While I was growing up, healthy eating was important in my family. My mother had been a vegetarian for most of her married life, so she always insisted on our eating “healthy” food. We were far from vegan (we still consumed dairy), but we hardly ever had meat in our house, except when my dad made his delicious tri-tip steaks. We also had very few processed foods.
Later, both my parents became vegan, and the few animal products still in the house gradually began disappearing. Dairy milk was replaced with soy, almond, or rice milk. Meat was no longer an option, even on special occasions. More emphasis was placed on eating fruits and vegetables. I begrudgingly went along with the plan, seeing there weren’t many other food options at home. I loved going to friends’ houses or eating out because I could eat all the junk I wanted. I had no appreciation for a healthy diet.
This all changed the day my mom issued me a challenge: “Why don’t you just try going completely vegan for a week? You can see how you feel and decide whether to continue. So I did. I completely stopped eating meat, dairy, and eggs. I also stopped eating any processed foods, including sugar.
I was about 16 years old at the time, and I was running distance in track and cross-country. I noticed that when I started eating whole foods my stamina and ability to endure increased. I was able to recover faster between workouts. I had more energy during school. I just felt clean! And this was only after one week of eating this way!
During the next three years, I ate a diet completely untainted by animal products or processed foods. I felt the best I had ever felt in my whole life.
It was difficult at first though, especially socially. Most of my friends could not understand why I would eat this way. I was often asked questions like, “Where do you get your protein (calcium, vitamin B12, etc.)?” or, “If dairy is so bad for my health, then why doesn’t my doctor warn me?” At first, I didn’t know what to say. All I knew is that I felt better eating this way, and my mom said it was good for me. Being frustrated at how little I really knew about nutrition, I decided to study it out for myself.
Coming to a knowledge of a whole foods diet seems to parallel how I gained a testimony of the gospel. At first I blindly believed because that is how I was raised, and it felt good. But as time went on, I realized I would need to study it out and really find out for myself if it was right.
My mom was a great help. She directed me to books like The China Study and other credible sources where I could learn more about the science or “why’s” of eating this way. Most importantly, she encouraged me to study the Word of Wisdom. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Word of Wisdom, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. As I studied the verses of Section 89 again, my eyes were opened. I found “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89:19).
The Word of Wisdom is an inspired nutritional guide for optimum health!
When I was nineteen, I was called to serve a mission in Argentina, the “meat capital of the world.” Those who knew me asked how I would survive if I had to eat meat for two years. In preparation for a mission, the possibility of having to put my vegan diet on hold had crossed my mind.
I decided the Lord would bless me if I did my best to be healthy, while at the same time focusing on the most important task at hand, the salvation of God’s children. When we ate with members, or when people offered us food, I would eat a helping of everything. I was very careful not to offend anybody by refusing their food.
Although my body was not used to this at first, I found that it worked out. I felt extremely blessed, especially since I was able to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables back at the apartment. My companions and other missionaries noticed this, and some of them started following suit. The “green drinks” I made every morning became famous and spread like wildfire throughout the mission.
During the two years of my mission, I learned a great deal about how eating a whole foods, plant-based diet relates to the gospel. I came to understand that the Word of Wisdom is counsel that I treasure greatly, but it is not the most important part of my life. I realized that things like faith, repentance, obedience to the commandments, and gospel ordinances are the most important aspects of the gospel, and therefore merit most of my attention.
I also realized, however, how blessed I truly feel to understand how the Lord wants each of us to eat, and that it pleases Him when we take care of our bodies. Needless to say, it was very refreshing to start back up on a vegan diet after returning home.
Since I got back from my mission, I have thrived on this diet. I have noticed its effects in all facets of my life, but mostly in my athletic endeavors. I have competed in several triathlons and distance running competitions, some in which I have placed first and set course records. I love to push the limits of my body and see how much “grit” I really have. You can find me day-in-and-day-out trail-running, biking, and swimming. I owe my success in these sports largely to the way I eat.
I feel the Lord’s promises in D&C 89 are directed right at me: “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings . . . shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint” (D&C 89:18, 20).
Victor Johnson, 22, lives in Orem, Utah and is attending BYU. He loves being in the outdoors: running, hiking, swimming, cycling, target shooting, and camping. He also enjoys competing in triathlons and long distance races.
Vic and his parents (Paul and Orva Johnson) 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.”
Vic was interview on this episode of Mormon Vegetarian.