“When I changed my diet, an amazing thing happened”

Lynn HenrichsenBy: Lynn Henrichsen

As a teenage boy I could eat anything and never put on a pound. However, as an adult, I found myself putting on weight until I weighed over 50 pounds more than I did in high school. My job as a BYU faculty member involved mostly sitting at a desk or standing in front of a class. That led to physical problems. At age 40, running and even walking produced pain in my knees that reduced my activity level even further. Nevertheless, I accepted this reduction and the accompanying gain in weight as part of the normal aging process. I didn’t worry much about it. I exercised moderately and consumed a diet relatively high in refined flour, sugar, dairy products, and meat, which I had been taught were “good food.”

When I was in my forties and fifties, a high school or college classmate or family member my age, who had been a healthy or even athletic youth, would occasionally appear in the obituaries—usually a victim of a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. Also, among those who were still alive, I noticed a significant number growing (in their own words) “slower, fatter, and stupider” and accepting these undesirable changes as inevitable.

In my early fifties, I started caring for my mother, who (like many people of her era) had never engaged in serious physical exercise or consumed very healthful food. She raised us on a standard American diet—white bread, hamburger, bologna, eggs, milk, and potatoes and gravy, with small side helpings of peas, green beans, or corn topped with butter. In fact, she slathered butter on nearly everything “to make it slip down your throat.” It should come as no surprise that she had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and low energy—especially as she entered her seventies. She just wanted to sit in her recliner and “save her strength.” Over the ensuing years, she suffered a series of ministrokes (caused by clogged arteries to the brain). Her vascular dementia robbed her of her mental powers. One Christmas, she suffered a heart attack, which left her weak even after the cardiologists placed a stent in her clogged coronary artery. After that followed congestive heart failure, breast cancer, diabetes, and other diseases that did not kill her but robbed her of a meaningful life, wore out her husband, ravaged their hard-earned life savings, and exhausted her family caretakers, like me. She declined slowly and sadly over a decade.

Caring for my aging mother through her declining years was a hard but valuable life lesson for me. Sometimes, she would point her finger at me and say, “You just wait; your turn is coming!” as if what she was suffering in her old age was my unavoidable fate. I earnestly hoped she was wrong and vowed to do everything in my power to stay active and healthy as long as I could in order to remain independent and productive in my senior years and spare my family the pain and expense that come with an aging process so many modern Americans have come to accept as “normal.”

When I was 53 years old, I enrolled in the “Y-Be-Fit” program at BYU and had my body and blood analyzed. I was shocked to find that my body was “obese” and that my cholesterol level (220) was in the “moderate risk” range. Even worse, when I started exercising more seriously, my cholesterol stubbornly remained at unhealthy levels, above 200. I started taking statin drugs, but my cholesterol level still stayed between 170 and 180, which was far from ideal and made me think that maybe my mother’s grim prediction would come true.

Shortly after turning 60, I happened across a book titled Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, MD. It explained that many of the leading causes of death in our modern Western society (heart disease, stroke, cancer) are attributable in large part to lifestyle. They cited research findings that determined that 70 percent of what we believe is normal aging is “optional.” I decided it was time to change my lifestyle.

Soon thereafter, a friend in my ward, who teaches physical education at BYU, gave a lesson in our high priest group on the obesity epidemic in America and its astronomical financial, physical, and social costs to our society. This good colleague and brother also introduced me to Forks Over Knives, a video that explains the research of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., which concludes that a plant-based, whole foods diet can reduce or even prevent many of the lifestyle diseases that cause so much premature death, disease, and suffering in our society. I was attracted by the fit between the basic findings of Campbell’s and Esselstyn’s work and the positive aspects of the Word of Wisdom—the eating of grains, fruits, and vegetables in abundance and of meat sparingly (while not even mentioning milk and eggs as food sources).

About that time, I was at Costco one Saturday and watched a Vitamix demonstrator whip up a “green smoothie.” It was delicious, not to mention healthy. We already had a Vitamix at home, so it was a simple thing to start using it to make tasty and healthy green and orange smoothies (from spinach, carrots, kale, apple, banana, pineapple, etc.), which I drank twice a day. At the same time, I cut way back on meat and dairy products and increased my consumption of whole grains and legumes. My wife’s parents were immigrants from Japan, so she was pleased to add more Japanese-style vegetables to our meals.

When I changed my diet in these ways, an amazing thing happened. My weight, which had been so resistant to change, began to drop. Over a couple of months, I lost nearly 15 pounds, but when my weight reached the “ideal” (according to the charts) for my height and my BMI was right in the middle of the “normal” range (21), it stopped dropping. There it stayed for many months, as long as I stuck to my plant-based, whole foods diet. If I relaxed, however, and reverted to my old dietary habits, my weight would creep back up. For most of the past two years, I am pleased to report, it has stayed near “ideal.”

Just as my weight dropped, so did my cholesterol levels. As mentioned, for nearly twenty years, my total cholesterol had been well above 200 (as high as 239) almost every time it was measured. Being in the “moderate risk” category wasn’t very comforting. As I turned 50, however, my cholesterol level reached new heights (240-260), putting me in the “high risk” category. Statin drug therapy lowered my cholesterol, but it was still not ideal. When I switched to a plant-based diet, however, I finally reached my goal of “ideal” (<150) cholesterol levels. A recent blood test reported my cholesterol level is 130.

I can also report that since turning 60 I have had more energy and less disease than I did previously. Besides running for exercise, I started running for fun. At first, I ran 5K races, which were all I could manage. In 2012 (at age 62) I ran my first 10K race and surprised myself by winning the trophy for first place in my age category. In 2013, I ran a half marathon. And since turning 60, I have participated in three triathlons, winning a bronze, silver, or gold medal in my age category each time. That’s not bad for someone who gave up running twenty years earlier because of knee pain! But I don’t run to win medals. Although I am tired at the end of each of these races, I find a joyful sense of accomplishment in simply completing them. I see each success as a fulfillment of the promise of the Word of Wisdom that those who keep not only the “don’t’s” but also the “do’s” of this counsel from God “shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20).

Lynn Henrichsen, age 63, is a professor of Linguistics and English Language at Brigham Young University. He and his wife live in Provo, Utah. They have four children and ten grandchildren. He holds a doctorate degree in education and has studied eight foreign languages, worked in or visited 26 countries, and has taught students from over 60 different nations.

Comments

  1. Lynn, Osatko Suomea? (Do you speak Finnish?) Most likely one of the good number of languages you have studied doesn’t include Finnish. I had the privilege of serving a mission in Suomi (Finland as it is said in English) as a young man and then from 2004 through 2006 my wife Melva and I served a special mission there where we proselyted and then focused on introducing the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program in Finland which helped get it started in England and in another number of other European nations. I’m grateful I was well during that time, but I hadn’t yet been helped by my oldest child, Jane, to learn how to eat the Word of Wisdom Way. I guess the Lord somehow helped me have health so we (my wife Melva and I) could accomplish what we needed to.

    If you have my daughter Jane’s book, “Discovering the Word of Wisdom, Surprising insights from a whole food, plant-based perspective” you most likely have read how I eat like you do. (On page 147 you can read my brief report on how Jane taught me how to eat the Word of Wisdom Way.)

    I really admire your persistence in getting into eating the Word of Wisdom Way! I’m in my eighty third year now and I believe I have over two decades of life left! I haven’t been sick at all since I began eating like you do! When I reach 100 years of age I’m positive you will still be a very healthy man and perhaps on your way to an ancient age also! I enjoyed viewing your photo above. You really look healthy and happy! If you click into my Website above you can see my photo when I was eighty one!

    PS Jane didn’t mention in that last paragraph on page 147 of her book that I earned my B.S. Degree from BYU, majoring in Human Development and Family Relations! I graduated June 1, 1960 and was handed my diploma by President David O. McKay!

    • Sorry, I don’t speak Finnish, but many of my Linguistics colleagues do. Maybe you know Royal Skousen or Mel Luthy. If you go back far enough, you might even know Joseph Rowberry. They’re all Finland RMs and great people. The languages I’ve studied over the years (with varying degrees of success) are Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Samoan, French, ASL, and Danish. I still use several of them for writing in my journal. I also write using the Deseret Alphabet and “Da Vinci” (mirror writing). These linguistic activities provide me with a daily mental workout that I trust will keep my brain active and strong as I age. In fact, researchers have concluded that learning and using a second language staves off Alzheimers and dementia an average of about four years. I figure that my language-learning adventures will give me at least an extra 30 years of mental acuity to go along with my healthy legs, heart, and lungs. Wish me luck!

      • Did you know my husband, Marvin Loflin? He served in Finland from 1956 to 1958, and was responsible for teaching new missionaries Finnish when they arrived (Pre-Language Training Mission).

  2. This story is so inspiring. I, too, watched my mother develop health problems as she aged, and while I desperately hoped it wouldn’t happen to me, I still worried that I would just spontaneously develop diabetes, and then Alzheimer’s, followed by cancer. What a great blessing it is to find that the reality is that even though I am in my 50’s, the risks have been diminished significantly by my lifestyle, and it is almost certain that I will instead, age into my 70’s and 80’s still able to enjoy life, serve missions, and stay active. Thanks for the reminder and the great story, Lynn!

  3. Hi Lynn,

    This is Scott Zimmerman (BYU Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Biochemistry). You know my wife, Beverly Zimmerman, who was on the BYU English faculty before we both retired in 2008. I too have a story posted on this (Jane’s) website. Beverly and I have been WFPB for almost two years, motivated by my heart disease. As I have learned more about the WFPB lifestyle, I am convinced that it will slow down or totally stop the diseased that most of us worry about–CAD, dementia, cancer, and diabetes. Although I can no longer run marathons (my PR was 2:58:34 in 1981; I ran Boston in 2004; my last marathon was Utah Valley in 2010) because of arthritis in my left hip (caused by an injury when I was 13 years old), I walk/jog, bike, swim and lift weights almost daily. Best wishes in your diet and exercise lifestyle. And thanks for sharing your inspiring story.

    Scott

  4. Thank you for your encouraging testimony.

    This following article was written as a complement to a lecture I gave for “Symposium” in Hannover and was published in 1985. Especially some medical doctors commented that I didn’t know anything – would they still the same opinion today? Today in 2014 I would still rewrite it as is.

    We Mormons don’t really keep the “The Word of Wisdom” Dona Heßling, 1985

    Mankind was created as the “crown” of the Creation and placed over the earth, animals, and plants. With the task to overcome and care for the earth we developed into a form of “Mini-Gods.” Our earliest ancestors were nomads and hunters, who lived in small tribes and restlessly wandered around searching for victuals. At each season nature would bring forth vegetation necessary to fulfill the needs and requirements of the human body. As soon as an area was depleted then they would be guided by their knowledge of the animals and fruits of the season and move to another area. In time mankind settled and learned to farm and hold animals with the result of their losing the relationship to the earth and nature.

    Presently we live in a nation of abundance, but have we really thought of this to be as a curse to be so blessed? 146 years ago the Lord revealed to His prophet Joseph Smith this warning:

    “Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—“ (D& C 89:4)

    Since the reception of “The Word of Wisdom” we or the Church have emphasized verses 5-9 so, that the development and degeneration of our foods have passed by without us noticing it. With the world’s industrialization during the past century and the resettlement of the population from the farms into the cities, there has been a dramatic change in our daily bread. With financial win and conservation in mind our basic foodstuffs have been so changed, isolated, and denaturalized so that to the most part the nutritional value of the natural foods has been deleted or completely lost. As a result, even with a better hygiene, instead of becoming a healthier and more potent populace, more doctors than ever are necessary to treat the actual “symptoms” of illnesses and more hospitals must be built. At the same time we are proud that our population lives longer than earlier, but that is partially because not so many children and mothers die at birth in order to sink the average death rate. On the average those in the industrial countries live today twenty years longer that earlier, but the “civilization” illnesses don’t permit us to enjoy this added “health” because we are plagued with cavities, rheumatism, obesity, diabetes, hearth diseases, metabolic disturbances, amongst other chronic illnesses.

    As in the time of Jesus Christ, as the Jews didn’t understand “clear” words and had to be taught in parables, so are we also taught by our modern-day prophets. “He, who has ears, let him hear!”
    Since years the prophets have counseled us to maintain a food storage and even cultivate a garden.
    “Why then?” we ask, “The supermarkets are full! We can import. Incase of war or catastrophe everything is destroyed anyway! I prefer to die than to eat only from my storage! Igit!!!!”
    “A garden is too expensive and much too much work, especially when I can buy produce cheaper at the markets.”

    In receiving Free Agency our natural instincts and senses eventually vanished so that we could learn the difference between good and bad. Animals still discern which plants are good for nutrition and which are bad. Through the “civilization’s” chow – white bread, ice cream, sugar, McDonalds, et.co – our metabolism is so overburdened that our bodies ultimately rebels. Cancer is just a warning signal and reaction from a helpless and hopeless organism. Today, pain, fever, or other discomforts are not necessary because there is a pill for everything.

    But, the Lord doesn’t leave us alone! When we keep His commandments, as we understand them, He directs us step for step along the way to become more as He is. Trials and even illnesses open new doors to new knowledge and the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the “prepared.” The time of the Lord is near and the tares are being separated from the wheat.

    In the meantime manufacturers separate the wheat germ and six layers of bran from the kernel, that naught remains than carbohydrates and starches in the form of white flour, which before only the “elite rich” ate, but was left alone from the mice and bugs. The living energy of the germ with the whole nutritional values is given to animals as feed. The same pertains also mostly to the other foods which the Lord had created.

    Nevertheless, through separating, isolating, cooking, drying, irradiating, etc. only denatured and inferior foodstuffs remain. The Lord created life-giving plants and each piece of nature is in harmony and balance within itself and augments the ecology. Each morsel of natural foods contains enough vitamins, minerals, Trace elements, and secondary substances to assimilate the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into the body to give it energy and health. Through fermenting and souring other vitals are freed, enhanced, and toxins diminished. Now and then toxins must be destroyed by cooking but other necessary nutrients suffer also.

    By unawareness, comfort, habit, or influence of the world, we let ourselves be persuaded with pleasure to be “in” and “modern,” while we lose contact with the earth and God’s creation. God’s creatures, vermin, and weeds which are so important for the balance of the creation are killed by poison or other chemicals. We do not run any more, but let ourselves be carried. We do not work, but are dependent on machines and technology.

    A greater part of the agricultural cultivation surfaces is used in abuse against “Word of Wisdom” and the Gospel. Millions of acres are wasted for wine, beer, coffee, drugs, and other slave-making crops. Soon methanol should be produced of potato, corn, and sugar beets for cars. Millions of people starve, so that we can eat meat, then to create 1 kilo of meat, an animal must eat ten kilos of grain. So that it won’t be any more, the animals are held stationary and given hormones. For vanity many more die for cosmetic research. Needlessly many endangered animals are slaughtered so that Madame may be warmed by an expensive fur coat.

    The “Word of Wisdom” was given for the weakest of the weak and the Lord gives us weakness, so that we become humble and know that we are nothing and are dependent upon God. In it we are promised health: “Harmony of all physical-spiritual-mental functions and symmetry in the structure of the Organisms.”

    Health is more than just being free by symptoms. Health means to be “healed” and made “whole” and as “Saints” of the latter days we are anxious to obey these words of wisdom and to act accordingly, so that we may also find concealed treasures and feel this not only within ourselves, but also in the world and in all things created in harmony, unity, and esteem.

    “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.” (D&C 89:18 – 21)

    Literature

    – Doctrine and Covenants: Section 89
    – Culclasure, David F.: Ernährung und Stoffwechselsystem und die Zelle. Aus Anatomie und Physiologie des Menschen. Bd. 1 & 12, Verlag Chemie, Basel, 1982.
    – Mihailescu, G.&A.: Zivilisation und Gesundheit. Bio-Verlag, München 1982
    – Brucker, M.O.: Vorbeugen ist Besser als Heilen,, Bio-Verlag, Gesundleben
    – Menniger, Dierter, Gülicher, Gottfried: Essen Wir Uns Krank? Econ Verlag, Düsseldorf, 1971
    – “Leben und Gesundheit”: Zeitschrift zur Gesundung an Körper, Seele und Geist, .DVGP, 1982
    Also included is much information collected from the many articles and books I have read over the passed decades.

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