Healthy choices and living options

At 21 Larry Harmon tried pot for the first time. “My friends,” he said later, “tempted me.” But soon pot turned into LSD, again at the enticement of his friends. He only took one-half of a pill, but that was enough to push him into a world without grounding: anxiety, panic, depression, and total disorientation. It was a bad trip. He felt he had not experienced the so-called “ecstatic” effect that was promised. He tried again with a quarter of a pill, then called home and told his mother he was tripping out on LSD.

Then it happened. Hallucinations quickly took control of him. The LSD changed and distorted his feelings, thinking, moods, self-awareness, judgment, perception of time and space. He walked out his room with a rifle, a bucket of bullets, and a sledge hammer. Deranged, he drove to a Roman Catholic church. He got out of his car, picked up his hardware, entered the church foyer, and saw the church caretaker on a ladder, adjusting the clock. Bang! The caretaker fell to his death.

Next he turned into a one-man demolition squad. Grabbing the sledge hammer, he smashed the statues, leveled the altar, and broke the pews. He was having a “high trip.” Later he confessed that he thought he was God’s instrument to destroy Jesus Christ, whom he believed to be the devil. By this time, several students and a priest heard the noise and approached the church. Larry began to shoot at anything and anyone that moved. Soon the police arrived. Exchange of gunfire followed suit. Wounded, Larry began to run. Within seconds, he fell to the ground dead. His last words were memorable: “God, why do I have to be the one to die?” His father, Attorney E. Glenn Harmon, in a statement to the press, said, “Police bullets didn’t kill my son, but LSD did.”

Really, Larry’s journey to premature death began with a poor choice.

Results of poor choice

Choice is a gift God has given to every human being. However, when the gift is misused and poor choices are made, disasters inevitably follow. Consider the following facts for the United States in a single year:

Further, the economic cost of AOD– related crime is mind-boggling: $61.8 billion annually.6 Of course, no monetary value can be put on the human lives lost and the suffering associated with AOD-related problems.

The safe drug?

Poor health choices and use of illicit drugs extract an enormous price in terms of life, longevity, and social consequences. No one will disagree with that. But what about simple, over the counter, drugs? Even the humble aspirin taken for a headache or flu can impact body functions in the long run, causing heartburn, gastrointestinal upset, stomach ulcers, and bleeding. Just because drugs are dispensed without a prescription does not mean they are safe. A physician needs to be consulted even in their use.

What about prescription drugs? New drugs are discovered and introduced almost daily, but the “perfect drug” that will do its job with absolutely no side-effects still eludes us. For example, consider the drugs prescribed to control blood pressure. They carry a range of side effects, including weakness, fatigue, drowsiness, headache, mental depression, dizziness, bloating, sweating, indigestion, unstable emotional states, high cholesterol levels, and impotence. People who require these drugs may need to try several different kinds before they find one their system can tolerate. Thus, there is no drug that is completely safe. Even life-saving antibiotics carry potential problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, allergic reactions, and fungus problem. Prescription drugs need to be closely monitored by a physician, who can weigh the pros and cons.

Making healthy choices

Intake of any harmful substance is antithetical to God’s plan for human life. Paul states simply: “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” And dare we damage or abuse God’s temple? Paul continues: “Honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).* “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Ellen G. White, an Adventist pioneer in health prevention and natural remedies, wrote more than a century ago several articles and books whose main concepts have been verified by science in recent decades. She stressed, for example, the mutual influence of body and mind as well as the impact of both on the spiritual life. Only when we have healthy bodies can we have healthy minds, enabling us to communicate with God and others in a clear way. “A pure healthy life is most favorable for the perfection of Christian character and for the development of the powers of mind and body.”7 “Since the mind and the soul find expression through the body, both mental and spiritual activity are in great degree dependent upon physical strength and activity. Whatever promotes physical health, promotes the development of a strong mind and a well-balanced character. Without health, no one can as distinctly understand or as completely fulfill his obligations to himself, to his fellow beings, or to his Creator. Therefore, the health should be as faithfully guarded as the character.”8 In another of her works she outlined the basic natural remedies that ensure good health. “Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power—these are the true remedies.”9

Have these principles made a difference in promoting good health? Yes! Ever since 1950 Seventh-day Adventists have been, among the populations of the world, the most highly studied by researchers. Approximately 250 research studies have been published in scientific journals showing the benefits of the Adventist lifestyle. Results of some findings:

These findings have caught the attention of other researchers and government officials. T. Oberlin of Harvard University, speaking of the Adventist advantage, stated, “Such an increase in life expectancy at these adult ages is greater than all of the gains in life expectancy made in the past 60 years in this country as a result of all the advances in medical skills and knowledge, plus innumerable improvements of the environment in which man lives.”

In 1980, Sidney Katz, a Canadian official, reviewed the data on the benefits of the Adventist lifestyle and said, “I’ve got some advice on how to improve the health of the Canadians, and at the same time, cut billions of dollars off our annual health costs. I think we should study the lifestyle of adherents of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and then explore ways and means of persuading the public to emulate the Adventists in at least some ways.”

Steps in making healthy choices

So what do we do in changing to or adopting healthy choices? What shall we drink? What shall we eat? How much should we exercise? Shall we go to sleep before midnight or after midnight? Shall we take drugs to calm us down? The struggle between making good and poor health choices is a continuous one. So, it is important to go through the steps on how to make healthy choices:

1. Realize that God loves you and wants you to be healthy. As the Apostle John wrote: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2).

2. Check out if your current lifestyle reflects God’s recommended choices. Study the health principles contained in the Bible and then review the writings of Ellen White on health. They are the safest guides in this regard.

3. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the choice you made. The more benefits you receive from making healthy choices, the more they motivate you to continue making the same choice throughout your life.

4. Admit that you cannot make healthy choices by yourself. Once you recognize your helplessness in making consistent healthy choices, you will look for an external source of strength.

5. Draw strength from God continuously. Consider the diagram below. Poor health choices can be broken and success ensured only when we admit our helplessness and allow God to empower us to make right choices.

Have a plan to follow

Take, for instance, the matter of diet. God does not want us to suffer from various diseases caused by eating wrong kinds of food. Genesis gives us God’s original diet for humankind: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Genesis 1:29). Ellen White comments: “In order to know what are the best foods, we must study God’s original plan for man’s diet.…Grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables constitute the diet chosen for us by our Creator.”14

The advantages of eating a plant-based diet are clearly presented in the Bible. Genesis chapters 5 and 11 document the life span of people who ate the plant-based diet before the Flood, and those who ate meat for food after the Flood. See chart, right.

Think of it. An average life span of 900 years before animal diet came into use, and 300 years after that. Of course, diet alone did not cause the deep fall in life span. The effects of sin have had their impact, too. But a change in diet brought in diseases that contributed to the reduction of life span.

Scientific findings are supporting the plant-based diet as the healthy diet. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health Education and Welfare in its updated “Dietary Guidelines” emphasized that “vegetarian diets are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and can meet Recommended Dietary Allowances for nutrients.” This document acknowledges that:

Thus from both biblical and scientific data we know that dietary choices affect our quality of health and living. Proper health choices lead to better quality of life. What we drink, what we eat, what we put inside our physical system all have their effects. But good choices cannot be made easily. As in the moral and spiritual arenas, they require help from outside of ourselves. God has promised that help to those who maintain a long-term relationship with Him: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 KJV).

Kathleen H. Liwidjaja-Kuntaraf (MD, MPH) is associate director for prevention, Department of Health Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Her mailing address: 12501 Old Columbia Pike; Silver Spring, Maryland 20904; U.S.A. E-mail: 74532.747@compuserve.com

* Except where indicated, all Bible quotations are from the New International Version.

Notes and references:

  1. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Crime in the United States 1991,” Washington D.C., 1992; see also “Drugs, Crime, and the Justice System: A National Report,” Washington D.C., 1992.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol and Health: Sixth Special Report to Congress on Alcohol and Health from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, 1987.”
  3. J. J. Collins and M. A. Messerchmidt, “Epidemiology of Alcohol-Related Violence,” Alcohol Health and Research World 17 (2):93-100, 1993, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  4. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Drugs, Crime, and the Justice System: A National Report,” Washington D.C., 1992.
  5. I. J. Chassnoff, Drugs, Alcohol, Pregnancy and Parenting (Hingham, Massachussets: Northwestern University Medical School, Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988).
  6. Institute of Health Policy, Brandeis University, Substance Abuse: The Nation’s Number One Health Problem: Key Indicators for Policy. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, October 1993.
  7. Ellen G. White, My Life Today (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1958), p. 125.
  8. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1903), p. 195.
  9. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1905), p. 127.
  10. The Adventist Health Study, School of Health, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, 1978.
  11. J. Berkel and F. DeWaard, “Mortality Pattern and Life Expectancy of Seventh-day Adventists in the Netherlands,” International Journal of Epidemiology 12 (1983):455-459.
  12. H. Waaler and P. F. Hjort, “Hoyere levealder hos Norske Adventister 1960-1977: Er budskap om livstil og hels? (Low Mortality Among Norwegian Seventh-day Adventists, 1960-1977: A Message on Lifestyle and Health),” Tedsskr Nor Laegeforen 101 (1981): 623-627.
  13. W. Jedrychowski, B. Tobiasz-Adamczyk, A. Olma, and P. Gradziliewicz, “Survival Rates Among Seventh-day Adventists Compared With the General Population in Poland,” Scandinavian Journal of Socialised Medicine, 13 (1985): 49-52.
  14. White, Child Guidance (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publ. Assn., 1954), p. 380.