well, thank you for listening. I don’t have any hope in myself at all to change. But I have loved your articles and they ring true every time I read them. Thanks for being a voice of courage. I know you must get much flack from others, but to me you are right! I just wish I had the determination to do what it would take to make those extremely difficult changes. It seems all our fun and happy times are centered around goodies, cheeses, yummy appetizers, barbecues, rich, delicious meals, and scrumptious desserts, and chocolate of every kind. ETC ETC ETC. Thank you for being one more voice of warning, but also encouragement. Hopefully someday I can desire to make the change before it is everlastingly too late.

August 27, 2015

I remember back some time ago one of your articles talked about choices, and that if we chose NOT to change our diet, then that was a choice we could make, but we would have to be responsible for the outcome. And even though in the end, we might not like the results of our choices, then we could still learn and grow . . . In my heart, I knew you were right and speaking truth. We are a result of our choices, and God just doesn’t take those consequences away. You are like a clear warning voice to me. I am hoping that I can get the courage I need to make desperately needed changes.

September 2, 2015

I just finished reading your book! Oh, it is filled with such inspiration and wisdom! I am finding more and more strength and desire to put away my weaknesses with food, and become a more healthy, happy, obedient daughter of God. After decades of struggling with weight, I really thought I knew much about healthy eating, etc. I had always considered all of my health problems related to being overweight. I just figured if I could get the weight off, then all would be well. I knew my diabetes was because I was so heavy. I had never really considered that perhaps my problem really stemmed from eating such unhealthy foods.

A few years ago I watched Forks over Knives and realized that meat was unhealthy for me, and so I cut way, way back on meat. But I didn’t apply the Word of Wisdom doctrine, and though I lost weight and ate better, I didn’t make the kind of permanent changes necessary, and soon gained most of that weight back and totally ignored and forgot the things I had once learned about meat. I see the whole food, plant-based diet differently now. It is not just about fat people losing weight so they won’t have health issues. It is even about thin people eating right to PREVENT issues. I am beginning to see my whole problem as not so much that I am overweight which caused diabetes, but that I need to follow the Word of Wisdom in every way, cutting out all those things you discussed, and then perhaps the weight will come off naturally. So—a whole change of eating, not just starving or eliminating sweets and junk food.

I do wonder if it is already too late to have the health and extended life free from illnesses. Have I waited too long and been too prideful and disobedient to make any real change for the better? At this point in my life where I can hardly move around, would I ever truly be able to run and not be weary or walk and not faint? Right now I can’t imagine doing either of those things! Do you think there is any real hope for me? I have grown to absolutely love the parable of the vineyard workers, and how even at the 11th hour, they were paid the same. That always gives me hope that I can repent, humble myself, and that God can and might be able to forgive even such a prideful and weak soul as myself. But I do understand the principle of consequences, and I have worried much that my family will be as much frustrated when I pass away early because of poor health, as they will be sad. That alone makes me sad, but again, I worry that it might already be too late for me.

Sunday I was making a pulled pork salad for my hubby and myself, and after putting the pork on my plate, I pulled it back off, and just ate the salad alone. Oh, I hope the Lord will give me the strength I need to make serious changes in my life. I am 100 pounds overweight and the path does seem a bit hopeless and somewhat impossible for someone such as I.

December 9, 2015

I could not let this day go by without writing to you. You see, the last time I wrote you I was quite desperate. I felt that perhaps there was no hope. Well, over Labor Day I visited with my sister with whom I had shared your book. We talked about things and decided we really DID want to make changes in our lives. It was only partly true, because we both were so terribly weak and didn’t even know if we could make those changes. We decided we would start on Sunday, the day before Labor Day. When I saw her the next day I asked if she was ready to begin tomorrow and she burst into tears and said she just didn’t know if she could do it; that even in anticipation of starting she had gone to buy donuts and had been eating everything she knew she would miss for the rest of her life, including her chocolate brought home from Europe which she shared with me. How could she or I forever give up all those things we loved and held so dear! The thought was overwhelming!

Instantly, however, I became in a position that I was totally unprepared for and unworthy of—to help my little sister—to strengthen her, encourage her and be an example to her. I thought about things and said that we should enjoy Labor Day, eat our homemade ice cream, treats, etc. and then begin on Tuesday, September 8. I suggested that we only try it for one week and see what we thought. I was not truly converted in my heart, but here was my desperate little sister to whom I had been such a terrible example, and who really needed some strength and support. We both agreed we could do it for the one week only and then we would re-evaluate. When Tuesday, September 8 rolled around I wasn’t emotionally ready to start, but I had made a promise and so I did. That week we were traveling to see a new grandbaby be blessed, and my son had all sorts of goodies and meals and it was so extremely challenging to stay WFPB [whole food, plant-based]. But I had committed to my little sis, and so stay on it I DID!

It was challenging for those days. The Relief Society there handed out bags of delicious homemade cookies. The airport—what’s healthy there? But stay on it I DID and so did my sis! We realized about ten days later that our week was long since up and we could quit if we wanted to, but by that point we had determined we would be strong and keep going. A few weeks later I took my daughters on a little outing. We had a great time together. There was so much yummy, pleasurable food available. We went to restaurants, movies (with buttered popcorn), and even Waffle Truck waffles. But through it all, I stayed faithful. I knew I needed to share my whole story with my daughters. I bought them all a copy of your book, and invited them to sit on the couch as I shared what was happening in my life. I told them about my prayer, and that I honestly admitted to God that I just couldn’t be obedient in eating right—that I was just too weak. I told them how sad and ashamed I was. I told them about your book, and some of the many treasures I had learned. I bore my testimony of these principles to them. It was a touching and humbling experience as I shared the story of a softening heart, and a willingness to be obedient. I didn’t push them, but I did invite them if they desired to join me on this new quest. That was October 10. I had been faithful to WFPB eating for one month. Though I was just beginning the journey myself, still I knew I needed to share my new-found joy with my girls, which I emotionally did. They were touched and happy for me. It was a special experience.

I made it through Halloween, Thanksgiving, delicious homemade treats weekly at institute, a Relief Society cookie exchange (that I started years ago!) and am doing great through this whole Christmas season with the treats, party foods, candies, etc etc etc. that I used to live for but now avoid.

Today I am about 30 pounds lighter, my husband has lost 35, my sister 26, and two of my daughters have lost 10 pounds each. Even the daughter who had no interest back in October told me at Thanksgiving that she wants to begin. She is waiting for the right time for her. Even my little grandkiddies are more aware about healthy food choices.

My husband had a PSA test of 6.5 and was told he needed to see a urologist for possible prostate cancer. After 3 months his count is 3.9. He has struggled with headaches for years, serious ones, and now only gets a very rare small one. Three months ago, an endocrinologist felt I needed a different shot each day. I asked him if it would replace my insulin. He said, “No, at this point we are only adding to your meds. It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN.” I left his office pretty discouraged, but determined to stay strong and see if I could improve without buying additional medications. I had only been on WFPB for a week at that time, but decided to stay my course, and not pick up the new, additional shot every day. Now, my diabetes is under control. I am taking about 1/4 of my insulin, and my numbers are almost in a normal range.

I have come to love foods that I never cared about or even knew existed. I make whole wheat cereal, whole wheat sugar-free oil-free bread, I enjoy sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, beets, cuties, salads, a spin-off of your dressing recipe, nuts, soups, beans, split peas, dates, hummus, homemade tortilla chips, nutritional yeast (what in the world????!) and so many of the glorious foods the Lord has provided. I am happy and confident in this choice and am feeling joy about my decision. Hard? NO! Challenging? YES! Am I tempted? YES! Weak? NO! And I am confident that Satan is ever mindful of me, but so is the Lord. Through Him, I feel strong and capable and just can’t wait to see even greater blessings and results as I continue to strive to live His Word of Wisdom. His yoke IS easy and His burden IS light! I now know that for myself! Now even my prayers have changed as I seek with a softened heart to do anything the Lord would have me do.

Yesterday was three months into my/our new lives. We are all indebted to you for leading us to the Lord and His glorious buffet! How can I/we ever thank you enough for restoring joy to discouraged lives???

January 4, 2016

Well dear Jane, I thought I should tell you that over Christmas and New Year’s, we didn’t SURVIVE the WFPB menu, we THRIVED on the WFPB menu! It was incredible, and such a joy!!! We had delicious granola, quinoa salad, chili, sweet potatoes, veggies, olives, hummus, pomegranates, rice roll-ups, homemade chips, mushroom kale potato soup, homemade peanut and almond butter, cashews, homemade whole wheat rolls, and many other delicious delicacies. It was a literal time of feasting on the glorious bounties from God. And of course, His gourmet buffet is better than anything man could possibly make! We loved it!

My hubby has now lost 40 pounds, my sister, 31, and I have lost 36. This morning, after taking 1/4 of my nightly insulin, my numbers were great—98! My good husband, who was allergic to fresh fruits and vegetables all his life, is now eating them with no trouble at all! He considers that one of the greatest blessings of eating WFPB.

Not all my family has joined this great adventure, but it has affected all of us for the better. Many are now much more health conscious, and determined to eat better. This very morning I got a treasured email from another daughter who said: “I’m ready to lose some weight and like the sound of doing your plant-based eating. I just need some ideas of where to start.” You can imagine my joy at reading her note!

In an earlier letter I said: “Hard? NO! Challenging? YES! Am I tempted? YES! Weak? NO!” Well, I need to update that statement. It has nearly been 4 months that we have been eating WFPB. Now I would say, “Hard? NO! Challenging? NO! Am I tempted? Not really at all! Am I weak? Not whatsoever! Is it satisfying? YES! Delicious? AMAZINGLY! ABSOLUTELY!! I can’t imagine ever going back! WFPB is joyful to me now. It fills my heart with happiness!

In every way we are thrilled with our new lives and are so grateful to have learned these truths. Now, instead of planning our funerals, we can plan our retirement! It’s nothing short of an incredible miracle!

[End of emails]

What Have You to Lose by Giving This a Try?

No matter where we are in our own journey, I think we can draw courage from this inspiring story. I know reading this helps me feel more courage to trust in the Lord and in His ways. He knows us! He knows what will bring peace and happiness, and He has blessed us with commandments and counsel to lead us safely through this dangerous world, including all its very dangerous foods. No matter how impossible it seems, there is always a path forward, and He can help us find it.

Please consider what you have to lose by giving a whole food, plant-based diet a try. Perhaps you could lose a lot more than just a few pounds. Could this be your chance to lose any lack of confidence you might have? or low self-esteem? or feelings of discouragement? What about losing some of the nagging health issues you struggle with? or reversing chronic disease? What is such a transformation worth to you? How would it feel to be able to share your success story with others?

In response to my asking this mother if I could share her story online, she wrote:

It will be fun to see my happy story online knowing that for many months I had looked at all the others and felt sad and ashamed that I was in such a pitiful state. But those wonderful articles were the seeds that have now begun to bear fruit! My joy is beyond anything I can express. After a lifetime of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and hopelessness, I now feel happiness and confidence. It’s just glorious!

It is wonderful to read about the success of others, but it is even better to experience it in your own life. Are you ready to live your own success story? For help on embracing a healthy Word of Wisdom diet, see “Getting Started.” I’m happy to help in any way I can. Feel free to contact me with questions or concerns or to let me know how the journey is going for you!

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.”