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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.
Every week on my website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom, I feature a new story of a Latter-day Saint who has adopted a plant-based diet. Each person describes how they came to make this change and the many blessings they’ve experienced by doing so. Each story is unique and powerful in its own way, and I love the diversity of people who share them: male and female, young and old, American and international. These stories teach us that a healthy diet is worth the effort no matter what our age or health condition! No one is too young or too old to benefit from following the counsel in D&C 89.
Recently, I’ve taken a closer look at the three oldest people who have shared their stories on my website and noticed some remarkably similarities between them. First, they are all in their 80’s! Second, they are all men! (This is particularly surprising considering that 75% of all stories are from women.) In addition, while all three of these men are married, it was they (not their wives) who took the lead in changing their diet. These men also did most (if not all) of the work to support their new dietary lifestyle. (Only one of the three wives joined her husband in changing her diet.)
Today I plan to feature the stories of these three men because I find them inspirational and motivating. How many 80+ year old men do you know who are willing to radically change their diet for the better . . . with or without the support of their spouse? In reading these stories, I hope all of us will realize that it is never too late to choose health (and the sooner we do so, the better)!
A disclaimer: One of these distinguished seniors is my own father!
Albert Schindler (changed his diet at age 81, now 85 years old)
Al Schindler (from Cardston, Alberta, Canada) was diagnosed with kidney cancer when he was 81 years old. He had one kidney removed, but the cancer had spread to his bladder. He underwent chemotherapy, which resulted in a severe bladder infection. The chemo sessions, combined with the infection, wrecked havoc on his constitution, and his “entire body, from the neck down, ached terribly.” The pain was so intense, he couldn’t sleep, but he could barely stay awake.
In this condition, Al experienced several different, very vivid hallucinations where he searched for ways to relieve the pain. Finding nothing that worked, he became increasingly frustrated. Something inside of him told he needed to “get rid of the pain,” but he had no idea how to do that.
It was at this point that Al heard “a very clear, audible voice” that said to him, “Man is not made to eat flesh.” Later, when he was feeling normal again and was telling his family what he had experienced, the voice repeated the same words distinctly to him, “Man is not made to eat flesh.”
From that moment on, Al no longer ate meat of any kind. He says of his recovery:
Since that epic day I have had continued evidence that the promptings from the Spirit had my health in mind. Even though I’m 85 years of age, I feel better now, on average, than I did when I was in my 60s! My kidney and bladder cancer is in full remission! I’ve recently had my annual medical and physical exam by my family doctor, and am happy to announce that I’m (to quote my doctor) “100% normal in all my tests.” The Word of Wisdom does work!
Read Al Schindler’s entire story: “Man is not made to eat flesh.”
Cyrus Welch (changed his diet at age 80, now 82 years old)
Cy Welch (from Sacramento, California) is a Meridian Magazine reader. When he read the Discovering the Word of Wisdom series in Meridian, it “rang a bell.” At the time, he was “struggling with the normal health problems of aging, such as lack of mobility, some arthritis, enlarged prostate (BPH), hypertension, hearing problems, and lack of strength.”
After reading a couple of the articles in the series, he bought the book Discovering the Word of Wisdom and started the transition to eating whole food, plant-based (WFPB). He describes the results of changing his diet in the following words:
One of the first benefits I noticed was my mobility began to return. I used to be fairly flexible, but I slowly lost my flexibility over the years. I am now flexible enough to get in and out of the van without bumping my head on the top of the door opening. I feel almost twenty years younger. I’m also slowly losing weight, although I wasn’t much over weight. I have much greater flexibility, strength and endurance.
I still work although I probably don’t have to. I tune and repair pianos, including a lot of church pianos. At times it is necessary for me to crawl under a grand piano and make something work better. I also install PNOmation player systems in pianos, which requires a lot of time working underneath pianos. Before I began my WFPB transition, it had become very painful for me to do this. About one month after I began my transition, I was called out on a job that required a lot of under the piano work. I gritted my teeth and said to myself, “Come on you can do this.” Then to my surprise it didn’t hurt, not even a little bit. Later I was preparing a player for delivery and everything went wrong. I had to replace several parts which had quit working, and I spent at least three hours on my back under the piano, getting up and down from the floor 20 to 30 times. The result was my leg muscles got sore from all the getting up and down, but I had no other pain in my back or any place else.
I grew up in a house where we had meat, mashed potatoes, lots of gravy and milk and some vegetables. I did not believe that you were eating properly if you didn’t have meat of some kind at a meal and was still skeptical until I tried WFPB eating. I have been surprised at how quickly my tastes have changed. I really enjoy eating vegetables, whole grains, and fruits now. I have little interest in returning to my former eating habits. My digestive system works better than it ever has. I can work or play hard, golf, eat lots of good food, and sleep like a baby.
Read Cy’s entire story: “I am 81, and my wife is 79.”
Neil Birch (changed his diet at age 79, now 84 years old)
I (Jane Birch) had the pleasure of introducing a whole food, plant-based diet to my own father, Neil Birch (from Murray, Utah), long before I wrote my book and started writing for Meridian. In fact, I sent him information about this diet the first week I discovered it myself in August 2011. He was immediately intrigued and welcomed more information. Although he thought he was already eating a healthy diet, as he learned about this way of eating, he could see the reason in it. He notes, “This was confirmed the more I studied the Word of Wisdom and realized this diet matches more perfectly the advice given by the Lord.”
My father wrote of his experience in 2013:
I’ve been very happy with the results. Since starting this diet, I’ve been able to drop all of the medications I was taking, including ones for high blood pressure and cholesterol. I lost an additional 10 pounds, so I’m back to what I weighed in my early twenties! I never get sick: no colds, no headaches. I have plenty of energy for rigorous exercise, and because I’m never sick, I never miss my daily workout: 50 minutes on the arm and leg elliptical at the local rec center. Instead of feeling fatigued when I’m done, I feel energetic!
I really enjoy eating grains, beans, potatoes, leafy green foods, and fruit. I am very grateful the Lord blessed each of us with the entire Section 89 of the D&C. He really knows what’s best for His children and even His animals, birds, and fish here on earth, and I want to show respect to Him for His love for me by following His counsel fully.
Since writing his story for my book, my father has continued his exercise routine, now 30 minutes a day on a Precore Adaptive Motion Trainer. Even at age 84, he says, “I’m never very tired at the end. I actually feel energetic!” And to this day, he never gets sick, something he attributes to eating the “Word of Wisdom Way.”
Read my father’s entire story: “This diet matches the advice given by the Lord.”
Questions & Answers
In preparing this article, I asked these three good men to answer a few simple questions that I thought might interest Meridian readers:
- What made you want to change your diet?
- Al: “Pain and discomfort is not a nice thing at any age. In fact, the senior years can be a time that promote quicker, more concerned reaction to a weakening body than when one is younger and more interested in living life than one’s health.”
- Cy: “Healing takes longer with each passing year. When I changed my diet to more closely eat like the Word of Wisdom advises, this quickly reversed itself. I now recover from exertion or a sore back or a pulled muscle more quickly than I did twenty years ago. That alone was worth it!”
- Neil: “I remembered enjoying the times when I was healthy and active, and I was convinced that eating the Word of Wisdom Way would help me to once again become healthy and active.”
- Was it hard to change your diet?
- Al: “It seemed quite natural to gradually alter my diet and develop better eating habits as I grew older. The body, especially the digestive system, becomes more sensitive to food as we grow older: no longer can the stomach handle the double quarter pounder without ill effects like it used to.”
- Cy: “I was anxious about not feeling satisfied after eating without meat, eggs or any other animal products. As I discovered, it turned out to be at least as satisfying to eat a meal without the animal products as it was with them. Adjusting to the higher fiber levels was annoying but manageable.”
- Neil: “Changing my diet made it necessary for me to do all of my own cooking because my wife chose not to consider eating this way, but it wasn’t hard. I enjoy making my simple meals, and I love these wholesome foods.”
- How has this experience impacted your understanding of the Word of Wisdom?
- Al: “I learned that if I was to continue into my senior years with reasonable health, I had to give up eating flesh of all kind. Not only does the idea of eating flesh seem abhorrent to me now, I’ve come to understand that [optimally] mankind never was designed to eat meat.”
- Cy: “I see otherwise wonderful people suffering from the consequences of poor eating while they ignore most of the Word of Wisdom. God allows us to choose our actions but not the consequences of those actions. Most of us accept this principle in the rest of the gospel but not in our eating choices. ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,’ is what the Savior said, and I understand now how that applies to the Word of Wisdom also: EVERY word, not just the popular ones.”
- Neil: “My diet change helped me appreciate that the Word of Wisdom goes much further in promoting good health than I previously had thought. It seems appropriate that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bless us much more fully when one’s body, which is a Gift from God, is optimally healthy.”
- Beyond resolving specific health issues, have you experienced other blessings?
- Al: “It’s hard to describe, but there is a feeling of living on a higher physical and spiritual plane—like I’m back in the Garden of Eden again, closer to God. I feel stronger, and it is easier for me to resist the common cold and flu, plus other physical and spiritual problems.”
- Cy: “I feel more settled is the way I would put it. I am more stable in my relationships and feel more gratitude for understanding more completely how the Lord guides us in everything if we are only wise enough to listen.”
- Neil: “My life is now much more upbeat, and I actually even feel capable of serving another full-time mission somewhere in this world, and even going through the challenge of magnifying what Spanish I’ve learned over the years.”
- What would you say to someone over 70 who is considering changing their diet?
- Al: “I’d remind them of an old proverb, ‘The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is right now.’ It is never too late to consider improving one’s health.”
- Cy: “Don’t shrug this off, you can’t imagine just how much better you can feel. A lot of what we generally accept as inevitable due to age is really the results of poor diet choices. I promise you that anything you do to more closely follow the Word of Wisdom will bring amazing benefits and blessings. My unexpected blessing is that I’m able to sing again. My voice is gradually regaining vocal range and strength.”
- Neil: “What are you waiting for? Why wait to start feeling better?”
I want to thank the three seniors I featured today for their sterling examples. Your stories remind me that the Lord is ready and willing to pour out His blessings as we are ready to receive them. I hope to learn by your examples how to live by “EVERY word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
For help getting started on a healthy Word of Wisdom diet, see: “Getting Started.”
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.”