I was 12 years old when I saw a picture of myself that would impact my entire life. As an adolescent I had put on some weight, but not any height. I’m so short-waisted and short-legged that there was no place to hide any extra weight. Even five pounds is a big deal for me. In the photo, I was chubby and had an unflattering outfit, but more than that, my face was sad and unhappy. Looking at myself, I felt distressed.
So at age 12, I started to exercise and watch what I ate. I didn’t tell anyone, but when my mom commented that I looked different, I told her I’d lost 5 pounds. My weight went up and down by as much as 30 pounds during the next 8 years. It greatly affected my self-esteem. I also had a strange genetic disorder that resulted in my starting 7th grade as toothless as a first grader. Ages 12-18 were spent trying to lose weight and waiting for teeth to grow in. Needless to say, I was not a cheerleader or prom queen. Add the typical woes of adolescent acne and social challenges, and no one could pay me enough to do those years again!
I was chubby when I went off for my freshman year at BYU where I gained more weight. As I returned home for the summer, in my frustration of gaining the 10 pounds, I gained another five. I reached what was later my top maternity weight. I could see myself ballooning into a very overweight girl, much like my paternal grandmother and aunts and uncles, so in desperation, lonely and scared, I went to the local Weight Watchers. Thankfully, I lost the ten pounds and got a moderate grip on things.
As the years went by, I returned to Weight Watchers many times, and I thank this program from the bottom of my heart. It saved me from becoming obese. My happiness level went up and down through these years, but as I look back, it could have been much, much worse. Eventually I became a Weight Watchers leader. My years of sharing the importance of “A Balanced Diet of Fruits and Veggies! Meat! Dairy! Protein! Be Healthy and You’ll Be Happy!” were a lot of fun and were the foundation of my current writing and business.
During these years, Weight Watchers actually came out with a vegetarian program where you could “eat as much as desired of these foods until you are satisfied.” As I look back on it, it was pretty much a whole-food-plant-based program that I dismissed with “Who would ever do that!” I loved my skim milk, cottage cheese, weekly allotment of cheese, beef meals, etc. And with a sweet tooth that was never really under control, I sure wasn’t going to go that route!
As I reached my mid-50’s I retired my Weight Watchers job. I self-published a book and did online writing promoting healthy eating and living (based on the four food groups). My weight settled in at what I thought I had no choice but to accept. It was at the high (OK, very high) acceptable end for my height on the Weight Watchers’ charts. My BMI was also high, but still acceptable. No matter how hard I tried, exercised, counted points, counted calories, attended meetings, etc. nothing changed! The scale was permanently stuck at 10-15 pounds more than I wanted. It was not life or death, and I was healthy, so, though I was not thrilled about this, I had no choice but to accept it and move on. After all, there are far more important things to be concerned about in life! Get real! Do your best to not gain any more, be happy, and let it go! Be grateful you are healthy and move on!
It was at this time, about ten years ago, that I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. This was not from lack of milk and dairy, I assure you! Both my mother and grandmother had osteoporosis, and now so did I. My sister was diagnosed as well. Fosamax was prescribed, along with lots of dairy and milk. Somehow I just couldn’t get myself to take the Fosamax, and as the years went by, I was very grateful as it has been shown to actually cause bone loss in the jaw, causing tooth loss as well.
In 2012 a fascinating book came my way, entitled Building Bone Vitality that documents all the clinical testing to show how it is only in the United States where osteoporosis is an epidemic. Regular consumption of meat and dairy foods with not nearly enough fruits and veggies, along with the detriments of the standard American diet, are the root of the problem.
In my health quest and to support my writing, I came across the books Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond and Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. As they outlined their eating program with a lot more veggies, explained why milk is NOT good for anyone, and discussed the importance of beans over meat, it all made a lot of sense. We stopped drinking milk and only cooked with it occasionally. We still had some cheese, but not as much. We noticed the benefits immediately. We stopped having colds and feeling like there was “gunk” in our throats.
We continued, however, eating meat and enjoyed our cooked eggs very much. I was still secretly hooked on sugar and that was frustrating and embarrassing. My weight stayed about the same, but easily crept higher if I wasn’t very careful.
Then last fall, September 2013, I had a strong spiritual prompting that it was time to honestly face my sugar problem as an out-and-out addiction. The LDS Recovery Program was right there for me, and when I learned that “any negative repeated behavior you do to avoid doing the things you need to do” qualifies as an addiction, I was relieved to know that all the lovely messages of the 12-step program with counsel from LDS leaders were for me!
Even as I became sugar-free, my weight stayed exactly the same. Not a thing changed and the lack of clothing options at my short height and body type became increasingly frustrating. Was I going to have to wear loose black skirts with sweater sets all my life? Once again, it was a little embarrassing to realize that too much spiritual and emotional energy was directed to this. In addition, my concern about osteoporosis continued as my doctor told me that my hunch to not take Fosamax was right and that we needed to explore other options.
I had learned that weight lifting was good for building not only muscle, but bones, so this was a double-whammy for both losing inches and gaining bone strength. I found the Body for Life program by Bill Philips and committed to the 12-week challenge. The eating plan included cottage cheese (one of the things I had missed a lot when we gave up milk) and a lot of lean chicken and fish. I was delighted, even though I knew it was not wise eating. But I took on the 12-week challenge and eating plan as written. I rounded up all my exercise equipment that had been collecting dust, bought my cottage cheese, chicken, and protein powder and went to town.
I was thrilled. Over the next 12 weeks I lost those “permanent” pounds that had plagued me for the last 10 years! I loved my cottage cheese and chicken! Lifting weights was the most exciting challenge I’d had in a long time. I enjoyed my workouts and the emotional lift that came as I began to finally lose those pounds and inches that had plagued me since my youngest child, now age 20, was born. I was all set to become a Body for Life champion! That was before my diet adventures took another, surprising, turn.
In April 2014, Jane Birch published her first article on Meridian Magazine about the Word of Wisdom and plant-based eating. I myself had written a number of Word of Wisdom articles for Meridian, and it’s a dear part of my life, so I glanced at it. As a fellow Meridian columnist, she sent me a copy of her book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but when it arrived, I was shocked to find that I could not put it down! It was riveting! The information was either brand new to me, or something that though I may have read before, seemed to be just for me in neon lights! Why hadn’t somebody told me these things!? All these years as a Weight Watchers leader! All these years as an active member of the Church!!!
As I started reading snippets to my husband, he too became equally engrossed. His cholesterol levels were a concern to him. When his doctor gave him a prescription, he said, “There you go! Now you can eat as much meat and cheese as you want!” Why would a medical doctor DO THAT when diet could regulate it? This had been as distressing to both of us as had been the experience with my doctors when they had begged me for years to be on Fosamax, then told me not to, having learned that it can be very destructive.
Though we’d gone without milk for some time, we now stopped eating cheese. I mean ALL cheese. We talked and talked and talked about it all. Give up our Saturday and Sunday egg meals? Really? I loved these cozy meals. Bob’s answer, “If it gives us a healthy life and helps us avoid cancer, stroke and heart disease, who cares about eggs?” Which is exactly where we are emotionally today.
We checked out cookbooks from the library, signed up for the Forks over Knives newsletter, and watched the Fork Over Knives documentary—twice. Immediately we made changes and started having these yummy veggie dinners. We hadn’t realized it, but we were really tired of our old recipes! We were ready as a couple for something new, and yes, FUN! With each satisfying meal, we marveled at how full we felt, how alive we felt, how happy and even joyful we felt! We later learned that this is all part of the happy deal . . . though it is NOT easy to change and there are some difficult social curve balls, overall, it’s a positive, powerful and permanent part of our lives that we couldn’t be happier about.
My weight immediately dropped another 3-4 pounds, and Bob, who doesn’t have a weight issue but had put on a few pounds, also dropped those pounds. My semi-annual check-up showed outstanding levels on all counts, including BMI. My doctor was so impressed and said that it was clear my personal health was a big priority. My only ongoing concern is the osteoporosis. We are addressing that with diet and exercise rather than drugs, having faith that this will be helped by a WFPB diet.
As we continue to thrive with whole food, plant-based eating, it’s not a problem. We have figured out for ourselves that we don’t even enjoy meat or eggs anymore. We’re still in transition with some elements that will continue to evolve/improve, but we consider ourselves to be 90 to 95% whole food, plant-based eaters. Our children, along with most of the people we know, are not inclined to eat this way, but it’s not really a problem for most social gatherings as there are always vegetables and salads, and many people opt out of dessert for lots of reasons. We’re still cooking family favorites that include meat and dairy for family and guests, but now we include a vegetarian option as well and always fruit as an option for dessert. It’s a surprise to us that our vegetarian entrée is enjoyed as much or more as the meat dish!
We feel eternally blessed to have this information and lifestyle available. We’re having more fun with our meals . . . and our lives and wardrobes. One of the nicest side benefits is that I’m more comfortable with my body shape and size than I have been in many, many years, maybe more so than at any point in my life. Bob’s started wearing bow ties, and I’ve started wearing belts and much snappier outfits!
We have a happy, firm conviction that the years to come will play out beautifully for us! We’ll be able to face our doctors and our Heavenly Father with the knowledge and confidence that we honored our bodies and His commandments in D&C 89, fully open and able to experience the blessings promised for the rest of our lives.
Carolyn Allen is 60 years old. She and her husband Bob are empty-nesters in Northern Virginia, where they have lived for many years and raised their family of five children. They have a continually growing number of grandchildren that are their pride and joy. They love to visit historical sites in the Nation’s capital, garden, care for their home, listen to books on tape together, and enjoy meals based on WFPB foods, along with trying lots of new recipes from the Forks Over Knives and China Study cookbooks. Carolyn was an award winning Weight Watchers leader for many years, which led to online writing at MeridianMagazine.com and the development of an Internet business related to health and wellness. Bob operated his own small business related to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for over 20 years until retiring to join Carolyn with their website store.