The Word of Wisdom – It’s not Just about Flat Abs (D&C 89:14-17)

Update – May 15, 2014 – I will probably post about this later, but remember that this post is part of a learning process. I have been doing more experimenting with my own lifestyle, and I’ve been learning more about health AND the Word of Wisdom. Lately, I have been personally (and spiritually) inspired to pursue a Primal diet. I know it sounds hypocritical, and when you read this post, that will seem like the case. Keep in mind, this post was written in 2012, when I was only beginning to try to understand the Word of Wisdom and my diet.

I don’t want to take down this whole post because it was an important part of my process, and I think that the questions I ask are worth asking, even if I have come to different conclusions now.

As I said, I have transitioned into a Primal diet. That being said, I don’t have flat abs (yet!), and I feel GREAT. My mind is clearer. I feel like I’m experiencing more of the promise of the word of wisdom now that I’ve cleaned up my diet. So, if you are reading this blog, proceed with caution. I’ll link to an updated post as soon as I write it!

“All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—

Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.” – Doctrine and Covenants 89:14-17

As I studied this group of scriptures, I was led to the account of Daniel 1:6-20 and his brethren, when they were in the King’s Court. They didn’t want to break their dietary code by eating the “king’s meat.” Instead, they wanted to eat their own foods – which consisted mainly of grains.

As a test, they ate their diet for 10 days, and after this time, they had the following results:

“And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.
– – –
As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” – Daniel 1:15

This result really intrigues me. I get the feeling that maybe Daniel and his brethren weren’t ripped. They appeared “fairer and fatter in flesh.” I’m not exactly sure what this means. I doubt that it means that they were fat or obese. I also don’t think that they were underweight or “ripped” like we see so many people who are “fit” today.

I can’t help but wonder how skewed my perception of what healthiness or fitness looks like. I wonder how healthy a six-pack (especially on a woman) is. Of course, that is what we consider completely fit right now. But is it really best for our body – overall? Is it best for our organs, bones, or brains? We are more than our muscular system. I wonder if the obsession with health is actually contrary to the word of wisdom. In fact, I watched this talk Weighty Matters: Current Approaches to Evaluating Body Weight and Weight Loss, by Susan Fullmer about healthy weight, BMI, and other body weight issues. It was really interesting – we don’t know much. Many of the things that we think we know may be wrong! For example, people with a BMI that classifies them as “overweight” are actually usually healthier than those with an “underweight” BMI. You would never get this idea from looking at current media (or pinterest) trends.

I’m realizing that I’m a little confused and maybe brainwashed by the idea that I should be super-thin or fit. Usually, in order to obtain a six-pack body, you have to abandon carbs and eat mostly meats. (Think Paleo). I don’t know that I’m sure how the low-carb high protein diet fits into the Word of Wisdom!

So, when I see this story of Daniel, He denied the King’s Meats and instead ate his own diet of pulse and healthy plants. I know that this diet probably didn’t result with super-duper muscles. I’m sure he looked healthy, in a more balanced, moderate way. I am beginning to realize that I may have an incorrect expectation on what “health” or “fitness” looks like. The Word of Wisdom, keeping our Bodies temples, is much more than being tiny or skinny. It is about having a working body. Additionally, the Lord wants to bless us with spiritual, emotional, and mental health.

As I write this, I don’t want to sound like I’m supporting obesity. Instead, I think that we should not be so focused on our body. Rather, we need to focus on keeping the word of wisdom. If we are keeping the word of wisdom, then we ought to be confident in the results – our bodies, our minds, etc. If we are keeping the word of wisdom, then we ought to also accept the results – that they may not look like what is popular. They may not be as heavy as a Renoir Woman, as skinny as a runway model, or as fit as an olympic gymnast. If we keep the word of wisdom, our bodies will probably vary by each person (tall, short, big frame, small frame, etc), but we will be able to run and not be weary. We will also be blessed with knowledge and understanding. When we keep the word of wisdom, we aren’t blessed with a shredded body, but we’re blessed with an able and fit body – capable of handling the stresses that are placed on us – capable of enduring. We’re blessed with mental and spiritual capability. When we keep the Word of Wisdom, instead of washboard abs, we are a temple.


Another note. As I have been studying the word of wisdom, I’ve noticed a connection between agriculture and civilization. This probably sounds obvious, but here’s an example of exactly what I mean:

“And we began to build buildings, and to repair the walls of the city, yea, even the walls of the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom.

And we began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat, and of barley, and with neas, and with sheum, and with seeds of all manner of fruits; and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land.” – Mosiah 9:8-9

The righteous, civilized people always till the ground. They always harvest and eat grains, seeds, and other fruits and vegetables. They do raise flocks, and one would assume that they are eating cheeses, milks, and some animal products. They may fish or forage for other wild foods, but they don’t have to worry about availability of wild foods because they are self-sufficient based on their cultivated crops.

On the other hand, we see what happens with those who stop being industrious and growing crops. They begin to lose their culture and are completely dependent on wild animals or wild plants.

“And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us.” – Enos 1:20

The Lamanites, who had given up agriculture also gave up civilization. I bet they were ripped, but I doubt that they lived as long. I doubt that their lives were abundant with understanding and happiness. They might have looked good in a loincloth, but they didn’t understand their bodies were temples. They didn’t have the Spirit striving with them. Most likely, they didn’t enjoy good, overall health.

There is more to healthy living than looking good.

In this modern age, we don’t have to live with the connection between growing food ourselves and mealtime. We just get our food from the store. Some of the popular diets (high protein/meat) may not seem as uncivilized because we get our meat nicely packaged in the supermarket. But it seems like the Lamanites were living a high protein diet; where the Nephites and other righteous civilizations were eating diets that were more plant-based. I bet after eating such a protein-rich diet, the Lamanites noticed their abs, then decided they would look good in a loincloth!

Our modern “diets” may make us look good in a loincloth, but they may not be best for our health or society. I suppose that this is why the Word of Wisdom is so helpful. Even when we get conflicting dietary advice, we can look to the scriptures and know what we should eat in order to be our best selves.

Have you made the connection between the Word of Wisdom and body image? What do you do to keep a healthy body image? How do you wade through fad diets verses the prophetic counsel we’ve been given?


17 thoughts on “The Word of Wisdom – It’s not Just about Flat Abs (D&C 89:14-17)

  1. Patti Luke

    So true. Every time I read about a new diet fad or get discouraged with my own body image, I always return to the council in the Word of Wisdom.

  2. Thank you for sharing your insights and wisdom. It is hard to not have one foot in Babylon and try to have a great body and yet follow the Word of Wisdom, especially with people having so much success with Low Carb, High Protein diets. This is exactly what I needed to hear.

  3. Thanks for the post. I just came across it in my research of food/diets/fitness and the LDS doctrines specifically the Word of Wisdom. Although I agree with your general assertion and perspective of what true fitness looks like and the misguided variety of diets out there. Your scriptural usage is incorrect and not consistent with the whole of the doctrine and scriptures.

    First, and it’s a mistake many make in the church especially those who are pushing a vegan/vegetarian or predominately plant base diet is to view the story of Daniel as a dietary doctrine. It is not. It has nothing to do with diet or whether or not to eat meat or grains. This is not the principle of the story or doctrine but rather a wresting of its true meaning and intent. This is a teaching on obedience to and worshiping of God and as the kings food or “meat” was prepared to honor their idols in addition to it not being prepared in accordance to the Mosaic Law it became forbidden. NOT because its meat. The promise of health and wisdom was a result of honoring God and obedience NOT diet.

    “The term meat referred to the food that graced the king’s table (compare Genesis 1:29). The reasons for Daniel’s refusal to eat the food may have included the following: (1) some of the foods used by the Babylonians were likely among the items forbidden for consumption in the Mosaic law (see Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14); (2) Babylonians, like other heathens, ate beasts that had not been properly drained of blood (see Leviticus 3:17) and thereby violated the Mosaic law; and (3) the heathens consecrated the food of their feasts by offering up part of the food and drink as sacrifices to their gods. Consuming such food would be participating in the worship of false gods. Moreover, food was viewed as contaminated and unclean according to Jewish law when it was prepared by anyone considered unclean, such as the heathens (see Leviticus 7:19–21). Daniel was strictly loyal to the Lord and refused to be involved in any practice associated with anything unclean or idolatrous.”

    In addition, the use of D&C 89 is also myopic and the examples of Mosiah and Enos is a misuse of the scriptures and are not a dietary instruction in anyway. Rather, Mosiah and Enos are NOT a lesson in diet but if anything an example of how a righteous and prosperous people cultivate, plan, prepare and flourish and make the most of their land. Whereas those who rebel (in the context of these references) and not follow God begin to wonder and become greedy. They fail to cultivate the land because of their short sightedness and wondering in the land and as a result they take their food in the form of animals because they failed to prepare. Although, not for the same reasons of disobedience but because of wondering and traveling through the wilderness and not being able to cultivate ground the lord provided meat to Lehis family to each and sustain life. As did the pioneers in traveling across the plains.

    1. Daniel,
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve actually been thinking of updating some of my thoughts on this subject. One of the worst parts about having a blog about this kind of material is that 1) I’m not an expert. I’m learning line upon line; 2) When I learn more and my mind changes I look kind of foolish!

      In my quest to better understanding the Word of Wisdom and my own health, I’ve been reading so much. One of the books that really opened my eyes was a book by Robert Lustig, (Fat Chance..) He discusses sugar and the ill effects it has on our health. Reading it opened my eyes to the fact that I’ve been eating WAY too much sugar – whether it is in the form of sugar or in the form of simple carbs that I can justify through my limited understanding of the Word of Wisdom.

      Ultimately, I’ve been learning that I need to approach the Word of Wisdom Backward. Here’s what I mean: it has changed – just as you point out. There have been many caveats and instructions given to people over time. In fact, the WoW can change for us in our own lives. A drug like Oxycontin isn’t considered to be “against” the Word of Wisdom when taken as directed. But, when abused, we break the principle.

      That’s the thing – It’s a principle. So, I have decided I need to look at the principle of the matter. I also think, If Joseph Smith were to receive this revelation now he might have had different instructions. Our food environment (and threats) are completely different! Between Genetic Modification and other processing what we’re eating doesn’t resemble what our ancestors ate.

      Recently, my husband stopped eating gluten. He was having horrible issues, so we decided to experiment. After giving up gluten, he no longer has any allergies, he doesn’t have “gut” problems (IBS, etc), he has been feeling better than ever. I started to wonder how gluten and grain was effecting me.

      I have actually recently adopted a Primal/Paleo diet (about 80/20). It has been a very prayerful decision for me. I have noticed a change in my hormones and energy, and am beginning to notice other changes, too (weight loss). It is still early to tell. Instead of being overly obsessed with one macronutrient, I’m just trying to eat as naturally as possible.

      I feel kind of like a hypocrite because in the past I was very skeptical of the Paleo diet (this post is an example of that!) But my mind is starting to change.

      I need to look at this backwards – the grain heavy diet I’ve been eating has actually been keeping me from feeling happy, being able to endure, and having knowledge. This is the principle. I need to eat in a way that will help me to experience these blessings.

      I’ve been thinking about updating this blog post, so thanks for your comment. I definitely will. I love the examples you give. They offer insight I hadn’t thought of before.(Ie: preparation of meat by King Nebachudnezzar. I love that concept!)

      I feel like there are so many people who want to experience the benefits of health while keeping the commandments. That was my intention in writing this. And I definitely need to update my personal and not lds-official experiences/opinions.

    1. Hi Eric,
      I hope you have read the comments, too. I have actually come a long way since writing this post (it has been 2 years since I wrote it!). I have now been following a Primal diet (for the most part), and I’ve been feeling great with it. Not only that, but I have approached it carefully and prayerfully.

      Anyway – I don’t regret writing this post, though – it was a part of my own learning process. Without going through this, I don’t think that I would have eventually found and bought into the Primal lifestyle. I had to learn more about carbs, sugars, our endocrine system, fats, and how our bodies work… I have written an update that will now appear at the top of the post, and I promise that I will be writing a new post on my blog!

  4. Miles

    I enjoyed reading your post and you made some very good points. Today there is so much conflicting diet advice that it is hard to discern which to follow. I’m glad the word of wisdom was revealed to give us a solid foundation. D&C 89:4 talks about evils and designs in the hearts of conspiring men. Whenever I read about a new diet now I think about this scripture. I can’t help but think that many of them are invented by conspiring men for selfish gain. The key things that I gather from the Word of Wisdom is that we eat with thanksgiving. I can say that this one phrase in the Word of Wisdom has changed the way I eat. I cannot eat meat with thanksgiving when I know that there are plenty of other readily available foods that could have satisfied my hunger and nutritional needs. Eating with thanksgiving doesn’t mean eating like its Thanksgiving Day (that’s a whole other topic). Eating with thanksgiving means not overindulging in foods just because they taste good. We should be thankful that we have enough to survive and then seek to help those who don’t, instead of eating enough to make us 100 pounds overweight while others are starving. For this reason I don’t think anyone that truly follows the Word of Wisdom will be obese or even overweight. They may not be ripped with six pack abs like you said, but I think that is possible as well with an active lifestyle.

  5. Kendall

    Are six pack abs evil ? Reading the posts on here would lead me to believe they are.There is nothing inherently bad about wanting to look our best, unless we are driven by vanity and pride. For the most part, we live sedentary lives, so what do we do to get that “sweat on our brows” spoken of in Genesis? The science is in folks, physical work is good for us, ergo, unless we swing a hammer for a living, we go to the gym.
    Most anything taken to extremes is usually not a good thing. This applies to physical fitness, so we need to look inwardly to determine why we want those “six pack abs”. Is it to look appealing to the opposite sex? To feel superior to others? Or is it to maintain a healthy posture, and strong back, so we can enjoy a long, and fruitful life serving others, and doing good things in this world? I spent thirty years in the Army and got pretty beat up in the process. A soldier’s very survival could depend on his “six pack abs”. When I turned sixty I realized that my lifestyle was leading me towards physical dysfunction; so I bit the bullet, joined a fitness club, hired a personal trainer, and now at age 65, I am as strong, and healthy as I was thirty years ago. I can reach into the bed of my truck and easily lift 50 lb bags of water softener salt out of it. I can hike all day with a grandchild on my shoulders, go to a priesthood project, and bust out old concrete with a sledge hammer, while all the other old fart high priests stand around drinking their diet sodas.
    When I was sixty two years old, I had a lipid panel done, and my triglycerides were over 700. My doctor wanted to start me on mega doses of Lipitor. I refused the chems, and started doing serious research into nutritional science. I read up on the primal/paleo thing, and decided to give it a try. For three months I ate nothing but dairy, fish, meat, and vegetables with a little fruit thrown in. (Raised on a farm, couldn’t give up my dairy). At the end of three months, my triglycerides were below 100. There was something legit to getting rid of the “grains”; but this meant coming to grips with “my science” and the W of W. It was actually pretty easy, I simply eliminated processed foods from my grocery cart. I am convinced that anyone with half a brain who does their homework would reach the same conclusion I (and others) have, that it is processed carbohydrates, overeating, and lack of physical exercise that are killing Americans. My solution to the grain thing and the W of W? I eat only whole grains, and eat them as sparingly as I do meat. I also gauge what I buy in the grocery store by its glycemic index, which steers me away from foods like potatoes, and bananas. I kill an elk (or try to) every year. The meat is frozen, jerked, bottled, and always eaten with thanksgiving. I think it is the way God would like to see us put meat on our tables. Kill an animal, stand over it as life is leaving its body and you will learn to the meaning of thanksgiving. We forget that the W of W was given as just that. It is meant to be worked out between us and the Lord.

    1. Kendall,
      Thanks for the honest comment.

      I’m not sure if you read the beginning of the post – the update. I originally wrote this post a few years ago, when I was only beginning my diet/WoW journey. This was my opinion at the time, and over the months and years, I’ve really learned a lot and have even changed my mind.

      As far as the flat abs goes- I’m a woman, so I’m not sure that I ever really want a ripped six pack. Flat Abs, yeah. I do. When I wrote this post, the first thing I needed to do was to determine that chasing health wasn’t only to look good, physically. There are a lot of ways to look good physically, and a lot of those people aren’t doing it healthy (Anorexia, Bulemia, etc).

      This started by me realizing I wanted to be healthy and fit – like you have described. I have had a heart arrhythmia since I was young. I knew I needed to get into shape, but I needed to shift away from this idea of being “sexy” that is pushed in our pornographic society. I needed to remember the real promise of the book of mormon: which is mental, physical, and spiritual health.

      Anyway – all of this being said…I’ve actually been led to“>Mark’s Daily Apple, and I fully subscribe to the Primal/Paleo lifestyle. (I’m more primal, myself, since I haven’t completely cut out dairy).

      Since doing primal, I feel better than ever! My acne has cleared up, my pain from endometriosis has disappeared, and I never have hormonal headaches anymore. I’m not addicted to sugar anymore (although, I fully admit that I’m a recovering addict.)

      I have come to terms with my choices and the word of wisdom. A grain of wheat looks a lot different today than it did in Joseph Smith’s Time. The genome of wheat has changed over the years. The set of chromosomes has multiplied six times. (See here for source.) I feel like the “wheat” that we consume today most likely look a lot different than the wheat the Lord was speaking of to Joseph Smith.

      Furthermore, as I’ve studied these things, I’ve seen that the Word of Wisdom has changed over the ages. We certainly don’t keep Kosher. The dietary laws are given to us not as a commandment, but as a “principle with a promise.” So, I have decided to work my way backwards.

      Now that I’m primal, I feel the promises of the Word of Wisdom coming true for me. It is what I’ve been looking for! I am 35. I’m becoming aware of my age. I’m beginning to “feel” the bad choices I made when I was younger – not taking care of sprained ankles, etc. I know my body is a temple, and I want to show my gratitude to God for this body by taking care of it.

      And, as I’ve studied this over the years, I still feel like it’s not only about flat abs. I know for me, personally, when I think about my abs, I veer over into body-worship/worry/etc. When I keep a moderate, Primal point of view, I’m happier, I’m thinking of the big picture. I’m looking at my body in the way I feel God intended it to be – my temple, the home of my spirit.

      Anyway – thanks again. I think that I’ll be posting on this change here in the near future. Since changing my diet, the pounds have been melting off, and I feel like I’m healthier and more grateful for my body than ever. Thanks for your awesome example. I want to be like you. I want to be hiking, swimming, working, and enjoying every abundant blessing on this earth. I don’t want to be the living dead that our Standard American Diet (and lifestyle) has promoted.

  6. Kendall

    I guess I somehow glossed over your update above, it ‘splains a lot. I found this thread doing (more) of my own diet/W of W research. Questions never end, and that is a good thing. Good luck in your fitness quest. I recommend a personal trainer, (if you can afford one), and kettlebells. Be sure to get good training with KB’s before diving into them, injury is not what we’re after here, right? Crossfit is also a great concept, I apply many of its principle in my workouts, but be warned, do not drink the Crossfit kool-aid. (Remember extremes in anything are not desirable). I have discovered, (and rediscovered) over the years, that when I am exercising regularly, I’m also acutely aware of my eating habits. They seem to go hand in hand. Once more, good travels to you in your endeavors.

  7. Calli

    Love this post because it shows your journey as you try to figure out what is best for you. I was diagnosed with Celiac disease a couple of years ago and found that I felt so much better, not only cutting out gluten, but most processed foods and grains as well. I have been trying to follow a primal/paleo diet and I feel so good! I have been trying to reconcile my belief in the word of wisdom with the diet that I am on. I know God wants me to be healthy and I think the paleo/primal diet is the way for me to feel my best. I have to go with my gut. 🙂 Love the post and the comments below.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Calli. Yeah – in some ways I’ve been really tempted to delete this post since my opinion on the matter has really changed. I know that I still should write an update!!!

      But, I have easily come to reconcile my wheat free diet with the WoW these days. 1) The WoW – dietary guidelines have changed many times. Look at the people in ancient times. They didn’t eat pork, shellfish, and they DID drink wine. Obviously the WoW isn’t so much about the details as it is about the principle.

      I also think that wheat is great – if we’re eating what God actually created. Unfortunately most of the wheat that is available is some other hybridized variety that was developed by humans in 50 years. It would have taken about 7,000 years for these changes to occur naturally. The little bugs in our gut (that do the actual digesting) haven’t had the chance to catch up…so we have a hard time digesting our newer wheat.

      Finally, here in the U.S. we put so much fertilizer on our wheat. Maybe wheat is fine, and it’s all that junk that is put on our wheat (and obviously penetrates into the wheat) that’s not good.

      Who knows.

      My measure is the promise: to run and not be weary and to walk and not faint. I’m doing that better without wheat these days than I do with it. So, for now, wheat is out. I’m trying to treat my body like a temple. I’m trying to honor it. I eat more veggies than in the past, and like you, I feel so good.

  8. Rachel Stephens

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and feelings about the word of wisdom. I have also been studying and trying to understand the WOW. I guess I have felt a lot like you, confused. There is a lot of dietary advice and it is conflicting. It was good to see this post and other people’s comments. Sometimes it seems like people don’t care and when they do they are just concerned with their image. On my journey I have found a lot of wisdom from the Weston A Price foundation, not to say they have all the answer, but there dietary suggestions have helped me a lot. They often get confused with the paleo diet, but they have differences. They suggest no processed foods, no caffeine, eating organ meats ( using the whole animal), making bone broths, eating raw dairy, eating pasture raised animals, fermentation of vegetables, dairy, and even soaking whole grains before eating them. It is a diet based on traditional foods (how our ancestors ate). Anyway good luck on your journey!

    1. Thanks, Rachel. Yes, I’ve heard of Weston A Price. It is so interesting to see how many people are going through dietary struggles. I’m glad that you are finding something that’s working for you. I have incorporated bon broths, and some of the other things that you’ve listed. Although, I’m still kind of a chicken when it comes to organ meats!

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