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.

Last week, I introduced the Word of Wisdom way to weight loss by considering God’s way of doing things. God’s path is not “easy” in the worldly sense. He is not interested in quick fixes. His plan is to help us with a complete overhaul, because He wants us to be prepared to live with Him for eternity. Nevertheless, His promise is that by taking His yoke on us, “ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 30:28-30).

Fad diets have always been popular and will always be popular. They all work, but only in the short-run. This leads to yo-yo dieting and a lifetime of battling the bulge. The Word of Wisdom way to weight loss offers a different promise: healthy permanent weight loss and the end of dieting. This is the type of “rest” the Lord promises us, a rest from the world’s way that doesn’t work.

What is the Word of Wisdom way to weight loss that is both difficult and yet easy compared to the ways of the world? In today’s article, I suggest it includes three key principles:

  1. Focus on low calorie dense whole plant foods.
  2. Abstain from foods that trigger cravings.
  3. Rely wholly on the Lord.

I’ll give a brief overview of these principles in this article. In future articles, I will elaborate more on each principle.

Principle #1: Focus on Low Calorie Dense Whole Plant Foods

The calorie (or energy) density of a food is measured by how many calories a food contains per unit of measurement, for example per ounce or pound.[1] One pound of meat, for example, weighs exactly the same as one pound of vegetables or grains, but there is a large difference in the amount of calories in each pound.

Here is a simple calorie density chart showing the rough average number of calories in each type of food, per pound. Note that vegetables are the least calorie dense of all food types. Oils are the most calorie dense.

Birch_Calorie Density for Meridian (1)

Scientific studies demonstrate that people tend to eat the same weight of food, regardless of the number of calories.[2] That is, it is the weight of the food more than the number of calories that satisfies our hunger drive. Since this is the case, if we choose foods that are less calorie dense, we are fully satisfied on far fewer calories. This naturally leads to weight loss without going hungry. Weight loss without going hungry is key to permanent weight loss because any diet that leaves a person hungry is simply not sustainable.

As you read the following dietary principles found in the Word of Wisdom, notice how each principle encourages us to eat the foods found on the top half of the calorie density chart, where the foods have far fewer calories per pound.

  1. All “wholesome” plants “in the season thereof” should be used with “prudence and thanksgiving.” (D&C 89:10–11)

A Word of Wisdom diet focuses on wholesome (think “whole”) plant foods eaten with “prudence.” Wholesome plant foods include whole vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes (beans, etc.). Animal foods are not plant foods. Processed foods (including oils), refined carbs, and junk foods are neitherwholesome nor prudent. They are nutritional poor, highly concentrated foods designed to get us to over-consume. Whole plant foods are packed with nutrition, fiber, and water, which create bulk and satiety, but they are naturally low in calorie density.

  1. Animal flesh is ordained for human use, but it should be eaten sparingly, and it is pleasing to the Lord if it is not used, except in times of need (“times of winter . . . cold, or famine” and “excess of hunger”) (D&C 89:12–13, 15)

Most animal foods (meat, diary, and eggs) are more calorically dense than most whole plant foods. Worse, unlike whole plant foods, they contain substances that are harmful to our bodies (e.g. saturated fat, cholesterol, animal protein, animal hormones, etc.). This is true even of the low fat options. Study after study show a correlation between even moderately high animal food consumption, obesity, and chronic disease.[3] Since, animal foods are not needed for nutritional purposes and unavoidably contain harmful substances, these foods should be kept to a minimum, if eaten at all, for weight loss and optimal health. Better to save them for times of need.

  1. “All grain is good” and is ordained to be the “staff of life.” (D&C 89:14, 16)

We do need calories for energy and strength! Fruits and vegetables are great at providing nutrients, but not at providing calories. Whole grains, beans, and other starchy plant foods are the cleanest source of calories on the planet. They provide sufficient energy with none of the extreme negative features of other calorie dense foods, like animal foods and processed foods. They are delicious, satisfying, and (despite the current rhetoric) key to weight loss. The bulk of our calories should come from whole starchy plants, which are primarily the whole grains, such as wheat, barley, oats, rice, corn, and millet. These, along with other starchy foods like potatoes and beans, are the foods that have fueled healthy populations throughout history.[4]

The Word of Wisdom way to weight loss is to embrace the foods the Lord has ordained for our maximum health: the whole foods at the top of the calorie density chart. Eat the foods at the bottom part of the chart sparingly, if at all.

I will be discussing this principle in greater detail in the next article. In the meantime, you can find more information in the notes to this article.[see Note 1]

Principle #2: Abstain from Foods That Trigger Cravings

Most of the food we eat in America is designed to get us to overeat. Food industries heavily invest in developing products with just the right amount of sugar/fat/salt and other characteristics proven to drive over-consumption.[5] They have plenty of money to do this given the billions of dollars of profits they reap from selling us this unhealthy food. Is it any wonder we have an obesity crisis in America? Think about how much willpower is needed to counteract the number of dollars poured into campaigns to get us to consistently eat a high quantity or low quality foods!

What do we call a drive to overuse any substance, be it alcohol or tobacco . . . or food? Addiction. Yes, just like the alcohol and tobacco industries design products to get us addicted, so does the food industry. It is their business, after all, to sell us products. No wonder dieting is also a billon dollar industry in this country!

Where does the Word of Wisdom fit into all of this? Clearly, one of the central purposes of the Word of Wisdom is to help is prevent (or escape from the clutches of) addictions of all kinds. This is obvious in the case of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. Each substance has both beneficial and harmful qualities, but all of them are highly addictive. The Lord asks us to totally abstain from each.

What kinds of foods are addictive? Check the list of items on the bottom half of the calorie density chart; the foods high in calorie density are the same foods that are highly addictive. While there is plenty of science to prove this point,[6] it is easy to demonstrate it. How many times have you experienced an overwhelming craving to over-consume the whole foods listed at the top of the chart? Broccoli? Apples? Rice? Pinto Beans? In contrast, how many times have you found it difficult to stop eating some of the foods on the lower half of the chart: BBQ ribs? Fried chicken? Donuts? Ice Cream? Mac ‘N Cheese, Cookies? Candy? If you can think of a food that would be extremely difficult for you to give up permanently, that is a clue that you may well be addicted to that food.

Highly caloric addictive foods are ruling our lives and our waistlines. They are not the foods our Father designed for our health. They are the foods packaged and sold, in part, by “conspiring men in the last days” who care more for their bottom line than for the quality of our lives (see D&C 89:4).

If you are someone who can eat unhealthy foods sparingly, you may not have a problem including a few highly caloric foods into your diet. Most of us can’t do much of this, however, because the nature and abundance of the food makes it very difficult! Remember: we are up against billions of dollars of industrial research, product design, and marketing!

The best course of action with any addiction is abstinence. For people who are addicted to harmful behaviors, it doesn’t work to just cut back: to smoke occasionally, to do drugs every once in a while, to limit pornography or gambling to once a month. We can’t stop eating all food, of course, but we can stop eating the foods that create intense cravings in our bodies.

Are there foods you simply cannot eat sparingly? May I suggest you work on giving them up entirely? Stop playing with fire!

Principle #3: Rely Wholly on the Lord

There are people who can be successful in losing excess weight and keeping it off by relying on just the first two principles, but given our current food environment, most of us need more help. Professor Mark Lowe, expert in the psychobiology of eating and weight regulation, points out:

No matter how highly we value human beings wonderful willpower and self-control, which is really amazing, the nature of the foe we are facing in terms of both biological pre-dispositions and a society that is perfectly tailored to maximize consumption of high calorie foods, the challenge just is too overwhelming, and most people once significantly overweight are not capable of reversing the condition. It doesn’t say anything about their character, their will, their moral principles, absolutely nothing to do with those. It has to do with this insidious combination of biological predisposition and environmental temptation.[7]

Just as those who are trying to overcome alcohol, drugs, pornography, or any other serious addictions have found, we need a higher power. We need the Lord! We have to face the fact that most of us simply can’t do this on our own. Let’s not just face that fact, let’s embrace that fact! Let’s rejoice in having a challenge that can help us turn to the Lord more fervently, trust in Him more whole-heartedly, and cleave to Him as we never have before. In this way, our addictions can be a blessing to us in the long run.

Neither Satan nor our Savior are neutral in our struggle to lose weight and win back our health. Satan uses every form of addiction, including food addiction, to trap us in unhealthy behaviors, to destroy our self esteem, and to diminish our capacity to do the work of the Lord and serve our fellow human beings. On the other hand, the Lord is doing all that He can, within the limits of our agency, to help us to escape from the power of Satan and from addictions of every kind.

God knows how hard this is! He has placed us on this earth, at this time, in this food environment, knowing this will be a struggle for most of us. But He has also prepared a way for our escape. His way is to rely wholly on His power. After all, He explicitly gives us His promise in the Word of Wisdom. The entire revelation is “a principle with promise” (D&C 89:3). We know we can trust the Lord to give us His strength to “remember to keep and do these sayings” (D&C 89:18).

Getting Started on the Word of Wisdom Way to Weight Loss

If you are willing to give the Word of Wisdom a try, you’ll find some healthful suggestions for getting started here: Getting Started.

If interested, sign up on Facebook to join the Word of Wisdom Health Challenge.

Next Time in “Discovering the Word of Wisdom”

In the next few articles, I’ll go into more detail on the principles introduced in this article. Next week, I’ll start with Principle #1: Focus on low calorie dense whole plant foods.

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.


[1] I credit Registered Dietician Jeff Novick for the information and data in this article on calorie density. I encourage you to read more of Novick’s excellent resources on calorie density, see: “The Word of Wisdom Way to Weight Loss.”

[2] Barbara Rolls, The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet: Smart, Simple, Science-Based Strategies for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off (New York: HarperCollins, 2012).

[3] T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health (Dallas: Benbella, 2006).

[4] John A. McDougall, The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good! (New York: Rodale, 2012).

[5] Michael Moss, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (New York: Random House, 2013) & David A. Kessler, Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt (New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2012).

[6] Douglas J. Lisle and Alan Goldhamer, The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force That Undermines Health & Happiness (Summertown, TN: Healthy Living, 2003). See also Neal D. Barnard, Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons behind Food Cravings—And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003).

[7] Mark Lowe, “The Way We Eat Now.” Interview on KBYU Thinking Aloud, May 2, 2014.