Living the Whole Word of Wisdom


…and we’re back, with an amazing guest-post by Skip Hellewell from Word of Wisdom Living on how to hack your health, using the Word of Wisdom, and the Spirit as your guides.

Almost two centuries ago Joseph Smith brought forth the Word of Wisdom. Considering the overwhelming complexity of nutrition science, it was a breathtakingly simple document. Seven basic rules: three of them prohibitions, four of them prescriptions (wholesome fruits and herbs, sparing meat, whole grains) defined our diet. It took the Church 90 years to master the prohibitions—up until 1921 you could chew tobacco, drink coffee, or a little alcohol as long as you weren’t a drunkard, and still go to the temple. I still have a childhood memory from the aroma of my blessed Grandmother’s coffee percolating. The point here is that change is hard; these slow adopters of the Word of Wisdom were good people.

In the 20th century the old infectious diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, polio, etc. were vanquished, first by public health improvements, later by vaccinations. But there arose a new class of diseases even more frightening. We know these as the chronic diseases—heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and diabetes, a raft of autoimmune diseases, and so on. Do you recall the Joseph’s warning phrase, “destroying angel”? Today these diseases are the leading cause of premature death. They afflict you, and your friends also.

There is a growing mountain of scientific evidence that our best protection against these chronic diseases is to live the forgotten half of the Word of Wisdom—the prescriptions. Elder Dallin Oaks spoke brilliantly at the last conference of “Two Lines of Communication”, meaning priesthood revelation for the Church, and personal revelation for the member. This dichotomy is beautifully illustrated in the Word of Wisdom: the prohibitions are defined, and enforced, by priesthood revelation. Strong drink means alcohol, etc. The prescriptions, on the other hand, must be discovered by the member through study, meditation, and personal inspiration.

Elder Oaks answered a question I had puzzled with for a long time: For the health of the members, why doesn’t the Church speak up about nutrition? The answer (for me) was because we are all so different there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to nutrition. Around the world, member needs and circumstances differ, and we also differ in our willingness to change.

In this new century there has been an encouraging groundswell of interest in better nutrition. With the clues left for us in the Word of Wisdom, Joseph Smith uniquely prepared us to be leaders in today’s “food reformation”. So that is the goal of Word of Wisdom Living—to save the world. Ha, ha, ha. You have to laugh at such an overwhelming aspiration; it’s Quixotic isn’t it? But that is how reformations start. Want to join in? Visit us at Word of Wisdom Living.

Let us know how you feel about the Word of Wisdom and the health habits it prescribes in the comments.

  1. I enjoyed some of your thoughts, but the last paragraph really caught me by surprise… is the article supposed to be about how to use the spirit and revelation to live the Word of Wisdom, or is it about how the LDS people are supposed to save the the world with a health reformation? I wasn't sure.

    I'd like to see this more fleshed out and organized as I think you've got some good ideas.

    As far as the Word of Wisdom goes, my favorite part of it is this, "adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints." That means there's hope for us who have a hard time following it… especially the meat in excess…

    1. Chris, Glad you enjoyed the article. Take whatever message from the final paragraph that you find helpful and healthful. The intent seems clear: there is a ground swell of people everywhere seeking better nutrition. This is how reform movements start. Believers in the Word of Wisdom, however they interpret it, can be part of this reformation. It would be a shame if we, having this guidance for nearly two centuries, missed the train. Wishing you the best, Skip

  2. Interesting. Is it bad that I am conflicted when I see an overweight general authority. I have battled with my weight and most of my family is overweight so it's not like I think I'm better than anyone but we're told to look to the brethren as our examples. When I see an obese GA like Presiding Bishop H David Burton something inside me tries to justify that it is okay to neglect my own health.

    I think this is just my own imperfection looking for excuses. By no means do I think all GAs should be in top physical shape. But I do think obesity is a problem in the church and we should look more closely at the Word of Wisdom and what it tells about proper diet.

    1. Micah, thanks for your comment. Overweight is a challenge for 2/3 of our society. Some may struggle valiantly and do all the right things and not achieve the perfect figure. We're all different. What's important is we all make the best effort we can, using the best information we can find. Having fought that good fight, we accept ourselves, and those around us, for what we all are. The beauty of the Word of Wisdom is the clues it gives to good health in a toxic nutrition environment. Best to you, Skip

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