By: Val Johnson
I was converted to the gospel as an inactive member in 1971 when I was 17. I served a mission in Ontario Canada where my mission president was M. Russell Ballard. The Word of Wisdom was one of the concepts that you end up talking about a lot. Even though we read it and referenced D&C 89 almost daily, health problems associated with poor diet were fairly common among the missionaries. I gained nearly 50 lbs of uncomfortable weight while on my mission.
When I got home and was physically active, my weight normalized. Being 6 feet tall, I felt strong at 190 lbs, though this put me in the pudgy range. Marriage started me into a life of working with my mental and not my physical faculties. I tend to be a workaholic and could easily work 85 hours a week as an average my whole life, until just a few years ago. My only activity for the most part was golfing as often as time would allow. I seemed to gradually put on weight and kind of plateaued around 245 for several years. By the mid 90’s I was even more wrapped up in work and even golfing became a thing of the past. My weight climbed to nearly 300 lbs and stayed at that level on and off until 6 months ago.
Throughout the 45 years of being around the Word of Wisdom I have periodically ventured into the realm of trying to understand what it teaches about nutrition. I read Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss in 1979 and tried to abide by what he taught. It worked for a while but left me always feeling like I was on a diet. I tried the Atkins diet several times with varied success and justified eating meat because “in the season thereof” had to allow meat, or at least I thought that must be OK. In 1988 or so I read Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond and was somewhat successful but again it felt like a diet, and it leaned on high water content foods which eventually became untenable for me.
In the last 3-4 years I had some success with Medifast and with the Paleo diet, but I was always so uncomfortable with the unbelievably expensive aspect of both. I joined Medifast at a cost of $2,800 and had the ongoing cost of their snacks, which made for a very expensive diet. I lost the same 20-30 lbs and stopped losing weight and gave up. No different with Paleo.
To say I yo-yoed is a huge understatement. Psychologically I think I would be satisfied that I was OK after I shed 20-30 lbs from wherever my starting point was. It’s just that my starting point kept going higher every decade. I even read The China Study when it came out and was very convinced of what it taught, but I simply could not see the critical concept. Looking back on that time, it’s like I have been given the keys to a wonderful car in a pitch black garage, and I could not find the ignition. Consequently whenever I tried to lose weight, I had the exact same results as in the past.
Now to the point to this story . . .
Throughout these dieting adventures, I always felt uncomfortable because I didn’t feel I really understood the Word of Wisdom. Continuing to feel haunted by the Word of Wisdom, I regularly would venture out to see if anyone was out there that had added insight. I wanted to get to the point that I could say, “I now understand.” Then last November on a Sunday (November 8, 2015), I googled the phrase “in the season thereof.” I wanted to see if anyone had insight into this verse that I had not considered. I came across Jane Birch and followed the links and learned that she had written a book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. I bought the book on Kindle and read the entire book that Sunday. For me the key to her book was the reference to starch. She alluded to Dr. McDougall and The China Study so I found my copy of The China Study and proceeded to buy the Kindle version of The Starch Solution by Dr. McDougall.
I immediately started to change my food sources. By Tuesday I was “whole hog” into starch. It was amazing—so wonderfully filling and satisfying to say the least. I had to pinch myself all the time to not think I was dreaming. My primary sources initially were rice, beans, and potatoes. I sailed through Thanksgiving and Christmas without ever feeling tempted to the point that I wanted to give up. I ended up eating a lot of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables like corn and squash. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to eat until I was full and to feel fine (not bloated!) and to know that I was getting in better shape while doing so.
So thanks to Jane for turning the light on in the garage so I can find the ignition!
I’d like to reiterate for anyone who has yet to get it, here is the key to the ignition:
STARCH STARCH STARCH STARCH STARCH STARCH STARCH STARCH STARCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Before, when I studied books that alluded to a vegetable-based diet, I sensed that I was on track with understanding the Word of Wisdom, but when I tried the high water content vegetables foods that most people propound, I would end up unable to adhere to the concept. Dr. McDougall sums it up best when he observes that people who have one or more of the starches as a mainstay in their diet are overwhelmingly more successful in staying the course than those attempting a high water content fruit and vegetable diet. When Jane Birch talked about the starch component in her book, it was the “aha moment” for me. That was when I reflected on the phrase in the Word of Wisdom “whether above the ground or in the ground,” and the light came on that many starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, rutabagas, etc.) are in the ground.
I grew up in Idaho where potatoes are typically 5¢ per pound. On a whole food, plant-based diet they are considered one of the most perfect foods known, and yet they are shunned by the world as the food of fat people. Grains too are shunned, yet the Lord tells us He ordained them to be the “staff of life” (D&C 89:14). If I had learn this principle earlier, I could have easily spent 95% less on food, been lean and healthy, and abided by the Word of Wisdom. Not only that, but relying on starches makes it easy to store a two-year supply of beans, rice, grains, and corn. Sometimes, we simply can’t see the forest for the trees!
My wife is very supportive. She is a natural for this given that she generally never enjoyed meat, though she does struggle to stay away from sugary things. I still find it better to not have candy and ice cream around the house because it has tripped me up 3 or 4 times in the 6 months since I Discovered the Word of Wisdom.
I’ve now lost 40 pounds since November 2015. I’m down to 246 lbs and hope to eventually get down to 175 lbs, but I will be fine if it takes until the end of next year to reach that weight.
I’d like to leave a few thoughts about what I have learned about adopting the Word of Wisdom:
- I can finally say that I abide by what is taught.
- I can lose all the weight I need to be slender.
- I can eat in a way that weight will never be an issue.
- I can reduce my food bill by 90-95%.
- I can reduce my medical bill by the same amount.
- I can easily have a two-year supply of starches (primarily beans, rice, and grains) that I can rotate through for less than $400 per person
I tell everyone I can about what I have learned. So far a dozen or so people have started the journey and all are having positive results. It’s amazing to think that the answer to one of the most critical components of our lives is so simple yet so wonderful.
Val Johnson was born January 1954 in Rigby, Idaho and is now 62 years old. Active in the LDS faith since 1971, he served a mission and has had nearly every calling there is this side of being in a Stake Presidency. After attending Ricks and BYU for 5 semesters, Val owned and ran a half dozen businesses where he was primarily tasked with finding customers. Most call this selling but he thinks of himself as a “bringer of good news” or an evangelist. Val and his wife are the parents of one child.