“I am a food addict”

Scott Zimmerman After WFPB (Sevilla Spain) May 2013By: S. Scott Zimmerman  

I have four confessions:

1. I am a food addict. I often seem unable to stop eating, and forage for food all day long, food that is often high in fat and sugar.
2. I have coronary artery disease (CAD) caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.
3. I have lost over 50 pounds three times in my life, only to regain the weight two of the three times.
4. During my 30 years as a professor of biochemistry at Brigham Young University, I always included principles of nutrition as part of my biochemistry courses for pre-medical and pre-nursing students, but I have recently realized that much of what I taught about nutrition was wrong.

So here is My Story of ups and downs in body weight and in nutrition management. It’s a story of a long, slow process of making mistakes, trying to learn from those mistakes, and finally finding the value of a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) lifestyle. I’ll start with my first confession.

Food addiction—or more specifically, addiction to fat and sugar—is real. I know because my battle has been a life-long, roller-coaster process. I was chubby in my youth but a reasonable 175 pounds (I’m 5’ 10” tall) when I graduated from high school. During my mission to Peru, where most missionaries lose weight, I gained 30 pounds. I was able to lose most of that weight after my mission while an undergraduate at BYU, and I was 185 pounds when I got married. Over the next decade, my weight crept back up, and when I returned to BYU as a faculty member, I weighed 215 pounds.

At that point, I took up running. I started by training seriously for a five-mile road race, became hooked on running, watched my diet more carefully, and ran many short races and eight marathons over the next six years, including finishing the Deseret News Marathon in a personal-record time of 2:58. I weighed 155, down 60 pounds from when I first started running.

While feeling the health benefits of a low-fat diet coupled with running, I wrote the article “Running Away From It All,” which appeared in the February 1981 issue of the Ensign. I also taught classes on the value of exercise during Education Week at BYU and gave many firesides on health and fitness. I now wish I had focused more on nutrition—proper nutrition—and less on exercise.

Not long after the Ensign article was published, I began to let other things in life interfere with my exercise. I stopped running and returned to my old eating habits, the unhealthy Standard American Diet (SAD). I paid a big price. Two decades later, at age 55, I was walking across BYU campus and experienced shortness of breath and chest pains. My wife took me to the emergency room of the hospital. Over the next two days, I was diagnosed with CAD, had angioplasty, received three stents, and was put on Lipitor. My weight at the time was 235 pounds, my cholesterol was 291, and my triglycerides were 283. No wonder I almost had a heart attack!

I decided to change my ways. I went back to running and carefully watched my diet. I read Ornish’s Reversing Heart Disease and began a low-fat diet (but unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to adopt the full WFPB diet that Ornish recommended). Over the next eight months, I again lost 60 pounds, back down to 175. Over the next four years, I ran five marathons, including the Boston Marathon, and completed six triathlons, four century (100-mile) bike races, and a one-day 200-mile bike race (LOTOJA in northern Utah).

Unfortunately, after the Boston Marathon, I experienced atrial fibrillation, which required that I curtail my exercise. I still did some running, but I strayed from my low-fat diet and started putting my weight back on. In 2008, I retired from BYU and my wife and I went on a mission to Peru. Four years later, we went on another mission, this time to Spain. My weight reached 218 pounds.

After four months in Spain, in August of 2012, I began noticing chest pains when I walked briskly or hiked up hills. I knew what those pains meant: I had angina pectoris, a sure sign that the CAD had worsened. I wondered what I should do. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving our mission early to get my angina treated, so I decided to search for other alternatives. I tried to get a copy of the Ornish book that I had read many years earlier, but it was not available online. Fortunately, I found Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (in Kindle version), which describes the scientific evidence for a WFPB diet in preventing and selectively reversing heart disease. Then I read Campbell’s The China Study, Stone’s Forks Over Knives, Robbin’s The Food Revolution (an excellent book, which Jane Birch references in Chapter 8 of her book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom), and Campbell’s Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition (another excellent book, also referenced in Jane’s book).

So, on September 1, 2012, I adopted a WFPB lifestyle. Now, 16 months later, my weight is down to 165, ten pounds below my high school graduation weight and 53 pounds less than it was prior to leaving for Spain. My cholesterol is 124 (aided with Lipitor) and my triglycerides are 54. And most importantly, my angina has greatly subsided, to the point that I can do brisk walking and even do some running.

Before (June 2012)

Before (June 2012)

After (May 2013)

After (May 2013)

Two wonderful things have happened with my WFPB diet: (1) For the first time in my life, I have lost weight without having to exercise for two or more hours a day. And (2) my taste buds have changed, and I now enjoy beets, sweet potatoes, spinach, and the like—food I had previously hated. I still battle food addiction, but now when I yield to the temptation to “forage,” I select WFPB snacks.

With the WFPB lifestyle (which includes 30–60 min/day of exercise), my food addiction and my heart disease are mostly under control. My weight is down to the best it’s been since I ran my personal best marathon thirty-two years ago. In addition, I now understand what I should have been teaching about nutrition in my BYU biochemistry classes.

Before I retired from BYU, my teaching of nutrition focused on the Mediterranean Diet and on the dietary recommendations in Willete’s Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating.  Although, the Mediterranean diet is a good dietary program, it still has serious limitations.  For example, although a study of people on the Mediterranean diet show that the progression of heart disease is slower than on a SAD, one-fourth of the patients in the long-term study still developed heart disease. On the other hand, research on heart patients on the WFPB diet, shows that the diet completely stops the progression of heart disease and sometimes reverses it. Research also showed that the WFPB diet helps prevent cancer, diabetes, and other diseases. If I were to return to the biochemistry classroom, I would teach the WFPB diet and about living the Word of Wisdom in its fullest sense.

So, what makes me think I won’t return to the SAD, regain my weight, and experience more serious CAD? After all, it’s happened twice before, so why not this time? Reading the scientific evidence for the tremendous health benefits of a WFPB diet helped me to understand the complexity of the problem, and gave me the motivation to begin a WFPB diet that enabled me to stay in Spain and to have the health and energy to enjoy the demanding, 50-hours-per-week of a temple mission. I feel my experience in Spain will give me the confidence to continue my WFPB lifestyle.

In addition, Jane Birch’s book has shown me the connection between a WFPB diet and the letter and spirit of the Word of Wisdom. I hope my story will help others understand the benefits of a WFPB diet. Living the Word of Wisdom to the fullest of our knowledge and ability will enable us to accomplish the purposes for which the Lord has placed us on the earth.

Scott Zimmerman, age 69, retired six years ago after a 30-year career of teaching and research as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Brigham Young University. His wife Beverly retired at the same time after 16 years as a professor of English at BYU. Since then, they have served two missions, one to Peru and one to Spain. They are the co-authors of over 40 books, mostly university textbooks on Microsoft products. They live in Orem, Utah, and have seven children and 23 grandchildren.

Scott Zimmerman was interviewed on this episode of Mormon Vegetarian.

Comments

  1. So good. I love your story and hope it will continue to motivate you and your family. I eat like this 80% of the time and feel awful when I don’t. I was able to lose a 10 lbs I thought I never would last year sticking to this diet and a regimented training and exercise routine!

  2. Hi Scott … great story and congratulations! My friend Rogan Taylor and I (he is a world class therapist and lives in Orem) do a weekly podcast, “Mormon Vegetarian”. In fact, Jane Birch was the featured guest on our very first show! We would love to have you on to tell your story. If you are up for it, send me a note and we will schedule it. Again, congratulations. Incidentally, it was Rogan who brought Campbell to lecture at BYU and UVU. Loook forward to hearing from you.

  3. Like you, I was retired before learning about the wfpb diet. I retired from LDS Family Services in 1996 after working for the Church since the Fall of 1962 (34 years of LDS Church employment;,not much longer than the amount of time you were employed at BYU). (I was employed as an LDS Indian Seminary coordinator for my first three years of Church employment.) Some of my story is in my daughter,Jane’s book. I am her father.

    I am very confident that if the kind wfpb book that Jane has written had been writen and published years ago and I had followed its counsel then that I would have been even more effective in the important field in which I served for the Restored Church. Then my wife Melva and I served as full-time missionaries for the Church in Finland (from 2004 to 2007) where I had served for two and a half years instead of the typical two years, as a young elder because of there having been no pre-mission language training at that time for missionaries assigned to serve in Finland where the language is very difficult for natives of most all other nations.

    I was about twenty pounds overweight on my second mission to Finland, but although my doctors had helped me overcome several medical problems, i.e. diverticulitis and type 2 diabetes previous to our mission, I was never before functioning at the very effective level then that I am now. By living by the Word of Wisdom Food Plan I have now been blessed to live since wholeheartedly accepting that plan a little over two years ago, so that I never even suffer from minor illness such as colds, headaches, etc. I actually enjoy, as I believe you do too, eating the Word of Wisdom way!

    My wife and I were blessed on our mission together in Finland to have our assignment as proselyting missionaries expanded halfway through it, to include bringing about the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program in Finland and as it turned out, our being blessed to do that opened the way for that very vital program to expand into much of Central and Northern Europe, including into the British Isles. It began actually functioning in England first Because of course the original language of that program was English so translation of the program handbook was not needed there as was needed in other European lands including Finland.

    As an LDS Family Services employee in Northern California in the years of 1970 – 1973 I was blessed to be instrumental in the actual devising and beginnings of the Addiction Recovery Program of the Church. I didn’t fully realize that until after we had returned to Utah after our mission to Finland. I was so very grateful that vital program had become a part of the LDS Church’s services for LDS members in Finland where alcohol consumption has always been at a very high level.

    Best wishes Scott as you continue to be healthy because of your eating the way the Lord advises us to! May the Lord bless you and your family!

    Neil Birch

    P.S. You can see my photo by getting into my LDS Blog: http://varsinainen.blogspot.com

  4. Scott,

    Thanks for sharing your experience, mine parallels yours only less intense. You list a number of books explaining WFPB. Do me a favor and list them in an order a newbie like me should read. Nice to hear from you, hope things are fine with Beverly and the family. Should you choose to run or ride in Arizona, there’s room for you to stay at our home in Mesa.

    Jim

    • Hi Jim,

      Good to hear from you. Here are my recommended books to get you started:

      1. The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II. This is the bible of the WFPB diet.

      2. The Starch Solution by John A. McDougall and Mary McDougall. This is a comprehensive, easy-to-understand summary of the plant-based diet, how to get started with it, and its benefits.

      3. Discovering the Word of Wisdom by Jane Birch. This summarizes the WFPB diet and puts it in an LDS context. A must read for Mormons who want to better understand and to get the most from the WoW.

      Because of my heart disease, actually my two favorite books are Reversing Heart Disease by Dean Ornish and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn. They are must reads for anyone with coronary artery disease.

      Scott

  5. I really need to add another chapter to My Story, so here it is.

    When I arrived home from Spain I felt strong and healthy. I exercised daily—walking, jogging, indoor biking, and weight lifting. I experienced some mild angina when I jogged or biked hard but not when I walked briskly (4 mph). This led me to believe that I had minor heart disease, which could be easily treated. My cardiologist felt the same way; however, he recommended that I have a thallium stress test to determine the blood flow levels in my heart during exercise. The results surprised both him and me: 20% of my heart did not get oxygen while I was exercising. My heart disease was more serious than either of us suspected.

    My cardiologist then scheduled a routine angiogram, with possible angioplasty and stents. He and I were even more surprised by the results of the angiogram. My right descending coronary artery was totally occluded, which made angioplasty and stents impossible. Other arteries were likewise mostly blocked. My cardiologist immediately consulted a cardiac surgeon who recommended that I have coronary artery bypass grafts (CABG, pronounced “cabbage”), surgery that would allow me to fully return to running, swimming, cycling, hiking, and strength training. Without the operation, the doctor explained, I would never be able to fully participate in these activities. My wife and I decided that I would go ahead with the open heart surgery.

    I had the operation the next day, on January 15, 2014. Because of my level of fitness (remember that I had lost 50 pounds and had been eating a WFPB diet and exercising regularly for the previous 16 months), the surgery (quintuple bypass) was successful and my recovery went extremely well. I am back walking and biking and doing light weight lifting. The cardiac surgeon has said that within the next four weeks I can return to full activity of running and strength training. He also said that I could return to running marathons and triathlons if I so desired.

    I am disappointed that my WFPB diet didn’t cure my heart disease, but it was too far advanced for a WFPB diet to reverse the atherosclerosis. I am now more committed than ever to maintain my WFPB lifestyle so that my “new” heart will stay strong and healthy. I hope to have many more years of healthy living.

  6. Thank you for this article. I have read all the books you have mentioned and more. The diet can be a struggle at times so it’s so helpful to me to hear stories that help motivate me to stay on course.

  7. I enjoyed reading this story and this blog. I am a 59 year old mother of 8 and grandmother of ten. I have been lacto-ovo vegetarian several times before. I recently have come to the decision because of a lack of energy and cravings for mostly bread products to return to a vegetarian diet. This time ovo- vegetarian. (We live on a farm and have our own free range chickens. We also have raw milk from our cow but I don’t drink that. My husband and boys do. I am trying to teach them.) Though eggs will only play a very small role in my diet. These blog posts give me courage to continue to eat a Word of Wisdom diet in the face of the world’s notion of nutrition.
    I feel the same way I did in 1986 when I began home schooling my children. There were few LDS that were home schooling then. I lived in San Diego and there were only 8 people in all of San Diego doing the same. Now I live in a small ranching community in south-central Missouri with a large Primary (65 children). Most of the children are home schooled here. Such a change. There are 28 youth in Seminary all but 5 are home schooled. Such a cool thing. Times are changing.
    As far as diet, I feel like I am once again beginning something that will become more prevalent as time passes.

    • Thanks, Sheryl! What a pioneer you are. I love your story, and I look forward to hearing about your progress. I hope you’ll share with us. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. BTW, I wrote my dissertation (1994) on LDS homeschooling. Some of my favorite people in the world are homeschoolers, and I’m sure we could become great friends. Thanks for taking the time to leave a note!

    • Thanks so much. I find them inspiring as well. We draw strength from each other as we share our experiences! I so appreciate the generosity of all who have shared their stories.

Leave a Reply