Sin 201: The Diet Parable

My body’s been all over the map.

That’s not Global Mom talking about the places she’s lived. That’s Melissa talking about everywhere her weight has been.

(Make that had been.)

Eating at a hawker center in  Singapore.

Eating at a hawker center in Singapore. I enjoy really good food, anywhere, any time.

Note: I’ve been stable and healthy for decades. But the road to finally feeling free in my own skin was long, painful, erratic, exhausting, costly in every sense of that word, and even life-threatening. As a teenager I battled with eating disorders, which began at 13 with anorexia so severe, I lay in hospital for months and was even fed intravenously. That led to major weight swings, all tangled in the string of yo-yo dieting.  You name the diet, by the age of 19 I’d tried them all, including ludicrously long stretches of eating nothing but ice shavings with a dash of dust mites. (For protein.)

Eating again. Several courses at a traditional family table in Lombardy, Italy.

Eating again. Several courses at a traditional family table in Lombardy, Italy.

Where did all that extreme deprivation get me? As I said, it dragged me all over the map, including to a peak when I was 80 pounds (35 kilos or 6 stones) overweight. And this all happened within my teens. For cryin’ out loud!

Which I did. Often. I was one very stuck girl. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to find equilibrium. My messed-up metabolism made what should have been the glorious gift of a human body more like a life sentence on a Tilt-a-Whirl.

First world problems, I know. But I share this whole history to explain why, 1) I sympathize from the floor of my gut with those who struggle with their bodies, and why, 2) extremes of all kinds scare me, and why, 3) I’m repelled by the word “diet.”

In fact, we don’t say or do that four-lettered word in my family.

I also share my history to show that people can find peace, freedom, balance. People can change their appetites. 

And now my husband wants to change. Here’s where our diet parable starts.

Eating with Claire. The fries were great.

Eating in St. Cergue, Switzerland with Claire. The fries were great.

Randall’s not been all that peppy. Worst health of his life, he says. My adorable husband, a natural athlete all his life with a wicked backhand and a speedy 10k, a man who’s always met life on the tips of his toes, has recently hit an all-time slump. He’s carrying some extra weight he doesn’t like. He’s winded by stairs. Achy after a flight. Sleepless. Sleepy.  And in last week’s executive physical (a day-long battery of tests administered at a major US hospital, where Randall’s overall health and fitness were assessed), he was advised that in order to return to the health and vigor he once enjoyed, he’d have to change his diet.

That word.

Those vulgar folks and their nasty white doctor frocks.

Problem is, over the last couple of years he’s tried everything to get his zip back. He’s cut down, cut out. Skipped meals. Tried to get infected with the Asian flu. But he’s still stuck.

“Okay, hon,” I told him while we jogged together this morning. “Trust me. I’ve got a plan. You’re going to absolutely love this. I made it up in my sleep, it’s that simple. This is it: we have to get you to eat much more. Much, much more.”

Eating. . . at the Mets Stadium in New York City.

Eating. . . at the Mets Stadium in New York City.

I explained my theory, which I happen to call the Pyramid Plan. (Because a little alliteration makes it marketable. And again, we don’t use the D––– word.)

The Pyramid simply means eating a lot of the foods that are the best for your body, what your cells really need for optimum nourishment and health, the most nutrient-packed, roughage-dense foods.

“Every day without fail you build your Pyramid by eating the most of those kinds of foods. The base of the Pyramid,” I made a triangle shape with my fingers, “is 6 large servings of vegetables. Then you add 5 servings of fruits.”

I watched him in my peripherals. So far, steady. We kept running, breezy-like. Then I added the next layer. “You eat 4 servings of whole grains. Along with 3 servings of lean protein. Then you need 2 servings of calcium/dairy, and to finish it off, you’ll need one generous serving of fat.

It was then that Randall noted what you’ve just noted. “You mean. . .no Krispy Kreme food group?”

We kept jogging.

Eating gulasch in Warsaw, Poland.

Eating gulasch in Warsaw, Poland.

“Right, yeah.” I ran straight ahead, acting clinical. “The Pyramid doesn’t include that sort of stuff because the aim is to get full on the best so that there’s not much room left for the. . . not-so-best. That way, we basically reeducate the palate. You’re not supposed to be aware of this, but we’re going to try to transform your taste buds.”

It so happens that those super foods at the base of the Pyramid also have the fewest calories per serving. The higher the Pyramid, generally the more calorie-dense the food group. What is wonderful, is that you eat well, it is sustainable, and you needn’t subject yourself or your thyroid to anything extreme. And we’re not into demonizing food. We’re learning to love the best of it.

Maybe you’re thinking of this family, who stopped eating sugar cold turkey for a year, and subsequently no longer desired what they’d craved earlier. But I reassured Randall that our focus is different. (It has to be. As you know, this jog we’re enjoying is in Switzerland. This is no time to rule out chocolate. I’m thinking of a way of working it into the Pyramid. Maybe as mortar.)

What I was suggesting to my husband isn’t first about what you can NOT eat, but what you CAN. And SHOULD. And MUST.

Eating my first birthday cake, Kansas.

Eating my first birthday cake, Kansas.

Experience has taught me something important. If we keep giving ourselves false fuel, we’re training our desires for just that: false fuel. We’ll crave empty calories that fill us up, but leave our cells screaming. When we fill our empty stomachs with empty calories, we remain forever hungry. Paradoxically, we can end up overeating, overfed, but ultimately undernourished. Left unchecked, this emptiness can lead to feeling imprisoned in our bodies, sluggish, even dead-ish.

It’s a difficult cycle to break. I know.

You already see this parable with sin taking shape.

Our spirits, like our bodies, crave true nourishment.  Truth. Meaning. Intimacy. Knowledge. Service. Hope. Freedom. Growth. Creation. Love. Problems arise when we become habituated to filling our spirits with “empty calories,” with tangible or intangible stuff (like the It Handbag or maybe Facebook fame,) which we’re fooled into thinking will satisfy us, but which in the end don’t. Because they cannot. “You can’t ever get enough of what you don’t need,” goes the adage, “because what you don’t need won’t satisfy you.”

Unsatisfied, famished, we keep scarfing down metaphorically “empty calories” in a passive stupor of addiction, mindlessly poisoning our systems with what will never ultimately satisfy our spirits. Shopaholics, workaholics, pornoholics. Liars, exploiters, thieves. We war, we dominate, we covet. We justify gossiping, cheating, condemning. We long for our neighbor’s salary, house, spouse. We allow drugs, binge drinking, insularity, promiscuity and bullying, every latest gadget, every designer trinket, every luxury leisure to fill the hallways of our schools,  starving our first world children spiritually, while third world children starve literally.

All the while, the sound of our innermost cells, screaming.

Eating more birthday cake, Alabama.

Eating more birthday cake, Mobile, Alabama.

Though I’m not Catholic, I appreciate this from Pope Francis:

“There’s the risk of passively accepting certain behaviors and to not be astonished by the sad situations around us . . .We get used to violence, as if it were everyday news taken for granted; we get used to our brothers and sisters who sleep on the streets, who don’t have a roof over their heads. We get used to refugees seeking freedom and dignity who aren’t welcomed as they should be…[We should fight ] this addiction to un-Christian and easy-way-out behaviors that drug our hearts.”

To undrug our hearts we might need to retrain our desires/appetites/impulses. For that, it’s not enough to just stop scarfing the bad stuff for a while. That Quickie Miracle Cleansing Flush might drain something, but it won’t retrain much. Something draconian––ever eaten only Tic Tacs for three weeks?––might feel righteous, even holy, but it won’t rehabilitate us for good. We’ll be back to Twinkies before we know it. It’s not enough to remove evil, to tell my children to not spend so much time in a daze with a digital gadget, for instance. Remove the gadget, and what you have is an empty space. There must be a desirable and  truly “nourishing” replacement that fills up –– or even crowds out –– the vacuum that remains. There has to be “nutritionally dense” matter that will fill both mind and spirit and train the soul toward those things.

As this wise voice asserts:

“Evil in its raucous, impudent, and foul forms penetrates so strongly into the consciousness of our precious young people that they scarcely have freedom of choice. We cannot isolate our young from the influences of the world, but we can teach them to differentiate so that they can avoid everything that is unclean, unspiritual, and ugly.”

-Dr. Johann Wondra, (former head of Vienna’s Burg Theater) “Art: A Possibility for Love” in Arts and Inspiration, ed. Dr. Steven Sondrup cubes in Springville, Utah.

Eating ice cubes in Springville, Utah.

By filling the body and mind with the best, you are educated to differentiate and free to choose between the empty and the excellent. Furthermore, you can arrive at that magical moment when you realize with a jolt that you’re actually craving raw red peppers. Not at all like what you used to crave, the Cheet-os, Doritos, Fritos, Tostitos, Ho-Hos or anything else that ends in a zero.

Just a Plain. Red. Pepper.

What’s happened is all those good things from the Pyramid base have waged a gentle revolution, and your body chemistry has been altered. It honestly wants what is best for it.  It desires what is good.  When we fill our bodies and our hearts with the real, the good, the highest quality of nutrition—literally or figuratively–– we begin craving the real, the good, the truly nutritious. We’re nourished. We find balance. We’re free.

That, I think, is a mighty change.

Those words remind of a passage of scripture I’ve always loved. It’s about an ancient people, once a tribe of ego- and appetite-driven types (like all of us), who, through disciplined living and mindful choices, retrain their spiritual taste buds. They experience such an internal revolution, in fact, the record states they’d “wrought a mighty change” in their hearts, and they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”  (Mosiah 5:2)

Impossible? No more disposition for Krispy Kremes?

In a few posts, I’ll be back to report on how the Pyramid stands.


Not letting any of my cousins eat my birthday cake, Bloomingotn, Indiana

Not letting ANYONE else eat MY birthday cake, Bloomington, Indiana













24 thoughts on “Sin 201: The Diet Parable

  1. Love, Love, Love this, Melissa. More please. Your beloved Randall isn’t the only 50-something that suddenly realizes that he is sluggish and unhealthy AND that his life-long love of running and excercise has suddenly deminished and even disapeared. And that he would like to be healthy for all the right reasons, but has zero desire and will power to abandon the things that keep us all a slave to feeling bad. My gift to myself this 50th year has been to get healthy. No diets. No quick fixes. No fads. No focusing on the scalre. No self loathing. No impatience. And so far, so good. The only thing I WANTED to do (and so I did) was give up sugar–completely (except for on rare occasions, that feel important to me). And for me (as these things are very individual) it’s changed my life. I have more energy, I sleep better, my skin is brighter and more clear, I can focus better. And of course it results in sheding pounds. This is the year of getting healthy. Good luck Randge and keep coaching us all Melissa. Feed us more…..seconds please.

    • Thanks, Jacque. I’m so pleased for you! And I know you’ll keep seeing strength build on strength. It’s incredibly liberating to neither fear nor be obsessed with food, and to neither detest nor be obsessed with one’s body. There is such little time to live, so many people to love, there simply must be a way to break through the barriers of the flesh and enjoy the brief time we have together AND the pleasure of eating well.
      I anticipate writing much more on this topic, sharing stories of my own convoluted challenges. Especially for women, particularly young ones. I’m concerned about the way media has lied to our youth, sucking them into a lethal preoccupation with perfect appearance, stealing some of their best years. I also want to give parents hope when their teens slip into popular patterns of self-destructive behavior.
      And my wonderful Randge…he’s going to get his groove back.
      Love to you, J.

  2. Thank you for writing this! I have actually been praying for an answer to my weight issues and this was exactly what I needed to re-learn. I’m grateful to be in the windfall of your husband’s journey to changing his taste buds! I’m anxious to hear how it goes.

    • Cheryl—Well, that makes me doubly happy. If you want, come back in about four posts or so, and I’ll be sharing more on the Pyramid and related topics. I have great and real sympathy for the battle. I’ve had significant struggles (Oprah’s not nothin’ up on me in this department), and have known so many who do. I’ve personally known young women who’ve died from anorexia and bulimia. What’s also insidious, is that I’ve known even more women lose time and energy and relationships and precious opportunities to love and be loved, because of their weight and body image issues. That is an enormous loss/miapplication of power in a world that so desperately cries for female wisdom and presence! It’s something we must address and lovingly help one another to rid from modern culture. Love to you, Cheryl…

    • Cheryl—Well, that makes me doubly happy. If you want, come back in about four posts or so, and I’ll be sharing more on the Pyramid and related topics. I have great and real sympathy for the battle. I’ve had significant struggles (Oprah’s not nothin’ up on me in this department), and have known so many who do. I’ve personally known young women who’ve died from anorexia and bulimia. What’s also insidious, is that I’ve known even more women lose time and energy and relationships and precious opportunities to love and be loved, because of their weight and body image issues. That is an enormous loss of power in a world that so desperately cries of female power and presence! It’s something we must address and lovingly help one another to rid from modern culture. Love to you, Cheryl…

    • Cheryl—Well, that makes me doubly happy. If you want, come back in about four posts or so, and I’ll be sharing more on the Pyramid and related topics. I have great and real sympathy for the battle. I’ve had significant struggles (Oprah’s not nothin’ up on me in this department), and have known so many who do. I’ve personally known young women who’ve died from anorexia and bulimia. What’s also insidious, is that I’ve known even more women lose time and energy and relationships and precious opportunities to love and be loved, because of their weight and body image issues. That is an enormous loss/misapplication of power in a world that so desperately cries for female wisdom and presence! It’s something we must address and lovingly help one another to rid from modern culture. Love to you, Cheryl…

  3. Fantastic. This succinctly weaves together the physical and the spiritual. Although you say so explicitly, I have often felt like this is a key balance we must somehow strike: to keep our bodies and our spirits similarly healthy. I have spent a long time working harder on one of those than the other. (Where are my gym shoes? They’re not by my bedside like my scriptures are….) There is no spiritual scale- which makes spirituality seem easier than weight management sometimes- but we have some measuring tapes, right? And they don’t include measuring ourselves against others, but against God’s word, etc.
    It’s funny how our physical metabolism slows as we age… is there a matching speed change in our spirits, and, if so, does it slow down or speed up as we age? Maybe we are each different in our life-long spiritual metabolic rate. One thing I noticed as a thirty year old was that many of the forty year old women I knew at that time exhibited less charity than I would have expected. At times it was shocking. I took it as a warning which I now use in my own forty-something life. “Charity Never Faileth” is not so much a declaration of fact for me as it is a goal. As in: “Never Fail to be Charitable”, “Charity Always Wins”, and “Go, Go, Charity!” Now, if only I could convince myself that exercise never faileth, too.
    You’re right: correct food and correct principles are always best. And if we can do both, we are full of good things and we might say that we’ve “got it together” because both parts of our selves will be in sync.

    • Maren, yes, yes. Thank you for this! I’ve spoken publicly a few times about “Spiritual Metabolism”, the interaction between what we ingest and what we expend as a way toward spiritual wellness/fitness. Strength training, flexibility, endurance…And agree with your conclusion: Charity Never Faileth. Your interpretations are helpful. Maybe also Any and Every Effort to Love is Never For Naught … and contributes not only to one’s personal spiritual well-being, but to the most positive type of global warming. Loves these thoughts of yours.

  4. Great post, Melissa. Tell Randall I understand. I was 180 the day I started Familius and now, well . . . I’m a bit more marbled. We’re publishing an important book this spring called By Her Side, the story of a friend of mine who died from bulimia to help those who surround the person who has an ED. Much misinformation out there and this is still treated way too lightly in the media.

    We’re also publishing a book next year by renowned chef Matthew Kenney (google him) on food as he’s one of the most influential thinkers in the raw food movement world wide. I think this will be right up your alley. The book we’re doing with him this year is Cooked Raw.

    As for the more spiritual side, yes!

    Grateful to work with you. What was your opinion of Elder Oaks talk in the priesthood session?

    • Christopher, my publisher, thank you. You are great marbled or not. 🙂 All the sitting is lethal, and stress, as you know, unleashes a chain of chemical reactions which make one sockpile, um, uh, marble. I’ll give more details about the Pyramid (after I exhaust my posts on sin), but of course an important element is adequate sleep, water and movement. More to come on that one.

      Very glad to hear Familius is doing a title on eating disorders. I could, sadly, write my own book, and … might…? I remember with a chill the day I was informed of a high school cheerleader, who’d been found dead of a heart attack over her toilet, where she’d been purging. I’ve counseled with dozens of young women (and grown women, mothers, bright and competent people!) over the years, who’ve had their food and body issues, many with full blown disorders. Knowing what I know, I wish I could be of more help.

      And as for the spiritual side…Well…it’s all spiritual, IMO. 🙂

      And to Dallin H. Oak’s talk, I have much to say in praise of his counsel. I’m grateful for his wisdom and clarity. I’m also vigorously aware of the issues that underlie the need for such an address, as I have friends and acquaintances, both of my faith and not of my faith, who fall all across the spectrum regarding this topic. For myself, I have experienced things that are very sacred in nature that have brought peace on this topic. I’ll write not about them specifically, but about what I’ve gleaned from them, in an upcoming post based on an address I gave this week, entitled, “A Woman Clothed with the Sun.”

      Until then, thanks, Christopher!

  5. You never cease to amaze me! Great post here and one I needed to hear. I’m enjoying perhaps a bit too much “mortar” and justifying it because of pregnancy. But not enough movement, water, and being resolute about a similar Pyramid Plan has left me sluggish this chilly Spring. I look forward to hearing more – especially how you’re able to help your husband who must manage this change on the road I imagine. I didn’t grow up eating this Pyramid and don’t enjoy cooking – I’m a duty cook! I wish I could shadow a French chef around so I could learn to prepare those lovely balanced meals and introduce them to my kids. I hope you’ll share your favorite cookbooks and inspirations!

    • Tracie–And I hope that I don’t set myself up as a model cook or nutritionist. That would be frightening, not to mention hypocritical. I’m just mindful. If only I were as mindful about my spiritual/mental nutrition…

    • Tracie- Well, I just finished half a slab of mortar. how’s that? (What can I do if my generous friends know I love it dark with hazelnuts?)

      I’ll keep you posted on how my Randall adapts. It is much harder when you’re traveling. Much harder. And it’s much harder if you must attend business functions. I’ll have to support him, still figuring that out. Beyond not being able to make one’s own meals, traveling also means not sleeping, and it seems one of the biggest enemies to modern health (as much sitting too much, as much as refined and sugar-rich foods) is fatigue. Is sometimes I overeat due to fatigue, which must be a primal trigger. I’ve found that when I’m well rested, I make better choices, both culinary and (more importantly) moral.

      One of my favorite thinkers, public speakers, and human beings is Jeffery R. Holland, who recently said, “Fatigue is the common enemy of us all–so slow, down, rest up, replenish and refill.” Big cheer.

  6. I am finally coming down off my perch (instead of an observant birdie) as the timing of your post has hit home as well as the 5 plus pounds I have gained. While that is not much, it is the reason behind it. It seems that when I am struggling with things in my life, like say, being called as the Young Women’s president, (it’s okay, you can laugh) is when the “D” word goes down the tubes, as I’m sure everyone else has similar stories. I know how and what I should eat and everything about eating healthy, but really have a hard time being obedient in eating right.
    Anyway, I had made a little discovery about food while reading John Pontius’ book, Visions of Glory. You might have already made the connection, but it seemed profound to me at the time. When “Spencer” was having an out-of-body experience, he wanted to experience the world and everything in it like rocks, leather and wood and noticed that it was created by God; that it had a spirit and a story to tell. He also mentioned that man-made things like steel and plastic had no voice and could not discern their story or history. Somehow I equated this with food. Those foods that are in their pure form like fruits and vegetables have a spirit and thereby have positive spiritual energy and affect our bodies in that way. But foods that have been modified and stripped down by man, like the plastic and steel, have no or little spirit and do not contribute positive energy to our body and actually seem to have the opposite effect. So just like we feed our selves spiritually by scripture, prayer, and acts of charity, we too need to feed our bodies literal spiritual food. I’m hoping with this better understanding that it will help me in my choices of food. Thanks for sharing your post!!!

    • Kathryn–The natural law seems consistent: things have differing degrees of spiritual energy. Truth exudes more spiritual energy. I suppose one could say there are foods that are “truer” (closer to their natural state, richer in nutrients, in harmony with the environment and with the human organism) than are other foods. Similarly, there are activities, behaviors, even thought patterns that are more honest/true/balanced/complete and that therefore build or contribute to more energy.

      I really appreciate your thoughts on this topic, Kathryn.

  7. I found your blog through a friend who shared on Facebook. I also would like to know more play-by-play on your experience (or your husband’s) with the pyramid. To me that seems like a LOT of servings of vegetables and I’m wondering how you get them in each day! . . . and how you make them exciting to eat. It seems that for my meals I’m always adding “the obligatory vegetable” (and if I haven’t thought of it ahead of time, I’m famous for plopping the bowl of baby carrots on the table). Thanks for your insights on this post.
    Just a side comment–I have a son in the Rome Mission–August 2012 to August 2014. Did your daughter ever meet an Anziano Jepson? I’m not sure what her dates of service were.

    • Hi! I’m writing a follow-up post on the details of the Pyramid, so expect that in the coming days. (Gosh, so much stuff going on lately, I’m having a hard time writing here as much as I’d like to.)

      But briefly, yes, it IS a lot of servings of vegetables. Western cultures usually have to make a “mighty change” to incorporate so many greens. (Eastern cuisines are already quite greens-based). But the serving sizes are roughly thus: for vegetables, a serving is an open handful (as if you were holding a grapefruit in your palm); for fruits, a rounded fistful (as if holding an apple, or 8 oz./200 grams); for grains/carbohydrates, a closed fistful (so your hand is about the size of a small potato, about equivalent to 4 oz./100 grams); and for protein, the length and thickness of your four fingers laid flat. Not “two all beef patties. . .” (That is, if you insist on animal protein, but I’ll come back to that in the next post.)

      To feature vegetables as the main thing in each meal, I juice them, make big daily salads, I sautée in broth, make vegetable-based soups in my BlendTec, pack in all veggie leftovers in casseroles…I grill a LOT of veggies, probably 4x a week, esp. peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, carrots, mushrooms, eggplant, and big fat heads of garlic along with it all. If I make a big tray of fresh veggies with plain olive oil or seasoned ricotta as a dip, those trays disappear pretty quickly. At breakfast, I eat salads sometimes, or at least tomatoes (like on toasted rye), or I drink veggie juices (beet, carrot, spinach, celery with lemon juice.)…It’s a shift in thinking: building one’s eating around vegetables and adding animal products as trimming or condiments, instead of the other way around. But it’s so important for human health and for the health of our planet. More later…

      We’re still new into shifting into this for our family. So it’s bumpy. But I’m hopeful. 🙂

      And yes! your son Anziano Jepson was in the Missionary Training Center with our Sorella Claire. She says hello 🙂

  8. Pingback: Expert Tip: 4 Easy Ways to Stop Food Cravings | QueenBeeingQueenBeeing

  9. Ohhhh, how VERY NEEDED THIS IS!!! You wrap up so many concerns (personal & worldwide) and bring us all back to the beautiful truths that ring loudly and powerfully in our souls! Thank you for taking the time to post so passionately and completely just when we needed it! Your private pains have inspired and continue to inspire ever facet of me and this blessed journey.
    We can do this Randge, girls …EVERYONE! “Si se puede!” As our dear Hermanita says. 🙂

  10. Melissa, thank you so much for sharing this marvelous ‘pyramid’ and I surely need to re-focus on the good stuff! Your gift for articulating so wonderfully makes it all the more compelling! What frustrates me from here to eternity is how and why food has been allowed to commercialize to the extent of such negative impact on our well-being. So much is a matter of discipline yet when the carrot is dangled…

    Looking forward to the next chapter on this!!

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