Middle school seems to ravage people in a variety of ways: physically, socially, mentally, even spiritually. For me it was probably every single one of them, and, looking back, I can see that nearly all my unhappy experiences were related to my physical health. I wasn’t obese. I wasn’t that kid. But I was within that realm; I was one of those kids. I was chubby. I like to use a term that I stole from a friend: chub scout.
I was a chub scout. I “earned” that rank somewhere between eleven and twelve years of age, and I miserably maintained it until I was about fifteen-and-a-half years old, which is when I was the heaviest—215 pounds and about 5′11″ tall. I wasn’t even “fit fat.” You know, when you’re fat but there’s some muscle underneath? I was just fat. None of those 215 pounds was muscle (at least not much if it). Just bones, organs, macaroni and cheese, and fat.
Halfway through my sophomore year of high school I just was fed up. Fed up! With myself. I hated looking at myself in the mirror. I hated feeling weak and unattractive. That was probably the worst of it: I didn’t like thinking about what girls thought of me. I don’t know why, but I just decided that I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I was going to do something about it.
I knew next to nothing about health and wellness, but I had enough common sense to know that I was eating way too much food. It was a simple yet critical conclusion. And I came up with an equally simple solution: don’t eat after dinner, aka put the fork down. I was prone to having snacks, especially in the evening. My family usually ate dinner between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., so I simply stopped eating food after about that time. After a week of doing this, something amazing happened: I stepped onto the scale and found that I had lost five pounds!
I was astounded. Utterly astounded. Dumbfounded. At a loss. Flabbergasted. The light bulb above my head flickered on—nay, it blazed like the fires of heaven from whence the epiphany came, a stark contrast to the fires of hell I had been feeling for the last four years. I couldn’t believe how easily five pounds vanished. All I did was stop eating as much. “Just put the fork down.” It was just so crazy it actually worked.
I related this news to my father, and a few days later he gave me the book Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau. It talked a lot about organic food, body-cleansing methods, the evils of the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies, and other such conspiratorial topics. While my thoughts and methods today aren’t completely in line with Trudeau’s, the information from that book was the catalyst for my interest in health.
I ditched soda and stopped using microwaves (go ahead and laugh, but I’m looking forward to not having cancer when I’m seventy, at least not from microwaves). I forced myself to eat apples, which I hated at the time. I started walking outside every day, and I even began consuming organic, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, which I still recommend to people. I think it’s an elixir of health, but I just about vomited the first time I downed a few spoonfuls with water.
The pounds came off with virtually no effort. I don’t remember exactly when my body stopped shedding excess fat, but somewhere between six and nine months I was down to 140 pounds. I had lost 75 pounds—in less than a year. No gym. No “diet” of any kind. Nothing insane or traumatizing or even difficult. I know not everyone has that kind of experience, but it was my experience.
In terms of quantity, I continued to eat like a normal person, and I consumed organic food when I could. My mother often bought me organic Kashi cereals as treats. Since Kevin Trudeau had no problems with meat and dairy, I didn’t either. Mr. Trudeau, whom I still thought rather highly of, focused on simply eating organic.
Despite the increased confidence in my health abilities and in my body, that whole negative-self-image thing snuck back into my consciousness. I wasn’t fat anymore, which was great, but I didn’t feel strong and capable (that’s the equivalent of a woman not feeling beautiful). I realized that getting thin was only the first half of the battle. So my last year of high school I began exercising with weights and gained 20 pounds—muscle, not fat—which also somewhat reduced the amount of “You’re so skinny!” from family and relatives.
As the years progressed, I became more and more averse to eating meat, mostly on ethical grounds, but I never quit. I would just feel guilty as I chewed on my drumstick, trying not to think of what the chicken went through before it officially became a meal. The healthiness or ethicality of dairy never crossed my mind. At this point in my life, I had a healthy respect for vegetarians, but for some reason I hated vegans and anything related to veganism. Those people were weird, I thought—just tree-hugging, pretentious hippies.
Yet the issues revolving around meat eating and the meat industry continued to haunt me through the years, especially once I got married and realized that I had complete control over my diet and my health in general. My wife and I rarely bought meat even before we swore off it. Aside from feeling morally corrupt every time I bit into a chunk of dead animal, it was just so dang expensive! Really, how do “poor” college students afford that stuff? They don’t, that’s how.
We watched Food Inc. and Forks Over Knives, which further convinced me that, at the very least, the meat in the store was absolutely unhealthy and immoral. Forks Over Knives in particular made me wonder about dairy: Is it even necessary? Is calcium a scam? Isn’t it weird that we drink another animal’s milk? No other animal does that!
Around this time, I was finally starting to understand what I have personally come to feel is the correct interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. I had heard verse 13 interpreted in both its usual fashions for years (don’t eat meat unless in winter vs. don’t eat meat just in the winter), but it wasn’t until the last year or two that it finally clicked: Oh, we’re not supposed to eat meat unless we’re starving . . . or freezing to death. How did I not realize that?
I was discussing the Word of Wisdom with my father-in-law over email (you can find his story on this site; his name is Doug Weber). At the time, he was adhering rather zealously to the ketogenic diet—a lot of fat, a lot of protein, not much of anything else. To convince him of the correct interpretation of only in Doctrine and Covenants 89:13, I sent him an article Jane Birch had written—“Questioning the Comma in Verse 13 of the Word of Wisdom.”
Jane referenced her book in the article, and a few days later, my father-in-law emailed me back to inform me that he had read the book, that he was convinced that Jane Birch was right, and that he was going to become vegan. Not the response I was expecting.
While I fully supported the vegetarian aspect of it (I ate so little meat that I was contemplating just never eating it), I was, funny enough, resistant to not consuming dairy or eggs. It seemed a little extreme—a sentiment that I now resent; that is, I resent the argument that being “extreme” is negative (I don’t think we’ll look back on this life and say, “Oh, thank goodness I never put my all into my health! I would have missed out on all that ice cream!”).
But after I talked over the veganism with my wife, we decided to give it a shot. Why not? We were almost vegetarians already, and I was excited to relieve myself of guilt and swear off meat. In the end, removing dairy and eggs seemed logical as well. We didn’t want to throw out anything though. I hate wasting food, so we simply finished off our milk and butter and didn’t buy any more.
As I’ve continued to study and discuss these topics with my wife and father-in-law, I’ve become convinced that we made the right decision. We swore off animal products in May/June 2016. I can see now that Heavenly Father was gently guiding me in this direction. Obviously, as a fifteen-year-old kid, I wasn’t going to make the decisions I have made now, being married and almost twenty-six years old (and anticipating a baby later this year).
I’ve used the terms vegan and veganism in this story; this is partly because I find it more convenient and partly because it more accurately reflects our current lifestyle. I don’t say whole foods, plant-based because I don’t think my wife and I are quite there yet. Though, I’m confident that our diets have dramatically improved as we’ve simplified what we eat. And I’m confident that, with time, we will continue to hone our diets and conquer the natural man.
Heavenly Father knew where my decisions would lead me, and this journey has taught me more than just good health principles: It has helped me to see the greatness of my body and to respect it more fully. It has taught me to have greater respect and love for animal life, which in turn has helped me to have more love for all life. It has taught me to have patience and faith. It has taught me to work hard and to overcome trials, not simply endure them.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said that his wife helped him to learn that even the Savior first desired to know if there was any other alternative to the Atonement, some other way to satisfy justice. I think this shows us that we don’t need to blindly or numbly accept what the fates divvy out. We can find our own solutions. We can ask the Father to remove the cup, if it be His will. If a health problem is the Father’s will, then we will submit like the Savior. But I think people too often assume everything, including their health, is out of their control. Many things are indeed beyond our control, but many things are not.
We teach that Heavenly Father is interested in every aspect of our lives. This is true, and of course it means that He is also concerned about our health. From my experiences, I absolutely know that Heavenly Father has been carefully nudging me in the right direction. Precept by precept, I have learned how to take care of my body and harness more of its potential.
It is not for the sake of a clever metaphor that scripture says our bodies are temples. Temples are the most holy places on earth. They are where we go to find peace, to be saviors to the dead, and to make the ultimate connection to reality. Likewise, this is how we should view our bodies: as centers of peace, as saviors to others in temporal needs, and as connectors to the world around us.
I am forever grateful for my body, for the knowledge Heavenly Father has given me to take care of it, and for Christ’s resurrection, which allows me to keep it forever.
Scott (age 26) lives in Provo, Utah. He and his wife are expecting their first child in September. Though he is majoring in visual art, Scott has been studying editing at Brigham Young University for the last year and a half, and he currently works as an editor for the school. He enjoys music, art, fitness, and reading and writing, and he aspires to write a novel or two sometime in his life.