As my “conference to conference” study of the Book of Mormon for healthy living continues, I am amazed to see the January 2012 Ensign devoted to the reading of the Book of Mormon with many personal accounts of how it has changed lives in every way, including one woman’s account of overcoming her addiction to food. (See Jan. 2012 Ensign page 47.) My own recent reading has led me to Alma 13:29 “Call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear … (could this include FOOD and the desire to put off EXERCISE and PLANNING???) having faith on the Lord …that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.”
Lifted up. They could be our most important words this year …
How to Gain 100 Pounds
“Hi! We’re new in the ward so I looked on the online ward roster to see pictures of my home teaching families. But, I guess there’s a mistake??? “
“No, that’s me.” Says Ben Edgell of the Springfield Ward, Annandale Virginia Stake. “You don’t recognize me because I’ve lost 100 pounds.”
There are a lot of people, even those that have known him for years that don’t recognize him these days. Down 100 pounds and known at the gym where he lifts weights, even his two year old doesn’t recognize the man who is in her newborn pictures as her daddy.
Losing 100 pounds, especially after having tried unsuccessfully many times over many years changes a man.
“I come from a big family,” says Ben, the father of nearly four year old Natalie and two-year old Samantha. “Seven kids! My mom always fixed plenty of food, but you just had to eat fast to make sure you got your share! Somebody once set a timer for how long it took us to eat. From sit down to finish it was 9 minutes – for that many kids and two parents! My Dad was a big guy, but so active and strong that nobody ever thought of him as being overweight. He could run faster and beat any of us at any game, even as teenagers.”
Ben was only seven when he discovered the power of food to comfort him. “We moved to Florida. It was just a temporary move, but distressing for me. Every day I’d sit in the car and cry, not wanting to go into school. Somehow I figured out that Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies had a way of helping me feel better.” When we returned after that short move, I had become “the fat little kid”.
“It seems like I was 180 pounds from 10th grade through age 21 when I returned from my mission in Argentina. I was active in high school, playing a lot of soccer and I was just a big guy. There was really no conscious thought about eating healthy,” he says while relaxing at home with his wife just before Christmas.
“I loved my mission in Argentina. My weight stayed stable because we walked so much every day, and ate pretty much just one large meal in the middle of the day. There was very little processed or fast food there, so I did well. I didn’t even think about food, really.”
Ben came home from his mission in March of 2000. He was hired by the same government contracting company his dad worked for. “We spent a lot of time together. I loved being back in the States and began eating all the fast food that hadn’t been available for two years, but of course I wasn’t exercising, so I started to gain.”
Ben’s Dad Passes Away at Age 45
July 29, just four short months later, changed the Edgell family forever. “Dad had gone with the all the youth to Summer Youth Conference. They’d played games in the evening, and he was carrying the sports equipment back to the car. In the parking lot he had a heart attack. Though there was medical care quickly available, he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. He was only 45.
Yes, he was overweight and not very mindful of his diet. But he was just so strong and so active that it’s hard to imagine that anything like this was in the forecast for him. I still had brothers and sisters at home. It was a very tough thing for all of us.”
The death of his father so soon after returning from his mission thrust life into a different gear. “I just ate anything and everything without thought for a very long time. In fact for about five years I used food to drown absolutely any feeling. Late night Pringles and lots of pudding were my constant companions, along with countless trips to McDonalds”
It was during this time, in fact at the funeral of his father, that he first met his future wife, Diana. She had also grown up in the area. Six years younger, she was good friends with his younger brother and had attended the Youth Conference where Brother Edgell had died.
A Gift For His Bride
By January of 2005 he had gained 85 pounds. “Hey man, remember your Dad!” his friends would say as they watched his weight soar. It didn’t matter. He ate whatever he wanted until January of 2005 when a weight loss contest with a $250 prize caught his attention. He got focused and quickly lost 50 pounds and won the contest hands down. It was a wonderful gift to his bride when he married Diana in the Mount Timpanogos, Utah Temple on May 28, 2005.
“I was so proud of him,” Diana says about the weight he’d lost before their marriage. She’d had her own difficulties with his weight. “We were always right for each other, even though I was so young. I’d grown up in an active, healthy family where no one struggles with their weight. I did competitive gymnastics and cheerleading in high school. When I started dating Ben, not only was my family upset about our age difference, but my mom and sisters were really hard on me with his health. Diana! He’s already overweight! His Dad died at age 45! Can’t you see how likely it is that this will happen to him as well? Do you want to be a widow and raise your kids alone?”
The first six months of their marriage were filled with healthy bliss.
“We’d go running and exercise every day. I fixed healthier meals. This was how we were going to live forever!” They both say.
In the fall the weather got cold and rainy. It was difficult to exercise outside. “We both got colds and ate whatever to feel better. Then the holidays settled in and our motivation was really gone,” Diana remembers.
2006 to 2010 – A Growing Time
“It was shocking to see how fast it all came back,” Ben recalls. By early 2006, he had gained back every pound.
“His snoring at night became so bad, “says Diana, “that it made it very hard to sleep. It was really the only source of contention for us. This was NOT who I had married and I brought it up regularly. Looking back, I did not help anything during that period. The meals I prepared were not healthy ones. I baked lots and lots of cookies to relieve my own stress. We both ate a lot of cookie dough. I love ice cream and although surprisingly ice cream had not been a regular food for him, it became so now. The Safeway grocery store around the corner had an unusually diverse supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and we made the most of it.
“I was blaming him for being overweight, yet not doing anything to help him. What I would do differently now is to have prepared healthy meals to eat together and let him eat whatever he wanted on his own.”
In March of 2008 their first daughter, Natalie was born. Ben also changed jobs and began working 60 to 80 hours a week as a government contract specialist. Snacks and meals were often provided at the office so that he and his co-workers didn’t have to leave the office to eat. “It was never healthy food – pizza and fast food, but I didn’t care. I just kept eating. Of course there was no time and no interest in exercising. Between work and a new baby at home, there wasn’t room for one more thing in my life.”
The company had some other give-aways besides free food: pedometers and health incentives. By participating he earned money for a health fund that would cover personal medical expenses.
He took the pedometer in order to participate in the 10,000 steps per day program, then he weighed himself in order to fill out a health profile to earn extra points. “I was surprised to see that I was past 280, but seeing it on the scale didn’t make an impact on me. Not at all.”
Diana was carrying heavy burdens of her own as she stayed home with Baby Natalie while Ben worked and worked and worked. “It was so hard. I was home with my first brand new baby and my husband was gone at work constantly. His weight had become a very difficult issue for me. In looking back, how I was handling it was just as destructive for us as the weight itself. Then one day I had what I know was the Spirit guiding me. I was strongly impressed to just let it go and to not bring it up or bug him about it anymore. And I didn’t. I just walked away from it. It was a personal revelation I will never forget.”
Nothing changed immediately. In the summer of 2009 for reasons he cannot really explain, Ben spent some time writing what he calls a manifesto about his health. In it he explored his feelings and attitudes about food, exercise and meditating. Although the writing exercise was cathartic, his eating and exercise habits did not change. However, some important subconscious connections were made. “I realized that I had been turning to food for every emotional reason since way back in the 2nd Grade with those Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies. If I was happy, I’d celebrate with food. If I was sad, I’d eat to console myself. With my Dad’s death, I ate to anesthetize all my feelings. Although I had lost that weight before my marriage by counting calories and eating healthfully and knew what to do, for most of my life I really just ate anything and everything at all hours of the day and night. A lot of peanut butter, a lot of cookies, a lot of chips a lot, in short, a lot of whatever I wanted.”
While continuing his normal eating he read a book that made a strong impact: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. This books reviews the history of Western/American eating and how many of the foods common to most of our diets are not really food at all. The book dramatically showed Ben how to start making thoughtful food choices that enrich life, enlarge one’s sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.
On March 7, 2010, their second daughter, Samantha, was born.
“Her birth made a much bigger impact on me than when Natalie was born. I began to realize how important my personal health was for our family — Not so much in being able to provide financially, that part I was confident about — but the demanding physical work that is required to take care of and play with little people. Natalie was an extremely active little girl, and I had no doubts that Samantha would be any different. I also couldn’t help but think about my own Dad, and how he was suddenly gone while I had young siblings at home that my Mom has raised alone.
“I didn’t think I was ready to get serious, but in looking back, I realize now that I’d spent some time with my personal manifesto and reading “In Defense of Food.” They were all baby steps to being ready. “I had been doing the 10,000 steps a day thing. I didn’t think it had made a big difference, but I was feeling better and began to consider the possibilities of making one small additional change each month or so, getting comfortable with it, then adding another change.
In the early part of 2010 He noticed that a co-worker had given up sweets, so decided that was his next step.
The sugar cravings were “very, very difficult” to manage for two weeks, and then it passed. “Initially I made excuses for kid’s cereals and graham crackers to not be part of the deal, but pretty soon I gave those up too.”
Between walking 10,000 steps per day and giving up sweets, he lost 15 pounds by early spring and the lights began to come on.He created a spread sheet of what his weight would be over a period of time of adding additional health changes for weight loss.”It all just started to come together in my head.”
A Mother’s Day to Remember
On Mother’s Day 2010, they blessed Baby Samantha and Ben gave Diana a gift that would change their lives: He promised to lose 50 pounds by fall. “I was cautiously excited and nervous,” she says now. “I knew what was involved and that failure was a strong likelihood, but of course I was thrilled!”
She was not willing to change her own eating, though, and didn’t think Natalie, now 2, needed to change her diet in any way. “I thought we could just go along, and then I began to realize that for him to be successful, I needed to do my part with cooking and preparing meals at home. I began to prepare things I’d never even considered before, and we found out that we loved them! And our kids did too! Now they will eat the whole grains and vegetables that we do without a problem in the world. Their favorite is my sweet potato tacos that are smothered in spinach. (the recipe is below!)
Ben went cold turkey on peanut butter and joined the gym. He also returned to Saturday soccer games with friends from the Singles Ward he had attended before marrying Diana. “It was all just for fun, of course, but I’m an extremely competitive guy! I wanted to be able to run faster and play harder.” Exercising and running became daily habits. “Exercise during the week was work, but Saturdays were FUN and it was exciting to see my playing ability improve.”
“It was tough for me,” says Diana, “Because he was still working the same hours and now going to the gym after work, and wanting to be gone for a couple of hours on Saturday mornings to play soccer – and I was home with the girls. It was up to me to be happy about the changes that would bring about the big changes our family needed.”
By September he had lost well over 35 pounds and picking up steam. They both realized that the 50 pounds for Mother’s Day had been unrealistic, but it didn’t matter. He was headed in the right direction and the results were becoming more apparent with every passing week.
In October, an exciting element for increasing both strength and weight loss became very appealing: weight lifting. He joined a gym that was closer to work to make it more convenient to work out and also downloaded a free e-book (the link is at the bottom of the article) “The program is simple and easy to understand. It focuses on gaining strength and not how you look. It was the perfect start.”
He studied the book carefully along with videos and was “really pretty anal” about doing it right, and starting very slow. To his delight, he enjoyed it tremendously. The challenge of increasing the amount of weight he could lift each week became enormously motivational and began to build self-confidence. It also started to change his entire body shape.
During this time Diana had continued with her regular running. “To tell you the truth,” she says with a laugh, “I hated every step! I did it to build endurance and increase my strength, but I never enjoyed running. And I never really saw much change in my own body shape from running. When I saw how excited Ben was about lifting and how quickly his body shape was changing, it really got me interested too!”
Diana soon joined a gym and began lifting as well. “I was hooked from moment one! It was so fun and SO satisfying. I began to see muscles emerge and my own body look better than it ever had. More than anything, it gave me personal confidence and something really exciting to share with Ben. Lifting, eating clean and healthy living became this really dynamic part of our marriage. I began to think how fun it would be to have a better understanding of it all and considered becoming a personal trainer. I signed up for an introduction to personal training class at our local community college. To my complete surprise, by completing the course, I would be prepared to take the national exam! In July of 2011, I passed the test and became a NASM certified personal trainer. (That link is also provided below.)
As their circle of family and friends began to notice and ask questions about the changes in Ben and Diana through the healthy lifestyle that they were having a ball creating, it was time to think about a blog or a website. Ben’s brother helped them with a design and after carefully analyzing a lot of different sites and what they liked, they began quietly writing entries so that their own blog would be rich and satisfying as soon as they were ready to announce it.
A New Chapter
On October 1, 2011 their website, www.smplfit.com was launched. Its number of readers is growing rapidly, and plans to develop it extensively are part of the magic of their lives these days. “This is WHO we are!” They say in unison, their eyes sparkling, relaxing in their living room, fit and toned. “Our girls already know that exercising is as much a part of life as playing. They get down on the floor and exercise right along with us. We dream of someday owning and running a family gym!”
Though one would like to think the story ends here, Ben and Diana are quick to add that it is still very, very much a journey and discovery process. “I still enjoy a dessert every now and again, and a day in which I indulge a bit without guilt.
I’m still trying to figure out how to do that without feeling like I’m cheating,” says Ben.
“Last spring, after losing 100 pounds, I decided I could take a little break and not be quite so strict with myself,” Ben stresses thoughtfully. Once again the numbers on the scale started to head north immediately. “It took a couple of months to catch myself, but I did. The weight lifting had changed my shape so much that no one but me really noticed. But I knew what was happening and was able to address it. That’s a biggie. Once again, I’m right on track – wiser than ever to the fact that the journey will never be over, and that I will need to always count calories and monitor what I eat and exercise regularly.”
Other personal revelations continue. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time, especially after reading In Defense of Food, in studying the Word of Wisdom.Everything is there, for what we really need to eat and not eat.At some point, actually before I lost the weight, I taught a Sunday School lesson to new members on the Word of Wisdom, and as we discussed it, one of the women in class said, “Then, really, pigging out on Pizza is breaking the Word of Wisdom?” And I had to say, “Yes, it probably is.” Diana added that on a date night to a hamburger place, as they looked at the size of the hamburgers on the menu, they both realized that this was not in keeping with the Word of Wisdom, either. “We know that not everybody sees it this way, but this is right for us.”
“People look at me now, and think I’m this super-human who can resist all these food temptations. The truth is, that this has been – and continues to be – the most powerful spiritual journey of my life. Somehow I think that most of interpret the Atonement as a way of returning from sin, but in truth, the Atonement is to lift us to become like Him! That means his suffering was not only for our sins, but to aid us in finding the strength and power, through Him, to overcome personal weaknesses and temptations that will help us to progress. It is not at all in any way disrespectful to say that prayer and the Atonement have been my most important tools to change my health.”
“Though weight lifting and losing the weight has truly elevated our lives, I can and will never deny that the true power to be do this and be lifted up has come from the Savior. I know I will need and call upon that strength to become who I am meant to be, and to share it with others as our exciting health journey, marriage and family grow.”
To get to know Ben and Diana and their plan better, check out these links:
BEN AND DIANA’S Inspiring Website
CAROLYN’S DETOX TEA: Meridian Readers Save 20%!!! CLICK HERE Enter coupon code MERIDIAN at checkout for a 20% Discount Jan 9-13
Click here to read The Edgells’ Favorite Sweet Potato Tacos
Sweet Potato Foil Packet Tacos
1/2 lb ground beef or turkey
2-3 T taco seasoning
1/2 cup tomato sauce (4 ounces)
1 can black, kidney, or pinto beans, drained
2-3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups total)
2 T butter
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream, salsa, and/or guacamole for garnish
6 12-inch long pieces of aluminum foil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Brown ground meat in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in taco seasoning, tomato sauce, and beans. Set aside.
To assemble packets, spray the foil with non-stick spray. Place 1 cup sweet potato cubes in the center of each piece. Top with a small piece of butter (about 1 tsp) and a pinch or two of salt. Sprinkle some chopped spinach over the sweet potatoes, followed by about 1/3 cup of taco meat and sprinkle of cheese. Fold the sides in, then bring the top and bottom ends of the foil together in the center and fold, sealing the packet.
Repeat with remaining ingredients, placing the packets on a rimmed cookie sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the sweet potatoes are tender.
Serve with salsa, and/or guacamole.
Makes 6 servings.
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success – One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She is the owner and president at MyMiracleTea.com, an herbal detox tonic in keeping with the Word of Wisdom. She is mother of five and the grandmother of a growing number of delightful grandsons and granddaughters and lives with her husband, Bob, in Springfield Virginia, where she serves as the Visiting Teaching District Supervisor. She has been writing for Meridian since 2007. Her favorite foods arebroccoli — lots of it! and chocolate frosting … just a taste every now and then.Her book is available at both Amazon.com and her website, www.MyMiracleTea.com.