Poll: Obeying the Word of Wisdom

I think D&C Section 89 has some beautiful parts in it, and the promises in it are some of my favorite in the scriptures (finding wisdom and great treasures of knowledge through a proper diet?  Sign me up!).  So, I’m always a little bummed when the Word of Wisdom lesson in Sunday School becomes a rigid definition of what all true Mormons can and cannot consume.

And, yet, I wonder how different people interpret the Word of Wisdom.  Caffeine or no caffeine?  Is a “very little meat” outdated or ring true?  Has the Word of Wisdom guided you to find your own ethical way of eating?

I’m curious…how do you obey the Word of Wisdom?

For an excellent personal essay on the Word of Wisdom, read Sandra Clark Jergensen’s “Partaking of the Divine” in the Summer 2011 issue of Exponent II.


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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19 Responses

  1. MJK says:

    This may sound odd, but I like to go back to it as a reassurance when the two factions of my friends are yelling one way or another. Faction A is all low-carb paleo, “What is wrong with you? bread is poison!” and the others are the veggie/vegan camp where meat is unsustainable and expensive and unhealthy and cruel.

    Moderation in all things. And I’m all over the “create a balanced diet that works for YOU that lets you run and not be weary.” Beautifully put.

  2. MJK says:

    Oh – also, for me moderation in all things includes caffeine. It’s a drug, I try to treat it like a drug. If I need it in the morning or afternoon to function after a rough night of being a mother to young kid/s then I’ll drink a soda with caffeine in it. I try to never drink it unless I specifically want it for its purposes as a drug. Much as I would never take Tylenol just for fun if I didn’t have a headache. It’s not a hard limit, but it’s what I have discovered I am comfortable with.

  3. Andrea says:

    I served my mission in England, and have a close friend from Australia. Mormons in the UK and Australia, and probably elsewhere, openly drink decaffeinated coffee, but will NOT TOUCH caffeinated soft drinks. It’s the exact opposite here in the US. They believe the prohibition is for caffeine, and we believe it’s for coffee and tea. You can get a temple recommend either way. So, what does that say about the Word of Wisdom? Leads to very interesting discussion.

  4. Bro. Jones says:

    MJK #2: Same here. My days of drinking caffeine recreationally are long behind me. But if I have to drive 4 hours in the dark after a long day, you’d better believe I’m going to be sipping a Red Bull to keep me going. Keeping the caffeine use infrequent means that when I *do* use it…I. Get. Completely. WIRED.

    Earlier this week I thought I was going to be the babysitter for the evening, so I threw back a diet Coke since my kid is keeping late hours (teething). Turned out not only did my wife not go out, but the kid went to sleep early. So there I was at 1 in the morning, unable to close my eyes. [sigh]

  5. sandra says:

    Thanks for the shout out on my essay. I know this is often a volatile topic in Sunday school or really any meeting it is discussed in. People easily get defensive about their choices, understandably.

    The word of wisdom is a another doctrine that is a deep and meaningful as you allow it to be. If you see it nothing but a guilt-producing list of restrictions, it may just be only that. If you take time to see the wisdom in it and see the advice to seek out the good things of the earth, you will find joy in it.

    I admit I don’t live it all perfectly all the time. There are no rigid meal plans on just what perfect is- does it include herbal tea, naturally caffeine loaded yerba mate or even hot chocolate? I don’t know. But I don’t want to pick at those things. For me the word of wisdom is about gratitude more than anything. If you really take the time to get familiar with the diversity and beauty of food you will become more apt to like it the way it was created: fresh and in season. You will come to respect where it comes from and grateful for those who produce it well and in awe of God’s grandeur.

  6. Kramer says:

    I love it when the fatties in my ward argue over the W o W.

    • Maureen says:

      You mean, you love it when the beautiful sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents who have willfully chosen to perpetually rejoice in God’s abundant nutritional bounty or those who choose to escape the hurtful world through partaking in God’s comforting solace manifested through a divinely designed body which can receive such solace through food or those whom God has chosen to burden with extra weight in a culture the chooses to unrighteously judge such in order that they may be justly condemned, choose to fellowship and build connections with their ward members through healthy debate over the Word of Wisdom? Because I can hardly interpret Love in your statement any other way.

    • Diane says:

      So, I guess in your opinion, over weight people don’t have the right to participate thoughtfully. Wow, That is just about the most ignorant statement I’ve ever herd.

      I have a picture of myself prior to my becoming sick with Itp, I was placed on I doses 200 mg of Prednisone, along with subsequent courses of Chemotherapy and Gamma Goblin. My body has never gone back to its previous weight. It has nothing to do with what I’m eating, or not eating, how much exercise I get or don’t get( Acutally, I walk three miles a day)

      And here I sit, two days after getting out of the hospital with yet, another flare, in which my platelet levels drop to an all time low of 3,000 and you want to sit there and condemn not only my body, but, my mind, because somehow, you decided that its cool.

      Please grow up

  7. SilverRain says:

    You missed herbal tea. There’s no proscription against that, so far as I know.p

  8. Miri says:

    My favorite irony: when the Mormons who consider themselves totally orthodox, and who drink caffeinated sodas without batting an eye, start preaching at me for eating coffee ice cream. Try to edit out the tone of derision that I know is in that last sentence, because I really don’t mean it to sound that way–it honestly makes me smile every time. 🙂 And also cringe a little bit at the way we harp on every teeny little specific thing no matter how small the issue.

    I have chronic headaches, and since I’ve been taking Excedrin regularly since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that caffeine has no stimulating effect on me. I’ve longed to drink coffee for a long time–I love the smell and I adore my Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch–but I always refrained as a matter of principle. A few months ago I decided that avoiding something I love that has no negative effect on my body is not a principle I need to worry about (especially since I can now sometimes grab a coffee drink instead of popping Excedrin–if it’s a relatively mild headache, the caffeine does the job well enough).

  9. Rixa says:

    I dislike pop in general and only drink it as a medication (to stay awake on long road trips when I’m driving). I can’t handle the sweetness anyway, so I figure I’m avoiding two things in one fell swoop. I’m still puzzling over the “eat meat sparingly” part because I don’t have much knowledge of what reference point people back then had. What would sparingly have meant to them? I do know that they ate meat seasonally (duh) and that they probably ate a lot around the time of slaughter.

    I feel that many church members focus too strongly on the “don’t” parts and hardly ever look at the “do” parts. Where I live, you see lots of simple carbs, sugars and very little foods that are fruits or vegetables. Just look at any refreshment table or potluck and you definitely won’t have a WoW worthy meal. But that part is totally ignored.

  10. Andrea says:

    I also think it’s interesting that eating meat sparingly and in times of winter, cold or famine is the only principle mentioned twice. Yet, that is the principle we toss out. We are truly a peculiar people. I don’t feel guilty though. I love meat. Once I was having dinner at the home of one of Henry Eyring’s sons. He told us they had a pot roast every Sunday growing up. Sounds good to me. If it’s good for the Eyrings, it’s good for me.

    Another thought. Church leadership has known for decades about the WoW debates going on among the members, yet they have chosen to stay quiet. Makes me believe the details of practice are not of much importance.

    My BYU roommate and I laughed about how we couldn’t find a Coke anywhere on campus, but when she volunteered in the SLC Temple, there was always a little fridge full of Diet Cokes for the elderly folks who worked there. Guess BYU is more righteous than the Salt Lake City Temple.

  11. Diane says:

    I think this is quite funny. I feel like this is a little bit of common sense, which isn’t so common anymore. I really don’t mean that to be sarcastic. I never had a problem with the word of wisdom, I didn’t smoke, drink. I rarely, if ever drank tea(except when I’m sick)

    I think we need to take into consideration, the time period in history in which the commandment was given, there was no refrigeration so, I think eating grains was perhaps better than eating meat that was perhaps questionable. I really resent the attitude of some members that I’m not keeping the word of wisdom if I eat meat. That’s just plain silly.

    And, as someone who deals with autoimmune disease (and was just released from the hospital with a flare this weak) I can not take any herbal remedies.

    So, If anyone here has autoimmune disease these are a list of herbal medicines that you should stay away from because it will cause a flare for you

    A)Echinasia ( I know I spelled it wrong, couldn’t get the right spelling sorry)
    B) Flax seed
    C) Fish Oil
    D) Melatonin
    E) Asprin
    F) Nasids
    Also, don’t drink tonic water if you have immune problems because that breaks down platelets

    I’m sure there are many, many more , but, I am having brain fart right now and my brain can’t think.

    • clank says:

      In response to Diane:
      I’m sorry if you feel like others make you feel like you are not living the word of wisdom if you eat meat. D&C 49 makes it clear that complete abstinence from meat is not a requirement. I wouldn’t resent them though. Everyone is free to do as they wish and so people, including myself, feel better and more energized eating fewer animal-based proteins.

      And yes, context is always important, but I think that this the word of wisdom’s scope extends into the age of refrigeration. Even when the revelation was received there were reliable and safe forms of meat preservation- smoking, drying, salting, canning, and storing in rendered fat. Just because meat is safe doesn’t mean that it should be eaten without thought to the amount consumed and the reverence for the animal it came from. I think it is mostly a message that life is sacred, even animal life, and we should realize that as we balance our plate.

      Sorry about your illness and I hope you are doing better.


      I will just add that I wouldn’t look to what one family is doing (regardless of their leadership positions) as a basis or justification of my own choices. I’m not saying eating meat is wrong, or drinking coke is wrong. Neither one is. The only thing I would say is look to yourself and your own inspiration on those kinds of choices, since ultimately they are your own. You do what is right to you.

      Personally, I agree with the OP that there are hidden treasures, health and knowledge to be had, I want to do what I can to get those by living the word of wisdom. I just don’t expect everyone else to go about it exactly the same way I do, I just hope they look to God and inside themselves to make the best choice for them as I do for me.

  12. Mike H. says:

    Overall, it IS interesting to see how the warnings of “Conspiring Men” in the WoW have really come to pass. The data about tobacco dangers started up in the 1950’s. Then, the Tobacco Company Executives lied under oath to the US Congress a few years back. Underage drinking account for about 25% of alcohol sales in the US. I don’t think that last one is lost on the Alcohol Execs.

    Mormons in the UK and Australia, and probably elsewhere, openly drink decaffeinated coffee

    I’ve seen a few LDS people in Utah drink it. Along that line, Postum is now off the market.

    There are no rigid meal plans on just what perfect is- does it include herbal tea, naturally caffeine loaded yerba mate or even hot chocolate? I don’t know.

    Yerba Mate’ is another aspect that we don’t hear too much about in the US.In some parts of Central & South America, local LDS leaders try to discourage it’s use. In other areas, nothing is said. Here in the US, some non-members think the Church’s big aim is to save the world from caffeine.

    Normally, I use caffeinated drinks for nausea or headache. It sometimes gives me insomnia. I don’t like mocha in candies or ice cream, too bitter IMHO, it’s a downer to find it the hard way in mixed candies. It’s funny that on my mission, one fellow missionary was having a mocha shake. I told him it had coffee in it, but he assured me that it’s just burnt chocolate in it, not coffee. Since I had the lowest seniority of the missionaries there, I *had* to be wrong. Missionary politics wins again.

    Diane: Yes, some health disorder make for weight issues. And, St. John’s Wort is bad for those with immune system issues, I hear.

  13. The more research I do on the WoW and its origins and history the more I believe that it is truly meant to be taken as a guideline which emphasizes moderation and keeping your body healthy. As it states in D&C 89:2, the WoW was given “not by commandment or constraint”.

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