Marrow and Fatness: LDS and BMI

My husband’s grandfather once uttered a one-liner that has made its way into family lore. Surveying a particularly, uh, well-endowed session of temple patrons, he said, “We may be a chosen people, but we are a corpulent people.” I’m not sure that he was right in suggesting that Mormons tend to be fat; in fact, he may be dead wrong. Although, as Frank has shown, it can be dangerous to extrapolate from Utah statistics to Mormon statistics, Utah’s overweight and obesity rate is very near the bottom of state averages, as this table indicates, with a rate of 52.1% of the population overweight or obese. Interestingly, when the Utah rate is subdivided by gender, Utah men are only slightly below the national average, while Utah women are a full 7.3% below the national average for women. It would be dangerous to assign these statistics fully to the influence of the church, of course: Utah obesity rates are rising as they are all over the country, and Utah shares its low obesity rate with its neighbor Colorado, suggesting that obesity is more a regional and national phenomenon than a religious one.

Still, statistics aside, Mormons seem to be thinking about weight a lot recently. It’s on television, on the stage, even in the bloggernacle! To make it clear from the outset, I think we can agree that people who are overweight, like people who have bad teeth, are under no moral disadvantage before God: the Lord is no respecter of love-handles or root-beer-bellies. Gluttony, while not one of the seven highly effective habits, seems to have dropped out of the Mormon top-seven deadly sins. How do Mormonism and Mormon living inflect our ideas about weight and our experiences living in differently-weighted bodies?

In the featherweight division: It can be argued that the intent of the Word of Wisdom is to promote physical health–“health in the navel and marrow in the bones–and that the maintenance of a healthy weight is a natural fit with the other health-related planks of section 89. But even if one does not accept this interpretation of the revelation (as I do not), there are other reasons to suspect that Mormonism might foster a healthy weight control. Mormon families tend to be busy, active, and child-centered, contributing to the touted “active lifestyle” conducive to weight control. Furthermore, the Wasatch Front, with its unparalleled access to a variety of outdoor activities, may export with its diasporic members a cultural affinity for the outdoors and outdoor sports: rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, skiing, boating and jogging have all been favorite family activitites in the wards I’ve attended. Finally, it can be argued that the Book of Mormon’s–and, more generally, Mormon culture’s– emphasis on “prospering in the land” can be distorted into an unhealthy emphasis on image, leading to eating disorders and unhealthy obsession with weight.

In the heavyweight division: If some members’ Mormonness contributes to their overweight, I would suggest three possible mechanisms. First, the anti-ascetic ethic of Mormonism: Mormonism rejects the body-spirit dualism that has informed most Christian asceticism, with its emphasis on mortifying and denying bodily appetites. Mormons envision an embodied ideal state in which the body will be perfected and subject to restraint, to be sure, but will still be capable of experiencing pleasure. Indeed, Mormons reclassify “sinful” sexual desire as an essential feature of the divine (again, when properly restrained and expressed); this acceptance of the body’s appetites–including the appetite for food–may lead to a more relaxed attitude toward weight.

Second, the historical Mormon ethic of frugality: we’re cheap, and we hate wasting things–including uneaten food on our plates, leftovers in the refrigerator, and serving dishes at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Present-day social eating practices, together with a relatively new-found prosperity and our large family sizes, may exacerbate this tendency: we can afford to eat out more now, but it’s still cheaper to feed a family of six at McDonald’s than at the Whole Foods deli.

Third, the Mormon devotion to self-improvement. One might think that this would weigh in on the opposite side of the scale, but I suspect that LDS emphasis on goal-setting and progress-tracking leads many members to diet–and dieting, as we all know, is a notoriously unsuccessful way to lose weight permanently.

On the boys’ side: Men’s obesity rates are consistently higher than women’s, and this is undoubtedly true among Mormons, as well. If sitcoms correspond in any way to reality, it has been argued, men may be exempt from the kinds of cultural pressures that drive women to pilates and plastic surgeons. I think it’s at least as likely, for Mormon men in particular, that it’s difficult to find the time for the gym among the obligations of family and church–although, if he can find a spare hour, a man is less likely to have to drag the kids along!

On the girls’ side: Weight is a crucial element in the heterosexual beauty culture, of course, and the heterosexual beauty culture plays a starring role in the heterosexual marriage market. Because the heterosexual marriage market is such a prevalent social dynamic among young adult Mormons, I suspect that both men and women feel pressure to conform to ideal body images–perhaps even more strongly than other young people of the same age. After marriage, LDS women tend to bear children early and often, and this childbirth culture may offset obsession with weight. Still, though, none of these factors adequately explain the surprising gap between Utah women’s obesity rates and national trends. Ideas?

So spill the beans–or the tofu or the country-style ribs–is your attitude toward weight influence by Mormonism? Do you or have you struggled with weight issues? How does Mormon culture inflect national trends toward obesity?

80 comments for “Marrow and Fatness: LDS and BMI

  1. I would say that my attitude towards weight is affected by the Gospel in that I think it is too bad when I see obese people because I subconsciously think that they are not properly caring for their bodies, which we are taught are holy, like God’s own temple. That might be a totally unfair judgment (or it might not), but that would definitely stem from my beliefs as a Latter-day Saint and my adherence to the Word of Wisdom, which, for example, admonishes the sparing use of meat. I have also always been taught that a part of the Restored Gospel is “moderation in all things,” though I can’t quite say where this stems from in the scriptures precisely, off the top of my head. So seeing overweight people turns my mind to these teachings of the Restored Gospel and in that sense, my attitude towards weight is definitely affected by the Gospel.

    I personally have never struggled with weight issues. I truly sympathize with people who have serious weight problems, but not so much with people whose weight problems stem from an over-indulgent or lazy lifestyle.

    How does “Mormon culture” (whatever that is) change the national trend? I don’t know but I would hope that our beliefs lead us to more modest lifestyles that naturally deter obesity through healthy living. I fear that many Latter-day Saints don’t take the Word of Wisdom seriously on this front and merely comply with its prohibitions. That’s their prerogative; I’m not criticizing them for it and I am applauding them for staying away from coffee, tea, alcohol, and tabacco. But maybe the WoW can also take a toll on obesity rates if it is allowed to do so.

  2. Wow, Rosalynde, this is quite the weighty discussion. ;) (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

    I think you’re right that there are a lot of heavy Mormons. I can’t say I know why, myself. Some other factors that may be in play:

    -We don’t drink or smoke, so we’re likely to consider ourselves pretty healthy, and possibly we won’t worry about things like diet and exercise.

    -The eleventh-in-line Mormon kid from a family of seventeen who never had enough to eat growing up — s/he becomes an adult, has the table to him/herself, and digs in with gusto.

    -Any possible relation to the ever-present pictures of Brigham Young, who was not a small man?

    -Finally, it may be the homebody-ness of Mormon social life. Many of my non-member friends go out regularly after they’re married and even have kids — they’ll have a girls night out or a poker game at someone’s house or drinks after work. Mormons are expected to settle down and spend free time with family. And when it’s just you and your two-year-old, you can easily become a little more lax about appearance.

  3. John: “I personally have never struggled with weight issues.”

    (grin) No kidding!

  4. Hah! My own comment (#2) got dropped into the moderation list because it included a term that automatically triggers moderation due to spamming.

    (I won’t write the term out here, lest I get moderated again, but I’ll note that it’s a word that starts with P and ends with Oker).

  5. Mary had a little sheep….the sheep joined the Mormon church, and died of lack of sleep….

    Or from too many potlucks and chili cookoffs?

    I think this is an American problem more than it’s a Mormon problem. We’re rich and we have a genetic heritage that programs us to survive famine. Generation after generation now, we’ve had enough to eat. When there’s enough we eat all we can get, because deep down in our chromosomes we know such times don’t last. How can our metabolisms appreciate that there are drive-throughs all over the place now? My husband hasn’t had to go out and stalk game in thirty years. I whine about the hard work involved in making a commissary trip…my great-grandmother spent hours in her hot kitchen, peeling, dicing, sweetening, spicing, bottling food she grew herself in the hopes that there’d be enough for winter. She had a little extra weight on her but was always on the go and usually doing something about food. I have the same drive–I just don’t have to work much to satisfy it anymore.

  6. Rosalynde already commented on the gender divide in the stats. Let me add a couple more. Obesity is correlated to race and (I think) age. Utah has quite a few Hispanics but statistically I don’t think that is as important as having few blacks, among whom I believe obesity is higher than whites. Utah has more young people than many states, which I suppose is likely to make for a lower obesity rate.

    These are two of the most obvious controls to consider. Income and marital status also are different in Utah, and so it would be interesting to see how these related to obesity, though the causality would be murkier.

  7. Despite our asceticism when it comes to substances like wine and tobacco, there seems to be a good deal of earthiness to Mormonism. By earthiness, I don’t mean philosophical materialism; Mormons are physicalists but they are not materialists. I mean something like religion joined with the earthly projects like building cities and having babies. Food is caught up in those material projects–think of canning, food storage, and gardens. These projects are about frugality and taking care of our own, ’tis true, but they are also about pleasure and enjoyment. We take pleasure in food, as D&C 49 suggests we should do, and I think that philosophy may rub off on the Mormons who, well, like their food.

    The thing I don’t get is why, given the theology Rosalynde mentions, Mormons haven’t developed a philosophy of body. When missionaries teach the discussions, they talk about the two greatest gifts from God: the body and agency. In our meetings we talk endlessly about how to use agency wisely, how to “feed our spirits,” how to care for our spiritual selves, but we say very little about how to take care of our physical selves–other than to not ingest the 5 “do nots” and do not have sex outside of marriage. There is no talk about bed early, even though that is in our scriptures. If the body is one of God’s two greatest gifts, shouldn’t we be talking more about all the finer points of taking care of that beautiful organism? Am I missing something here?

  8. Why does everyone seem to think Obesity is a problem? The health risks are overstated (see,2933,113975,00.html ) and there is nothing in the Word of Wisdom that states body mass or weight as an issue.

    Furthermore, There doesn’t seem to be anything linking weight loss with following the WoW in any scripture or General Conference talk I can find.

    I think this whole issue stems from the american societies bias against overweight individuals, and not anything scriptural.

  9. I don’t trust BMI – it’s outdated and flawed, IMHO.

    Why? Well, I have 14% body fat (a failry low percentage), yet according the BMI charts I am “morbidly obese” – not just obese, but “morbidly obese.” According to the BMI charts, my ideal weight is 185 pounds – I’m 31 and I haven’t weighed that much since junior high!

  10. In response to #10, the health risks of obesity may or may not be overstated. However, overweight certainly has an impact on the quality of one’s life. Even moderate overweight causes a decrease in energy, stress on the joints making physical activity more difficult, and everyday tasks such as picking up toys off the floor (speaking from personal experience here) becomes more difficult.
    I have several thoughts on this topic.
    First, I do not have the statistics to state whether or not Mormons as a population are more prone to obesity, or not. However, I do think it is quite probable that Mormon women, at least, *struggle* more with weight issues than non-Mormon women. My thesis is that Mormon life *does* make us more prone to weight problems. But at the same time, Mormon doctrine makes us feel more guilty about our weight problems.
    I will take my own struggles with weight as a case study. So many aspects of my life are shaped by my identity as a Mormon, that I am quite sure my weight struggles are also so colored.
    As a Mormon woman, I made the choice to marry early and have children instead of pursuing a career. And any mother of small children can testify to the fact that it is a difficult, stressful job. I’ve often thought that were I not Mormon, the stress of motherhood would drive me to drink. But since that is not an option, instead I am driven to ice cream. Most other non-Mormon women of my age are certainly not mothers of 3 children 3 and under! To relieve stress I do not have the option of drinking a glass of wine, smoking a cigarette, or even going to the gym for an hour. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone recommend reducing stress by taking a bubble bath with candles, and just locking the bathroom door and telling my children they may not come in. Do they have any idea what kind of havoc a 1 year old and 3 year old twins can wreak in the space of 15 unattended minutes?? There seem to be very few feasible options for reducing stress in the life of a busy mother of young children, other than grabbing a bag of chips or a popsicle.
    There is also the social aspect of eating. While other couples may go out to a club on the weekends, or to a cocktail party, etc., this is not really the “Mormon scene.” Instead we stay in with the kids, make popcorn and ice cream sundaes and watch a family movie. I also think food plays a big role in a Mormon’s concept of nurturing. When a woman has a baby, does the Relief Society organize women to go in and help her clean her house? Or take a load of laundry off her hands? No, the Relief Society organizes meals. Same thing with sickness or a death in the family. Food is always the first thing (or only thing) offered. Think about how we are encouraged to greet new neighbors—bring them a loaf of bread or a plate of brownies!! The biggest event of the year in Cub Scouts is the Blue and Gold banquet, right? And everyone knows how to get a Mormon to a fireside—offer refreshments! So I think food is a very important part of Mormon culture, and when fully embraced, can easily lead to weight problems.
    But at the same time, Mormons place great value on self-discipline. I am very sure that most of us have had the same (judgmental?) thoughts as John Fowle’s in #1 when seeing other overweight Mormons. And I KNOW that I berate myself with these same kinds of judgments in regards to my own weight. My body is a temple. It is a gift from God. How can I disrespect myself and my God by feeding it junk like Cheetos and Bryers? How can I say that I follow the Word of Wisdom’s council of moderation in all things when I eat an entire package of Chips Ahoy cookies in the span of 24 hours? How can I say I have mastered myself when I can’t even restrain myself from going into the kitchen for the rest of the bag of Hershey’s Kisses that I stashed behind the soup cans? Bad eating habits are not the way of God. I know this because I know how badly they make me feel.
    However, it seems to me that there is only so much self-discipline one can have in life. I discipline myself in my words to others, in my thoughts regarding others, in the movies and TV shows I watch, in the books I read; I am very disciplined when it comes to scripture study and church callings and church commitments; I make a great many sacrifices in my personal life as I strive to fulfill my role as wife and mother. Sometimes it seems like the only guilty pleasure that a Mormon can have without committing sin, is eating! Therein lies the difficulty.
    So, like I’m sure tens of thousands of Mormon women out there exactly like me, I struggle each day to make good choices. I make these choices for my own health, to set a good example for my children, to be able to be as active as I want to be in my own life as well as theirs, to be attractive to my husband, and to learn to master the carnal man within me that just loves ice cream so much. Statistics don’t always tell the whole story. In a few weeks, if I keep on my Weight Watchers weight-loss curve, I will no longer be overweight. But I am sure I will still struggle with these issues every day.

  11. “there is nothing in the Word of Wisdom that states body mass or weight as an issue.”

    This is true, but there IS stuff in the WoW about eating a lot of grains and fruits and veggies, and going very easy on the meat. It’s a pretty good fomula for maintaining a reasonable weight. It amazes me that so many of us are overweight when the recipe for good health is RIGHT THERE.

    I’m not casting this down from an ivory tower; I’m 32 years old and about 40 pounds above fighting weight. And like Gabrielle, I actually feel a little guilty about it. Not just self-concious and winded, but *guilty*. Clearly a lot of us are making some wrong choices in our diets. I think there is something to the idea that we eat socially maybe more than other groups, and we are generally a “stick-to-your-ribs/home-cookin'” people, and I’m sure that contributes. I mean really, who is even going to *touch* the tofu salad at potluck when there are barbequed ribs sitting right there next to it?

    I would be interested to know how active Mormons compare to, say, active Baptists weight-wise. A lot of the social aspects of eating are shared with other religions. Makes me wonder if it’s an issue for religeous people in general more than our non-worshipping brothers and sisters.

  12. #13, I wholeheartedly disagree that “good health” is equal to “non-obese”. There’s nothing in the WoW that even implies that following it will lead to weight loss.

    It doesn’t say “and thou will be blessed with skinniness.”

    The application of the WoW to obesity is a wholly modern, and I believe incorrect, application of the law.

  13. One interesting policy in this area is how obese prospective missionaries need to lose weight before they can receive a call.

    I have had a good discussion with Karl back at the post Rosalynde linked to, for anyone that is interested.

  14. I have always felt doubly guilty about my weight (which puts me in the obese range in terms of BMI) because I am a Mormon. Not only is my weight increasing certain health risks, but I feel I am mistreating what I am taught is my “temple” and an integral part of my eternal soul. It probably doesn’t help that I gave a talk in sacrament meeting last week on self-mastery, based on a talk by Russel M. Nelson, which emphasized that we have a duty to exercise and condition our bodies.

  15. My impression is that Mormons as a group are more likely to be overweight than my nonmember friends.

    I have been working for some time to lose the 25 pound I put on when my wife and I came back from the Peace Corps, started grad school and began having children.

    Kids are the real killer in my struggle with weight. I was always a skinny kid that participated in a lot of endurance sports and ate anything I wanted. It’s hard to get out for an hour run when you have family, church, and work duties, as well as a spouse who has equal claim to available exercise hours. No spur of the moment hiking proposals from my buddies “hey, its a full moon lets take off and climb a mountain”.

    Now if I could only get a good bellyfull of intestinal parasites again like I did occasionally in the Peace Corps I could take off the weight without huge blocks of time devoted to exercise.

  16. A few years ago when my niece was blessed in sacrement meeting, my non member dad came with the family. While we sat listening to ward business, my father leaned over and asked an observant question, ” Are all mormons fat?” I had to repress my laughtur. Looking around the chapel it was easy to see why my dad would ask that question. Most of the members in my ward were overweight.I’ve always wondered about this trend as well. I figure if part of the Word of Wisdom is to treat our body as a temple you would think members would watch what they eat and exercise a little.

    But I think I’ve found another cause for the amount of obesity we see in the Church that hasn’t been mentioned. In the New York Times a few weeks ago there was a story about a medical report about the connection between the anti-smoking trend of the past 20 years with the rise of obesity in the U.S. Smokers usually smoke and drink to socialize and therefore are usually thin. (My dad and brother are perfect examples of this. Their diest consists of coffee and tobabco and as a consequence are rather thin). With the war to stamp out tabacco, people have turned to food as the centerpiece of socialization. That fits perfectly into mormon culture. All or most ward activities revolve around food; from chistmas dinners to elder quoram moving projects. Thus we have members with “big testimonies” of their faith around their waist.

    Another reason smokers tend to be thinner than non-smokers is that instead of raiding the fridge when stressed, smokers take a drag from a cig. Most Saints lead very hectic lives (faith without works is dead… ya bum), so when stress-outs occur the common response is to eat. Could the fact the Utah has the highest consumption of anti-depressants and mormon obesity have a link as well? They say that being overwieight decreases libido, so maybe one reason that mormons tend to be depressed and overweight is that that they’re sad that they fat and there missing out on sex with their spouse.

    Another thing that I don’t understand is that Preisthood leaders are always harping on the men to be clean shaven because if the prophet and apostles are then by golly so do we. I always want to pipe out “Why don’t you lose some weight? You don’t see Gordon B. HInkley carrying around much extra baggage.” But I bite my toung.

    All this typing has made me hungry. I’m going to finish off my Little Ceasars Hot and Ready Pizza.

  17. Here’s a link to the table showing that after controlling for race, Utahns are still significantly less likely to be overweight or obese.

    Percentage of whites overweight or obese, nationally: 55.3%
    Percentage of whites overweight or obese, Utah: 51.5%

    Besides having fewer blacks than average, Utah’s population is one of the youngest in the country. If age correllates positively with obesity, then Utah’s obesity numbers would appear artificially low.

    Looking at the state maps, there appears to be a positive correlation between high obesity rates and high smoking rates. Unsurprisingly, Utah has the lowest smoking rate by a considerable margin.

  18. “It doesn’t say “and thou will be blessed with skinniness.””

    No argument from me.

    I’m not implying that the WoW is a weight-loss plan. But I do think that those who follow it throughout their lives will never really NEED a weight-loss plan.

    Health in your navel <> obesity. It will take more than an editorial from Fox “News” to convince me otherwise. If, as the article you cited states, life expectency is ‘the most objective measure of public health,’ then clearly we have some work to do; take a look: . Much of Asia and Europe are ahead of the US in that regard.

    There may be some interesting discussion in the fact that our life expectency is notching up even as obesity rates are rising, but it will take somebody smarter and less tired than me to put that together.

  19. That’s supposed to say ‘health in your navel does not equal obesity.’ Told you I was tired.

  20. I’m fat, too. I don’t feel guilty for this because I am Mormon. Sure, God would be happier if I were taking better care of my body. So would I. Perhaps so would be some of the sisters in my singles ward. But my regrets about my fatness stem entirely from practical and physical concerns, not moral or spiritual concerns.

  21. Rosalynde, I think I would like your grandfather.

    My attitude towards weight is not at all influenced by my faith. I was the fat girl, I know from fat. My mother, always small, was always asking how much we weighed. Now that she’s old and senile, in a rest home, I like to play with her head by stating a weight that I know is less than hers. She’s not that senile, she just looks at me like “I have no clue who you are, but no way do you weigh 92 lbs.”

    I often equate thin-ness with moral superiority, not religious, just “better than.” Certainly, I think in the Relief Society culture, those of us who are fat (I am no longer one of “them”) feel inferior to those of us who are thin. Admit it girls, if a really beautiful woman comes into the room, all put together, women will look harder than the men and compare and often come up wanting. That is so sad.

    I don’t know how Mormonism plays a part in this. Most of the women my age are sort of pleasingly plump, even the thinner ones have bulges.

    This is sort of off the subject, but my husband and I took a trip to Canada once and I, who hate to exercise, found myself having to walk all over the place. I finally got tired and took a bus two blocks. I sure noticed a lot of skinny, healthy-looking older people trucking around. Never believe anybody in Victoria when they tell you something is close. Close is relative.

  22. A lot of guilt on this thread.

    Sometimes we as LDS adults unwittingly drag children and young people into our habits. Here in Madison, Wisconsin, our youth activities have established a culture of providing high-fat desserts at the conclusion of events. Leaders regularly bring cookies, brownies, ice cream for the joint activities, and the kids come to expect them. Last night at New Beginnings the fair was cheesecake. We don’t even think about what we are doing. The kids eat these things at the end of the evening, say, 8-8:30, then go right home and go to bed. That’s no good. We ought to start a new tradition of bringing vegetable trays or cooking creative ethnic dishes with lots of vegetables.

  23. John Fowles (#1): I have also always been taught that a part of the Restored Gospel is “moderation in all things,” though I can’t quite say where this stems from in the scriptures precisely, off the top of my head.

    Elder Oaks specifically taught that “moderation in all things” is not a part of the Restored Gospel:

    “Moderation in all things is not a virtue, because it would seem to justify moderation in commitment. That is not moderation, but indifference. That kind of moderation runs counter to the divine commands to serve with all of our “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2), to “seek … earnestly the riches of eternity” (D&C 68:31), and to be “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79). Moderation is not the answer.” (Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall, Ensign, Oct. 1994)

  24. My primary hands out candy to the kids most Sundays. Most positive experiences at church for kids involve food. That’s true for most of life.

    I’m not going to argue for my obesity–I know it is causing (not merely exacerbating) joint pain, and I didn’t get compression fractures in my spine from playing football. I’m not even THAT overweight–easily half of the women I see are heavier than I am.

    But stressing about it will make it worse. I have higher priorities, spiritually at least.

  25. Christian,

    I remember that article by Elder Oaks as being really good. Thanks for the reminder.

  26. Christian, interesting–so what’s your point? A Supersized Big Mac meal every night for the next five years? Maybe you are right, since if I do that, I will have a nice lawsuit against McDonald’s to pursue.

  27. My take on the relationship of the food/exercise/weight constellation to Mormonism is related to that of Gabrielle (#12) and Brett (#18).

    Three kinds of activities that get the brain’s pleasure centers going are available to Mormons. “Comfort food” can become an addictive way to feel good (or even to get from `bad’ to ‘okay’—I’m reminded of the protagonist’s experience in Super-size Me). Also, regular rigorous exercise seems to release endorphins that give a sense of well-being. The third is the obvious: sexual activity (depending, of course, on both `marital status’ and ‘status of the marriage’).

    The usual feel-good chemicals being proscribed, I’d guess that many Mormons turn to some combination of the above three, and I’d and this may lead to a greater polarization in weight than the general population (one could check standard deviations and not just averages to test this). Low weight/regular rigorous exercise/interest in frequent sex would occupy one pole, and heavy weight/lots of comfort food the other pole. (There must be a correlation between weight and exercise. Also, I read once that those who exercise regularly have sex an average of three times more often than those who don’t exercise. By the transitive property, that would seem to imply a correlation between weight and interest in frequent sex—one that fits with my experience, but of course I’ve only experienced one side.)

    As for me and my house, we shall serve the first pole. I’m addicted to the shot of endorphins provided by the gym (and correlations apply).

    At first glance, my tidy story here doesn’t exactly fit the conventional sitcom wisdom of overweight husband/thin beautiful wife that Rosalynde mentioned. I confess that convention has always been baffling to me. But maybe it’s a common-enough imperfect balance that people can identify with it, and one that serves as a source of creative tension to provide material for the show. Or maybe a pretty woman is needed for men to be interested in such shows at all. The combination of pretty woman/out-of-balance relationship is probably optimal for trying to ensnare both men and women to watch at the same time.

  28. John, my #27 was just a narrow response to the isolated tangential question of whether “moderation in all things” is part of the gospel. (Conventional proverbs have a way of becoming informally canonized, in spite of the fact that such proverbs often come in contrasting pairs, e.g. “Opposites attract/birds of feather flock together.” Maybe someone should blog on that.)

    My response to the substance of Rosalynde’s post is #31.

  29. I have to stifle my laughter when someone in our Michigan ward wants to lump chocolate in the WoW, but is easily 30-40 pounds overweight. Why is it that Mormons tend to fanaticism with regard to the WoW? One brother in our ward will not eat fruit unless it is fresh from the tree or vine. That is his personal warping of the 89th section. Notwithstanding Joseph F. Smith’s (or was it Joseph Fielding Smith? whatever) view that refrigeration and freezing allow us to extend “the season thereof” to cover the entire year. This brother is very thin because in his view there isn’t much to eat during the winter months.

    In priesthood class we were taught that in Utah there is a proscription against caffeinated soft drinks (you’re not going to get me in the soda vs. pop controversy), but that that doesn’t apply to Michigan. Justification for personal views? Perhaps, but the deeper problem is that they want to divide the church: Utah and the rest of us. We are all one body, even if it is overweight.

    Our Michigan ward is generally overweight. The Non-Michigan Mormons tend to be less likely to be overweight. But then again, they also tend to be more educated and successful.

  30. Whenever I have visited Michigan, I have gotten the impression that a much higher percentage of people are overweight there than elsewhere in the country. I have always ascribed it to a polar bear like need to put on the pounds to survive a severe winter.

  31. Elder Oaks specifically taught that “moderation in all things” is not a part of the Restored Gospel:

    But, D&C 12:8 says

    And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.

    I went back and skimmed throught the talk in question. 99% of it is excellent, but I find his shot at moderation to be incoherent. My dictionary says that temperance is a synonym for moderation. Elder Oaks just denounces it without acknowledging that there is a valid scriptural basis for the belief. If he, or any other apostle, is going to reinterpret a scripture, he should acknowledge that he is doing so, instead of pretending that the inconvenient scripture doesn’t exist.

  32. So far everyone writes as though Mormons are heavier than average even though the only evidence provided suggests Mormons are thinner than average. What gives?

    Last_lemming, if you read D&C 12:8 as you suggest, it contradicts itself. It says he shall be “full of love,” not “he shall love moderately.” I believe being “temperate in all things” means being wise and even-keeled. To be wise and even-keeled requires that we go all-out in some areas.

  33. Perhaps Elder Oaks was addressing those who justify drinking alcohol by referring to moderation in all things. Some of my gentile friends feel that abstinence from liquor is not good.

    One a different train of thought. . . At what point does the brain case become so full that the fat has to begin being deposited on the hips and belly?

  34. Last_lemming, you are smart lemming so I think you can handle this. Assume both statements are correct when properly understood and see if you can find a way to reconcile them. That is the heart of the philosophical principle of charity.

  35. Last_lemming: Good point! I guess conventional proverbs can even find their way into formally canonized scripture. You characterized this point of Elder Oaks’ as “incoherent”; it seems to me that given the passages Elder Oaks cited, the scriptures themselves (even the D&C on its own) may be “incoherent” on this point (and of course many other more significant ones, Bro. McConkie’s valiant attempts at harmonizing notwithstanding).

    On the other hand, you could get a harmonization of D&C 12:8 by removing the comma after “all things”, which would more obviously restrict the scope of “all”, rendering it compatible with Elder Oaks’ message (indeed affirming his point about not overdoing Church service). Since the revelations were dictated by Joseph, and since there are an enormous number of word, spelling, and punctutation changes in the textual development of the D&C (enough to fill about 1800 pages of Woodford’s Ph.D. dissertation), this comma deletion would be eminently reasonable.

    Matt Evans: In #31 I, at least, did not say Mormons are heavier than average; I said there are two poles, and didn’t specify which was more prevalent.

  36. Look, I just want to make it clear that linking obesity to the WoW is more of “Philosophy of man mingled with scripture” than anything else. No general authority has made this link that I know of.

    And to answer another point brought up, I was medically obese when applying to go on a mission, and was not required to lose any weight. I’ve heard of this happening, but only to a man who weighed in the range of 500 pounds. There’s whole ranges of obesity between most of us and that point.

  37. Sorry, last_lemming, it appears that Matt and Christian have spoiled your chance.

    By the way Christian, without removing the comma, what exactly do you think that phrase, “, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.” is referring to? It seems that the clearest and most obvious interpretation is that it modifies “all things”, just as you suggest.

    Since this leaves the passage consonant with Elder Oaks comment, (he is saying that we should not be moderate in commitment to the gospel), is there any reason to think the passages are irreconcilable? Other than just a general desire to call things irreconcilable?

  38. I’m one of those guys that has battled the bulge my entire life and has painful memories of being teased as a kid for being fat. I became a healthy eating and exercise nut about 17 years ago. At first I was quite obnoxious about it (that nasty pride thing), but I have come to realize that while the “no” proscriptions in the WoW are required to obtain a temple recommend or hold certain leadership positions, the “yes” provisions are still “by way of invitation.”

    Having striven for nearly two decades to closely follow the positives in the WoW, I am here to tell you that in our society it takes serious (even extreme) discipline to eat healthy. Most folks simply don’t have the time, interest, and/or money to do it.

    I can also tell you that closely following the WoW in no way guarantees skinniness. I think you can safely say that it will lead to better health than you would otherwise have, but that does not always translate into being skinny. There are a number of genetic factors involved. Despite having good muscle tone and a low body fat percentage, I will never have a body that looks like the ideal guy. Even when I was below 8% body fat I had a spare tire.

    I believe that my body perception is primarily influenced by American culture and resulting media representations. (Just check our literature: lean & muscular = good, fat = bad in most stories. Heck, look at Friberg’s depiction of King Noah and Abinadi.) My perception is also colored by my faith and LDS culture.

    I believe that our society’s intense focus on our bodies does not please God. We have a stewardship over our bodies, just like every other blessing we receive from the Lord. All of these stewardships need to be balanced and prioritized. I’m not going to judge anyone for their corpulence. I’ve been there and know what it’s like.

  39. Let’s face it. There are hundreds of apparently contradictory statements in the scriptures, and “being temperate in all things” (whether you consider the next phrase as limiting it or not) does appear to contradict the commands to be “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” or to be “anxiously engaged” or even “extremism in the defense of the Gospel is no vice” (all right, I know that’s not in the scriptures). If we’re gonna get hung up on a few apparent contradictions, there are much meatier ones than this to do it on.

  40. My gripe with Elder Oaks is not that his point is invalid, nor is it that he is not allowed to reinterpret scripture. It’s his failure to acknowledge that he is doing so. Instead of asserting that “moderation in all things” is not part of the restored gospel, he could easily have said something like “Although the scriptures say to be ‘temperate in all things,’ what it really means is…”

    Yeah, yeah. I know. Don’t criticize the brethren.

    But if they don’t get any feedback on how their words are interpreted, how are they going to avoid future unnecessary misunderstandings?

    Anyway, I like the repunctuation idea. I have mentally repunctuated a few verses myself, 2 Nephi 9:13 being the most prominent.

  41. Frank (#43): You’re right, you caught me red-handed with my hand in the knee-jerk-contrariness cookie jar. At least I was able to be balanced and straight in the substance, if not tone, of the comment!

    However, I agree with Mark B. (#45) that there probably are some meatier contradictions that get glossed over too easily—a topic for some other thread (or blog).

  42. last_lemming, I’m not sure that that would be the best use of his speech time. The only people troubled would be people who misread the D&C scripture as saying that we should be moderate in our commitment to the Lord. Does anybody really think that the scriptures encourage us to be moderate in that way? Why would one ever interpret the D&C scripture as saying that?

  43. Gabrielle (#12),
    I enjoyed your comments. I partially agree with the “feeding [my body] junk like Cheetos and Bryers” statement. Yes, Cheetos is junk. Breyers, on the other hand… how can I argue with “all natural” ice cream??? See how easily I can justify my favorite foods? ;)

  44. Rosalynde, you picked a winner! It’s just a few hours after you posted, and already there are too many comments to read and synthesize fairly. So here are two comments based on observation and experience. (1) Men responded to this post more than women. This is very surprising to me, because I thought weight was a more sensitive issue to image-conscious women than steak-loving men. This could only indicate that men have/are making more time to post during the day than women, but it could also suggest a higher level of anxiety that men feel about their weight than I would have guessed. This is a lesson to me in stereotyping, I suppose. (2) No one has begun discussing one of the biggest and most homogenous groups of Mormons that talk about/experience/are assumed to have weight issues: missionaries. The Mormon food culture detailed by Gabrielle (#12) and others includes as an important category the missionary dinner, complete with second helpings and the missionaries patting their stomachs and saying “I’d better not.” I think the experience of missionaries with food and weight issues provides a microcosm–or at the least, an interesting case study–of Mormon cultural norms more generally. Why is it, for example, that a missionary who returns underweight from those exotic parasites (cited in Jason’s #17) is the object of sympathy and pathos when a missionary who returns overweight from the prevalence of bread and meat in the country’s diet is the object of good-natured ribbing and sometimes not-so-subtle pressure to get in shape again (for that heterosexual marriage market, no doubt). I will disclose that as a missionary in Romania, I would talk with my companions about how we could manage to be skinnier when we came back than we were when we left. And as a young single adult in a big city, I occasionally hear that we should “keep ourselves attractive” as we get older and remain single. Anyway, this comment is peripheral to the main discussion, but if you’re ever writing a paper on Mormon attitudes toward weight, you might consider this particular population :).

  45. Hi all! Sorry I had to step away from the thread for a while–but thanks for all the great comments! A few responses, as I eat my carrot sticks and tuna-on-wheat-toast…

    Sheri, interesting comment (#5) about our present-day lack of physical labor… This may also explain the gender divide in obesity rates: I’d hazard a guess that men’s lifestyles have changed more over the past hundred years, with more and more of them sitting behind desks, than women’s have–although the work that I do as a stay-at-home mom today hardly compares with the work my great-great-grandmother did!–who, even when the move into the workplace, tend to gravitate to more service-oriented (active) industries.

    Jed, great comment and questions (#8). I’d guess that the “earthiness” (I like your term!) of our culture is bound up with the importance of our history–which, more than any other religion, is inextricable from our truth claims. Historical activities like canning, gardening, etc., persist through our interest in history and family history. And, as you say, they bring pleasure.

    Karl, in case I wasn’t clear: I personally do not think that obesity is implicated in the WoW commandments.

    Gabrielle: so many great thoughts! Thank you! You and I have talked before about how good food and other pleasurable stimuli are absolutely essential to the continued sanity of the stay-at-home mother of small children… As I’ve said before, good food, good art and good conversation really do give me a reason to continue living, sometimes. And I hear you about the guilt… I don’t struggle with my weight now, inexplicably, but I have in the past, and the guilt/self-mastery dynamic was a huge part of it. And, ultimately, why I never *ever* have been able to lose weight by dieting! (And for what it’s worth, I’m SO proud of the progress you’re making on WW! You really are an inspiration!)

    Hanna: I think a lot of people will be able to identify with your feelings. Remember: guilt is good when it motivates us to repent of sin. But being overweight is *not* a sin, so guilt isn’t doing its job here. (Easier said than done, I know!)

    Jason: the only surefire method I’ve found to lose weight is to have children: I’ve lost at least five permanent pounds with each. Since that method is probably not available to you, I think you’re going to have to go with the parasites! Good luck, man.

  46. Rosalynde,

    I can think of at least a handful of women who would be tempted to beat you silly for that last comment.

  47. Okay, carrot sticks replenished, and off I go…

    Matt, I’m with you: I don’t think that Mormons are more likely to be overweight than other populations, and perhaps they’re less likely. I suspect that people who struggle with the issue personally are more likely to respond on this thread–and their responses are highly instructive. But, as I proposed in the original post, I think our active family-oriented Mormon lifestyle, our consciousness of image and success, and our general health probably control obesity generally.

    annegb: Good point about weight issues in married women being more about competing with each other than competing for male attention… Yes, I dress up for church not for my husband or for the other men, but for the other women!

    Christian: very interesting thesis about weight being polarized among Mormons: quite fit, or quite overweight. Also interesting speculation about the connection between weight and sexuality. I wonder whether weight generally correlates between spouses: that is, do fat husbands tend to have fat wives, sitcoms aside? One would expect so, but at first blush I can think of an awful lot of exceptions…

    Scott H: Thanks for sharing your experiences. Yes, Arnold Frieberg’s Noah and Abinadi are relevant here… Fatness and thinness have distinct moral connotations in the present-day–and, interestingly, precisely the opposite of those prevalent in the scriptures! Fatness is universally a positive thing in the OT and the BoM itself.

    Naomi: Thanks for bringing up missions! Definitely a crucial topos in an LDS anatomy of food. I found that sisters were exempt from the sort of persecution-by-food to which elders were subjected… Missions also expose many LDS to different attitudes about weight. In Portugal, every companionship of sisters was instantly classified into “a gordinha” (the fat one) and “a fraquinha” (the skinny one.) By virtue of my build–not my weight–I was generally the skinny one.

  48. I just saw the juxtaposition of “Marrow and Fatness” next to “Not Coveting” on the Recent Comments bar, which led me to wonder: If I know someone who works out and therefore has very well-defined glutes, and I’m jealous of that — is that an instance of “coveting my neighbor’s ass”?

    (“Thy neighbor’s . . . ass” is on the official do-not-covet list, you know. Take a look.)

    Just wondering.

  49. Rosalynde: Fatness is universally a positive thing in the OT and the BoM itself.

    On occasion my wife has expressed (privately, to me) sympathy for someone who’s clearly unhealthily obese. I regret to say that on every such occasion my wife has had to elbow me hard or kick me in the shin for quoting Jacob in response.

  50. You can’t be fat and healthy. I don’t understand how you can say obesity isn’t part of the WoW. If you’re fat you’re obviously not taking care of your body which is one of our greatest blessings. I’m not saying this is a grave sin or anything or we should judge people by this. I’m just saying it seems silly to fuss about coffee and tea when you can’t cut out the doughnuts and ice cream. Isn’t part of our challenge in life learning to control our desires and passions? What am I missing here?

  51. I think you can be fat and healthy. Well, healthier than someone thinner. Because I know lots of people who are fatter than I and they are much healthier. They exercise and eat healthy. They have more energy.

    I have been fat and I have been very supremely cutely thin. I have been the one who looked with envy at the skinny, put-together woman, and thought bad things about myself, and I have been the one being looked at with envy. Skinny is better.

    But I wasn’t all that healthy no matter how fat or thin I was. I know some flabby obese people, and I know some firm fat bodies who work very hard. Mostly I know people like me, with our aging bodies and bulges.

    Maybe it’s all relative. Some people just are big boned. My aunt was quite heavy all her life, died fairly young at 73 (injuries in a car accident), but she was, nevertheless, one of the healthiest, hard-working, clean, and honest people I know. That being said, sometimes I perceive fat people, who I don’t know, as lazy, selfish, and dishonest.

    Maybe what’s more important is how we treat the fat ones. Their fatness would be between them and God.

  52. I think annegb has made one of the most important, summative, useful points of this discussion (#59–conveniently the last one posted as I write this). One of my sisters once said that she wanted to teach her children to be healthy and strong, not skinny and picture perfect. And as many have pointed out, skinniness doesn’t always imply being healthy or strong any more than being corpulent (“body-full,” from its Latin roots) implies being weak or unhealthy. I can move some pretty heavy furniture because I’ve got the bulk to put behind it. But I am guilty of “coveting my neighbor’s ass”–especially at Church in the summer–and I am also guilty of being either overly friendly or slightly wary of obese men and women (either response mediated by some prejudice about weight). So far this discussion has revolved around personal or cultural weight issues–perhaps another post–or another 59 comments–could look at how we respond to those issues in others, particularly in church settings. Do I bring lasagna and brownies or salad and smoothies to the new mother or grieving family? Do I go on a second date with the guy that weighs 100 pounds more than me or tell him that I’m really busy this semester? I don’t exactly know the best way to confront prejudice generally, but it seems like this forum is a good one. Apropos to this, there’s an article called, I think, “Fat Like Me” about a woman who wore a body suit so she’d appear obese and documented the way she was treated.

    William Morris: Bad pork and a diet of 70% cabbage. And sweating like a porc during luna cuptorului.

  53. Well, I agree it’s more important how we treat others and that fatness is between the individual and God. And I agree people come in all shapes and sizes and we shouldn’t infer that they’re necessarily lazy, selfish or dishonest. Personally I have caught myself unconsciously treating the cuter kids with more kindness and affection and I’m trying to keep from doing that. Indeed, the unattractive kids probably need the most kindness and affection.

    It’s a personally issue. I know what my ideal weight is and when I’ve been eating too much and skipping out on my morning trips to the gym and I suspect most people do also. But from a doctrinal standpoint I don’t think obesity is consistent with the principles of the Word of Wisdom. I think of my body as one of my stewardships (among other things) and when I eat junk or skip out on exercise I feel I’m not being true to the principles of the WoW and neglecting a stewardship.

  54. I sure laughed a lot reading this thread. Thank you. :-)

    I hope the Lord knows that I would give up tea and coffee and liquor for all eternity for him without blinking an eye, but ice cream??? (I’d whimper….)

  55. Trenden, it’s perfectly easy to obey all the counsel in section 89 and still weigh almost 250 pounds. Trust me, I know. Maybe I eat a little too much meat when it’s not winter, but otherwise I think I’ve pretty much got this one under control. So how is my obesity inconsistent with the Word of Wisdom?

    I find it interesting that you refer not to the Word of Wisdom itself but the “principles of the Word of Wisdom.” I don’t know what those principles are, since they’re not listed. From what you have written, I would guess that the principles can be summarized as something like: “Be healthy.” But the way I read it, that’s not the principle in section 89, that’s the promise. If I keep and do these sayings, I should have health in my navel. Right? Saying that the Word of Wisdom is a commandment to be healthy makes as much sense as saying it commands us to not be slain by the destroying angel. Or to find hidden treasures of knowledge. (Although I would agree that these are good goals.)

    So I’m going to keep on walking in obedience to what I see written in the revelation. But since there is nothing written there about morning trips to the gym, I refuse to feel guilty about never going. I’ll just feel fat.

  56. Ms. Frandsen:

    I am shocked–SHOCKED–that you would take that verse in Exodus and its reference to that humble yet noble beast of burden and twist it into an allusion to your neighbor’s derriere.

    Could Moses really have had that in mind?

  57. Trendon: “Maybe I eat a little too much meat when it’s not winter.”

    Has anyone heard of the anti-meat comma? Like Paul’s famous anti-semitic comma in the New Testament, the anti-meat comma in D&C 89:13 changes the way we understand the verse. The comma follows the word “used” here:

    “And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”

    With the comma in place, the verse appears to restrict the eating of meat to winter, cold, or famine. But take the comma out and it means something like this: “Someone has been saying you should eat meat only in winter, cold, or famine, but I say to you can eat meat any time of the year. Neverthless [as verse 12 says,] eat meat sparingly.”

    This reading was first brought to my attention a few years ago by a Utah seminary teacher who was on one of the committees that did work on D&C footnotes for the 1981 edition of the scriptures. According to this teacher, the committee had approval from Pres Kimball to strike the anti-meat comma (which, according to the seminary teacher, was added by Elder Talmage in the 1921 edition), but that the change did not get to the press in time. He assured me that the comma would not appear in the next edition of the scriptures.

    Does anyone know any more about this?

  58. A humorous story related to the subject. I don’t kow who the author is.

    In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

    Then using God’s great gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and Krispy Crème Donuts. And Satan said, “You want chocolate with that?” And Man said, “Yes!” and Woman said, “and as long as you’re at it, add some sprinkles.” And they gained 10 pounds. And Satan smiled.

    And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat, and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman went from size 6 to size 14. So God said, “Try my fresh green salad.” And Satan presented Thousand-Island Dressing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

    God then said, “I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.” And Satan brought forth deep fried fish and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained more weight and his cholesterol went through the roof.

    God then created a light, fluffy white cake, named it “Angel Food Cake,” and said, “It is good.” Satan then created chocolate cake and named it “Devil’s Food.”

    God then brought forth running shoes so that His children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan gave cable TV with a remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering blue light and gained pounds.
    Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And Man gained pounds.

    God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite. And Satan created McDonald’s and its 99-cent double cheeseburger. Then he said, “You want fries with that?” And Man replied, “Yes! And super size them!” And Satan said, “It is good.” And Man went into cardiac arrest. God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery. Then Satan created HMOs.

  59. Floydtwd: That is solidly profound, also entertaining.

    But you know, I bet that would fit in with any situation in life. It sort of reminds me of the Screwtape Letters.

    I feel sort of heartened to think that Satan is tempting me and God is on the job and I am not out there hanging doing it all alone.

    Which may or may not have anything to do with the Word of Wisdom and fatness.

  60. John,
    I once heard President Hinckley speak about the fact that illegal drugs aren’t specifically mentioned in the WoW and he had heard people justify their behavior by pointing that fact out. His response was that their justification was silly and they had indeed not understood the principles taught in the WoW. I understood his point to be that we are being admonished to use discretion in what we take into our bodies and to take care of ourselves and certainly not abuse ourselves. It seems pretty straight forward that if you’re obese you’re violating the same principles. I certainly don’t think you should be denied a temple recommend if you’re overweight, but I don’t think you’re using much “wisdom” if you choose to mistreate your body that way. Does the Lord need to spell everything out? How about a little common sense in these things?

  61. Trenden,

    The problem is that “common sense” ideas will differ from person to person. In many cultures, fat is considered positive, and people would laugh at you if you suggested that it was unhealthy to be fat. We’ve got at least one suggestion that Nephite culture treated being fat as a good thing.


    The missionary dynamic is particularly interesting in cultures where fatness is a compliment (such as Guatemala, where I served). I had members inviting me over for food, telling me that I needed to eat more so that I would become nice and fat. Members would shake their heads and cluck about too-skinny missionaries, and sometimes boasted that local foods would surely make Elder X or Sister X become nice and fat. I recall one investigator who wanted to be baptized by my companion, not me, because my comp was “gordo” — and it was meant as a compliment.

    People would ask me why the girls on Beverly Hills 90210 (which all the young people watched, because they thought that everyone in the states watched it, so it was clearly the cool thing to do) were so skinny. The most popular stars of Latin American cinema were certainly not super-skinny — the big star when I was there was the singer Selena, who is curvaceous.

    My impression was that the people weren’t sure what to make of skinny elders and sisters. We were in many places their best models of the gospel. Was this something that the gospel required? People weren’t sure.

  62. Almost all the Japanese were thin, and they didn’t invite us over to eat much, so almost all the missionaries were thin too. I returned home shortly after the release of American POWs from North Vietnamese prison camps, and I’ve been told that I looked like one of the returning POWs.

    Of course, for most of the world’s history only the very wealthy could afford to get fat. I suspect that for the Guatemalans, fatness is still a sign of affluence. Since virtually everyone in the US is affluent by the fatness standard, we can’t make those social discriminations based on girth. One serious part of our problem is that food is too cheap. (There was a piece in The Atlantic Monthly, I think, a few months back that made this point.) As Frank could tell us, it’s simple economics. Price goes down, demand remains constant, we buy more. And, to paraphrase Kevin Costner, if you have it, they will eat.

  63. Mark,

    More than affluence — fatness was also equated with physical strength and (at least for men) masculinity. If you were “gordo” it was assumed that you were strong and tough — gordo was practically synonymous with strong.

    We still see this, to some extent, in English — describe someone as “broad-shouldered” or “solid” or even “husky” and the image is more likely to be of a big, strong, football linebacker type rather than a beer-bellied person. But “fat” has definitely made the change in English.

  64. Kaimi and Mark: I had forgotten about missions/countries where girth is valued. Romanians (my mission) had the idea that young women, at least, should be thin. Romanians also loved American TV and music and other cultural exports (at least pre-Iraq war). I wonder if the globalization of culture will effect more homogenous attitudes toward body size and beauty. I hope not. But I suppose it’s possible if kids in Bucharest know more about Britney Spears and Linken Park (sp?) than me.

  65. Naomi,

    Since I am of your parents’ generation, I should probably not be correcting your spelling of Linkin Park.

    (That’s the sum total of my knowledge of him/her/them/it, although I may have heard some of their stuff coming loudly from my son’s stereo.)

  66. Some Linkin Park lyrics:

    I tried so hard
    And got so far
    But in the end
    It doesn’t even matter
    I had to fall
    To lose it all
    But in the end
    It doesn’t even matter

    Strangely appropriate for the topic of this thread, no?

  67. Jed, to view the “anti-meat comma” as distorting the intended meaning of Section 89 seems inconsistent with verse 15: “And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.” The “these” appears to refer back to “beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth” in verse 14. Reading verses 13, 14, and 15 together, it seems that the Lord may be counseling us to limit our meat consumption to times of winter, cold, famine, or excess of hunger. Given current research showing an apparent causal connection between high-meat consumption and degenerative disease, I view these verses as evidence of the Lord’s love for his children.

  68. Perhaps the Word of Wisdom gives even greater support to the idea of Joseph Smith being an “American Prophet.” Particularly since the average per capita consumption of beef in the United states is nearly 200 pounds. I am pretty sure we lead the world in that category.

    I just thought of that, but mostly I wanted to say to John Payne that I appreciate your candor even if the sisters in your ward don’t.

  69. I didn’t know where to put this, so I decided to pick the one where (hopefully) I could do the least damage if I change the subject. On another web-site I’ve been a member of for years, you get in trouble for that. Slap my hands now.

    It has occurred to me that I could be the mom of most of you. My oldest child would be 34 this year. And it’s sort of pathetic that we are on the same level emotionally. I was always sort of immature.

    I was just wondering, are there any other older middle aged women on this blog? And if not, don’t expect anything remotely dignified or mature from me guys. Some of my best friends are in their 20’s. No lie. That’s probably why I talk like, way teenage. :)

    I have stepchildren who have teenagers. Feature that!

    Just sharing that. For context.

    thanks, bryce for helping me negotiate. I’ve never been on the front page of this blog before. I never saw it, came in on the visiting teaching thing.

  70. I’ll be upfront on a couple of things…

    1. I’m not LDS, but living in Utah certainly (at least for me) brings an awareness and consideration of LDS beliefs, their impact on daily life, and a familiarity (and on my part, great respect for) the WoW and it’s lifestyle recommendations. I don’t smoke (ugh!) or drink alcohol because of my healthy lifestyle choices.

    2. I’m a member of a health providers group, and certainly have a vested interest in weight loss program at

    Not sure if this post will make it through based on the above restrictions, but we certainly have a problem with excess weight and obesity in the USA overall, and Utah as well, though less so here than in states like Wisconsin and Alabama, according to recent studies.

    And the problem is growing (no pun intended). Every year, we (as a US population) and our children get larger and more overweight. Statistics and trends currently project that by the year 2015, over 80% of Americans will be overweight.

    We must do something – I did. I found a great program that enabled me to lose 13 pounds in twelve days, and my wife lost 20 in two weeks, and both of us did this without increasing the level and amount of exercise.

    It’s not easy, but in our experience it was a simple process – you must intake fewer calories, eat balanced meals with roughly equal grams of carbs and proteins, and eat 5 to 6 times a day, and eliminate the JUNK food. The problem is, grocery stores don’t offer a lot of foods that fit this bill, and as a culture we don’t focus on small enough portions for this to work.

    We offer on our website some good and helpful articles on weight loss (, since we coach and provide support for people that are struggling with weight issues, including diabetes induced by being overweight.

    In closing, I’d simply say the following:
    1. You must restrict your caloric intake
    2. Eat 5-6 times a day, otherwise you’ll get hungry and EAT TOO MUCH
    3. Moderate exercise is enough – you don’t have to sweat it out or join a gym
    4. Balanced meals with equal amounts of carbs and proteins

    Doing this, you can lose 3-5 pounds a week – One of our program members lost 187 pounds over 14 months, and went from 315 lbs to 128 lbs, and now looks and feels great. Anyone can do it, and if you don’t, you’re doing your body (and your soul/spirit) a great disservice.

    Live healthy, and take responsibility for your weight!

  71. 1. Why does everyone seem to think Obesity is a problem?
    Hmmm..there’s a toughie. Maybe all that heart disease, diebetes, circulation problems…?

    2. The health risks are overstated (see,2933,113975,00.html )
    Fox news? You’re kidding right? The same Fox News whose science reporter is in the middle of a payola scandal for being in the pocket of big tobacco companies? Not likely to hear an “eat meat sparingly” from Fox with all those right wing Republican meat-producing states on the lookout, are we? Consider your source before you try to comfort yourself with stats from an unreliable and biassed news source.

    3. A lot of commenters seem to think that people are saying that skinny is good. No, in fact skinny can be just as dangerous. We are not talking about nicely rounded people with a few extra pounds to keep them warm in winter. You have to be significantly overweight to qualify as obese. Obesity is a serious health risk. In fact, obesity is on the verge of surpassing smoking as the number 1 cause of preventable death. THIS is what people are talking about. Even if you technically follow the advice of the WoW (fruits, vegetables, grains, little meat, etc) if you are adding fats and oils to all of that, and getting no reasonable exercise, and are consequently putting on enough excess weight to threaten your health, then no, you are not really respecting the principles of the WoW, are you? But hey, I’m not judging anyone for it: I’ve struggled with these same principles for years and I know how difficult a struggle it can be to live a truly healthy life. I just don’t think that telling ourselves comforting lies is the way to win the struggle. I honestly don’t think that skinny is more beautiful that a healthy, curvy(for women) figure, but obesity (a much higher level of excess weight) actually threatens our health and reduces our quality of life. It isn’t worth explaining away or ignoring.

    I very much agree with Gabrielle Turner and others who said that the social aspect of eating encourages weight gain in members. I think it goes even beyond that. We see food as celebratory, comforting, and important to family traditions, and the ability to cook all kinds of unhealthy cakes, cookies and other baked goods as a homemaking skill to be envied. Food, glorious food! :)

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