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.
I’ve been addressing some of the discouraging thoughts that can dissuade us from trying a Word of Wisdom diet. Below, I’ve linked to the three topics I’ve already discussed:
- Taste: These foods won’t be yummy, and I’ll be unhappy.
- Convenience: It takes too much time to prepare healthy foods.
- Nutrition: A whole food, plant-based diet will be deficient in vital nutrients.
- Social Pressure: No one else eats this way, so this will be too hard or awkward.
- Comfort: I love my current diet and can’t imagine life without the foods I love best.
- Procrastination: Great idea, but I need to wait until I have time or energy to do this.
In response to the last three topics, I’ve suggested that the challenge is either resolved through perseverance (taste and convenience) or is simply non-existent (nutrition). Today’s topic, social pressure, is of a different sort. I readily acknowledge that while food and convenience are temporary challenges, anyone who eats a radically different diet may always experience some social pressure and even opposition. At the same time, our ability to respond to this challenge can increase so dramatically that it no longer feels like a burden. In fact, as we begin to realize it is an opportunity to help others by sharing what we know, it becomes a choice blessing.
It’s Not Easy Eating Green
When we eat the Word of Wisdom way, we are eating a diet that is quite a bit different from other people. But we Mormons know all about being a peculiar people! When we abstain from alcohol, coffee, and tea, we also set ourselves apart. At least initially, abstaining from these substances as a new convert can make some family, friends or colleagues feel uncomfortable. They may feel judged. They may even get angry.
I don’t think the Lord wants us to intentionally make anyone feel judged or angry. Why would He ask us not to smoke, drink or even enjoy the coffee and tea that everyone else is using to socialize? Doesn’t He realize that this might cut off some social opportunities and make us and others feel awkward?
It is not always easy to make choices that set us apart, but we Mormons have lots of experience with the blessings that come from making difficult decisions. Making good food choices is no different. Not only are we blessed both physically and spiritually, our family, friends and other associates are also blessed. They are blessed by our improved health, increased energy, and greater peace and serenity. They are also blessed by our good example, and supported in any efforts they make to eat better.
We Mormons Get This
Of course, eating a Word of Wisdom diet doesn’t just set us apart from non-Mormons, it can set us apart from other equally faithful Mormons. This is another level of challenge, but it is also something we are very familiar with.
In every aspect of the gospel, including the Word of Wisdom, the Lord teaches us through principles, and we have to rely on the Spirit of the Lord to discern how to apply those principles in our own lives. That means each of us may apply them in different ways. For example, some very faithful Latter-day Saints may or may not—
- Watch TV or do homework on Sunday
- Drink caffeinated sodas
- Watch an R-rated movie
- Pay tithing on “net” rather than “gross” income
- Fast less than 24 hours
None of these are black and white decisions, and hopefully we are mature enough to not be critical of others if the way they implement gospel principles is different than our own. On the other hand, we also have to learn how to hold to our personal standards, even when righteous, well-meaning members of the Church are critical of us or encourage us to do things that contradict them. We also have to teach our children to do the things they feel are right, even if their friends take a different approach.
If you have taught your kids to not do schoolwork on Sunday, how do you teach them to not be critical of the Bishop’s family if they make a different choice? On the other hand, if you feel good about watching some TV shows together as a family on Sunday, how might you handle occasional criticism from well-meaning ward members who do not approve of your choice?
Eating a different diet than other faithful Latter-day Saints results in similar challenges. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, but with prayer and humility we find answers. The key is to be kind and non-judgmental toward others, while holding firm to what you feel is right for you to do.
Traditions are very difficult to change, and food traditions are no different. In an earlier article, I cited the true story of Elder Heber J. Grant preaching a fiery sermon on the Word of Wisdom, only to be offered coffee and tea by the Stake President’s wife when the meeting concluded! This was before the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom were as strictly practiced as they are today. In the 19th century, coffee and tea were still commonly used by many Mormons, and the sense of duty the Stake President’s wife felt to provide the typical refreshments obviously was more powerful than the sermon. Traditions are a powerful force in our lives, and it may take enormous effort to change them.
Our Mormon food traditions are different today. Our traditions including serving unhealthy goodies at Young Men/Women activities, sugary treats in Relief Society, lots of meat at the Elder’s Quorum social, and candy to the Primary. Some people get upset if we suggest healthier options, are disappointed if we bring something nutritional, or look down on us if we don’t eat the junk. It is tough to challenge traditions, even if they are not good ones. But should we cave because it is tough?
Holding Fast to the Rod of Word of Wisdom
I think the reason we sometimes give up when facing social pressure is that we don’t want to offend others. This is certainly a worthy motive. But the secret is: if we humbly do what we feel is right while allowing others the same privilege, all these pressures that seem so difficult can be resolved. The place to start is to seek confirmation from the Lord that what you are doing is right for you.
Just as others can be threatened by our diets, if we eat differently, we sometimes feel insecure and threatened by others. We need to take this concern to the Lord and let Him help us remember that eating the Word of Wisdom way is pleasing to Him, and that we don’t need to feel ashamed and let go of that iron rod, even if the rest of the world is mocking us.
Rather than tentatively or fearfully clinging to the rod of the Word of Wisdom, let us firmly and joyfully hold fast and press forward so we can taste the sweet fruit of the blessings. Then we can with joy and kindness invite others to join us, if they are interested. And if they are not interested, we can still be filled with the same love and respect toward them.
When those in that great and spacious building of unhealthy foods mock us, let’s remember that many are in that building simply because they have not found a more excellent way. As they witness the light, joy, and radiant health we are experiencing, they may be encouraged to leave that building and find strength to join us at the tree of good health. But they can’t join us if we are not there!
Be a Word of Wisdom Pioneer
Being surrounded by unhealthy foods makes it hard to eat the Word of Wisdom way. If only everyone else would change, it would be so much easier for us! But think: either we all continue eating in this crazy way, or some of us need to be willing to be pioneers in setting out on our own, doing something others are not doing.
If not us, who? Who is going to have the courage to improve their diet if we do not? Will it be easier for our children or grandchildren? How many generations must suffer before someone is willing to stand up and say, “Enough is enough?”
It is not easy to be a pioneer, but it brings tremendous blessings, for us and for our posterity. I have had the same experience as many others have had: I’ve found that those who are opposed to what I’m doing dramatically soften over time. Some of those most opposed even become enthusiastic and join me. I have experienced this so many times that now, if someone is initially put off by my diet, I recognize it as a great opportunity to plant a good seed!
Tips for Handling Social Situations
On a companion website, I provide lots of suggestions for ways to deal with other people and ways to handle a variety of social situations: family members, eating out, having guests, church activities, junk food gifts, being confronted by others, etc. See, “Dealing with Other People.”
Ready to give this a try? See also: “Getting Started.”
Next Time in “Discovering the Word of Wisdom”
Compared to the topics I’ve covered thus far, the topic for next week is perhaps the most challenging of all. Most of us have had the experience of determining to improve our diet, only to fail time after time. It comes down to a struggle between eating the way we believe is best for our bodies and the pleasure we receive from eating unhealthy foods. What if you love the unhealthy foods you eat and can’t imagine life without them? This is the topic I’ll address next week.
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (2013) and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom.