My wife and I have always tried to eat with a mind toward health. But I enjoyed a good hamburger, barbequed tri-tips, chocolate shakes, ice cream, etc. In fact I would have been perfectly happy to have hamburgers for every meal. I still would—but I can’t do it, because I know too much about what that would do to my body, not to mention the cows’ bodies.
So my journey toward a plant-based diet came slowly. As my wife became totally plant-based, I supported her (easy to do since she looks amazing). We had mostly plant-based food at home, except for cheese and a few other things like that. She learned to cook meals that could be done completely plant-based or with a little bit of cheese or even meat thrown in.
At 46 I was in very good health, or so I thought. I was in a kick-boxing class, could do 80 pushups, and could run forever. But my feet started to tingle a lot. The tingling gradually grew into outright pain. Terrible, unbearable pain. I went to several doctors who simply couldn’t figure out what was going on. When they took x-rays of my feet they were astounded. My bones were disappearing. I was osteoporotic as an otherwise healthy 46-year-old male: practically unheard of.
After numerous tests, they discovered my kidneys were throwing out all of my calcium, causing my parathyroid glands to grab the calcium from my bones so that my body would have enough to function. The docs gave me prescriptions to help my condition. Nothing worked and the meds had weird, unacceptable side effects. During this time they also discovered I was pre-diabetic, glucose intolerant. Apparently my feet found out I was about to become diabetic and decided to get peripheral neuropathy early—thus the tingling, numbness and sharp pains in my feet. (I realize that numbness and pain don’t seem too congruent, but just ask anybody with neuropathy about that. They won’t be able to explain why, but they’ll make a pretty convincing case that it happens.)
So now I had two problems: diabetes and the kidney thing. I had also had two very bad kidney stones, requiring three surgeries between them because they would not pass on their own. I was given more medicine for the diabetes issue and was told to cut way down on carbs: go easy on the fruit and bread and eat meat. My wife was very supportive and went out of her way to make sure I could follow the standard American diet for diabetes.
But nothing worked. My blood sugars were high (although not outrageous since I was only pre-diabetic, not full-on diabetic), and my kidneys were still throwing out my calcium—plus I was growing a third arm from the meds (just kidding—but I really didn’t like the meds). I also got high blood pressure. My wife suggested I try going totally vegan. I resisted at first, but she said, “You can do this for three months, and if it doesn’t work, go back to your animal products.” I decided I could do almost anything for three months, so I took her up on the challenge.
I went to my doctor and had her run all the blood and urine tests on me to have as a baseline. She told me I was crazy, but she went along with the plan. Then I went completely one hundred percent plant-based for three months and had her run those same tests again. I will never forget the doctor’s appointment when she discussed the test results with me. She walked into the room and said, “Well Paul, you should have gone to medical school instead of law school. You have cured yourself.” All of my numbers were completely normal. I thought, “Dang it, there go the hamburgers.” I wasn’t necessarily happy, but I was relieved to know there was actually a cure that would work for me.
Since then I have had long periods of eating completely plant-based and long periods where I ate mostly plant-based (90-95%). I am still tempted by meat and cheese, but I will never go back to eating the way I used to. There is not a single animal protein to be found in our house, except for the dog, and we’re not too keen on the idea of eating her. I am utterly convinced that a plant-based diet is the healthiest way to live, and for me, it’s life saving. I could not have continued on with the health problems I was having and had any kind of life. My feet still hurt due to irreversible nerve damage, but the only meds I am on are a couple that calm the nerves enough that I can tolerate the pain. I have learned to ignore it and have a pretty normal, happy life.
My life experience has led me to the undeniable conclusion that someone really knew what he was doing when he wrote Section 89. It’s high time for members of the LDS faith to take their Word of Wisdom compliance to the next level.
Paul Johnson, 63, lives in Orem, Utah and is an attorney. He and his wife, Orva, are the parents of nine children and 31 grandchildren. When not visiting grandkids, he enjoys exploring the mountains of Utah and likes fast cars and shooting handguns.
Paul and his wife Orva are featured in the video, “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film” and also in an extra video featuring extended footage about their story. Don’t miss these amazing videos! You can find them here, “Video and Extras.”
Paul and his wife Orva were also interviewed on the Mormon Vegetarian podcast on November 6, 2014. This is well worth listening to, even if you have read their stories!
Many of Paul’s family members are featured in the book and more are featured on this website:
Orva Johnson (wife)
Laura Allen (daughter)
Rebekah George (daughter)
Eliza Hirschi (daughter)
Marian Stewart (daughter)
Victor Johnson (son)
Sister: Elna Clark (sister-in-law)