Friday, July 27, 2012

Word of Wisdom on Obesity and a Healthy Diet

According to the American Heart Association, 145 million Americans over age 20 are overweight. Of those, 74.1 million Americans are in the 'obese' category. Together, more than two-thirds of all American adults are overweight, fueling a multi-billion-dollar industry of fad diets, miracle pills, weight loss counselors and weight-related medical procedures.

Many members of the Church – as many as 3 million of us in America alone – are a part of the epidemic weight gain. It turns out the stereotypical Mormon diet of casseroles, funeral potatoes and Jello carries its fair share of calories. As members of the Church, we also have the guidance of the Lord and His prophets, specifically the Word of Wisdom. Following this inspired code of health will help us take care of our bodies, fend off – or return from – obesity, and eventually be able to "run and not be weary" and "walk and not faint."

Found in the 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Word of Wisdom provides at least three guidelines related to obesity and overeating. First, the Word of Wisdom teaches that we must watch what we put into our bodies. Second, we learn that we must watch how much food we put into our bodies. And finally, when we are converted to the Word of Wisdom as the Lord's code of health, our willing obedience will bring physical and spiritual blessings.

At the most basic level, every member of the Church knows that the Word of Wisdom teaches us to avoid harmful substances like alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. In the spirit of this counsel, each of us should evaluate whether we consume these or other substances that may be harmful to our bodies or habit-forming. Processed snack cakes, soda pop, deep fried foods and energy drinks are only a few of the popular, but physically harmful foods on the supermarket aisles. These foods have little or no nutritional value, make us feel tired, create habits that are hard to break, fuel our appetites for more unnecessary calories and expand our waistlines. In short, many foods available at the neighborhood store may contribute to obesity, which in turn contributes to untold numbers of diseases and medical complications.

Knowing we would be bombarded with the widest variety of food, beverages, medicines and herbs in human history, the Lord gave the Word of Wisdom as a forewarning against the, "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men." While the Lord deems harmful substances of all kinds "not for the belly," we are advised to eat "all wholesome herbs... all grain... as also the fruit of the vine," and, "flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air." A consistent, natural diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, lots of water and some lean meat provides the nutrients our bodies need without the empty calories that spark our appetites or meaningless overeating.

The Lord continues his counsel and commandment for the dietary care of our bodies with the charge that "all these [are] to be used with prudence and thanksgiving." A person can gain a significant amount of weight through simple mismanagement of portion sizes, even if their diet is stacked with fruits, vegetables and grains. Using prudence means to use discretion, sound judgment or temperance. Greater prudence in our diets is discretion to say 'no' to a second piece of chocolate cake, wisdom to drink water instead of soda, and temperance to take only enough food at the dinner table to satisfy your hunger. It is prudence that recognizes obesity as a debt of calories, and unifies the grocery list and the dinner menu to get us out of that debt.

President Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reminded us one general conference that "The Word of Wisdom is 'adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints'. It is buttressed by other scriptures. They teach that the good things of the earth 'are made for the benefit and the use of man, … Yea,' the Lord said, 'for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul, … to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion' (D&C 59:18–20)." His counsel was for us to, "learn to use moderation and common sense in matters of health and nutrition; and particularly in medication."

Finally, the Word of Wisdom promises our careful observance of its counsel will yield health, wisdom, endurance and protection. The determination to change the kinds and quantities of foods we eat may be found in the realization of the surety of these results. No matter how many diets or miracle drugs we have tried and failed, careful obedience to the Word of Wisdom will bring the support of heaven in reaching our goals. If we will strive to eat a healthy, natural, prudent diet, the return on our investment of effort will be physical, spiritual and mental strength.

No harmful substance will cloud our wise judgement. No excess weight will keep us from enduring. Through obedience to the Word of Wisdom, we can avoid the perils of a plague of obesity sweeping the nation.

**This article was originally written for Deseret Connect on February 9, 2011. It was never published by Deseret Connect or its related sites.**


  1. Great article and there are many wonderful health benefits taht many were learning of during Joseph Smith's day in many health and medical journals. Also, it isn't technically a commandments as stated in D&C 89 : 1-2 "2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the aword of wisdom, showing forth the order and bwill of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days—"

    Remember, Joseph Smith and most of the early prophets and apostles still drank mild alcohol, tea, coffee and even smoked. It wasn't until 1915 that the elders of the church decided it should be an actual requirement for members... non-revelation based.

  2. It's true that the Word of Wisdom was taken more as counsel previous to 1915, but that in no way suggests the stricter enforcement was not based on revelation. Rather, I'd suggest the Lord simply allowed the saints to progress one step at a time, grace for grace as it were, until the body of the church was ready to accept it. Since that time, it has only become more necessary. Even though we know the Word of Wisdom has not always been practiced and won't always be practice, through revelation to living prophets the Word of Wisdom is a commandment of God to our generation until he deems the time ready to retract it. As I see it, it's a pretty safe bet that won't happen until most of us don't want to consume those things anyway.

  3. A good example to think about here is the law of Moses. It's was valid an in force in every sense during Old Testament times, but isn't an eternal law and has already been fulfilled or taken away. Same thing with the Word of Wisdom-- it's commandment for us now, even though we know it wasn't in force anciently or even in early Church history.