The Perfect Diet for Mormons

Recurring Guest and BCC Man-Crush Kyle M returns with honor.

I haven’t had a carb in over a week now, and you know, it hasn’t been that bad. December might be the perfect month for Atkins or South Beach Diet, because I’m literally surrounded by carbs and sugar for a whole month—sugar cookies, candy canes, hot chocolate, seasonal peppermint ice cream (the best kind). If I can forgo all the carb temptations of December, that’s like skipping carbs for two regular months, and as a reward to myself, I won’t set New Years resolutions.

There’s something appealing about a diet that requires me to say “No” in absolute terms for a fixed period of time, after which I can resume my normal activity. I’m sure a lifetime of sensible eating and regular exercise would be healthier for me in the long run, but it also requires a Taoist devotion to regimen and moderation, and those are NOT my strong points.

But I’m a lifelong Mormon so (let’s be real here) I’m excellent at saying no to things—a no-carb diet definitely plays to my strengths. All I gotta do is add sugar, grains, fruit, and certain vegetables to the existing list of Things I Absolutely Say No To In Every Situation, and the pounds come off! The more moral weight I can attach to saying no to apple cider at a Christmas party, the easier the diet becomes.

In all honesty, there’s something comforting about a binary system, and it might be because of my religious upbringing. Choose the Right. Not “Choose Right,” but “Choose THE Right.” And look at our modern expression of the Word of Wisdom. Two lists, and you can always have what’s on one list and never have what’s on the other one (meat should probably sit between the two lists, but I don’t know anyone who thinks of meat as a winter-or-famine indulgence).

The Yes/No, Good/Evil, Jesus/Satan, BYU/UofU binaries of Mormonism are tidy and absolute, and I think that’s comforting to people who are looking to make sense of a messy world. Even our “metrics” of righteousness are binary—temple recommend questions and the commandment to be baptized. Are you or aren’t you?

So my question is: Do binary systems attract a certain type of person, who then becomes religious? Or do religious people overlay binary systems on top of their religions? Or is the universe actually an inherently binary system, dating back to the War in Heaven? Or–gasp–all three?

Because I think we have to admit that, if you read the scriptures a certain way, the people who have exerted the most influence on our religion tended to reject some of the black-and-white thinking religious people tend to cling to. In many ways, Jesus and Joseph Smith muddied the waters of absolutism, expecting us to encounter situations in which we had to ask God for answers and listen to the Spirit for guidance. The Atonement itself addresses the cosmic binary requirement that we must be either perfect or banished.

And I wonder if a more absolutist Joseph would have been open-minded enough to consider the questions that led him to the sacred grove. Or to preach a religious system by which people who hadn’t been baptized in life could be saved by proxy ordinances.

And the flip side: Perhaps it was Joseph’s quest for One True Church that led him to the grove that day; and aren’t baptisms for the dead an acknowledgment that, in the end, those who are dwelling in shades of gray must pick a side?

It’s a tricky question. I think the church (and almost ANY church) instills in us a reflex to embrace absolutism, which can lead to stubbornness and pride if we’re not careful. On the other hand, despite the nuances and complexities of life, there is an iron rod we’re supposed to be holding onto.

Perhaps an absolutist approach to absolutism itself is the wrong approach, in which case absolutism is something we can neither wholly embrace nor wholly reject. All I know is, if you want to lose weight fast, try three weeks on Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. But be warned that it might go against the Word of Wisdom, depending on your interpretation.


  1. The only diet that works for me is the one of onions and garlic. You don’t lose any weight__but people stand back, and you look smaller.

  2. I have actually met members of the church who, upon hearing about a ward activity that involved burgers and hot dogs, made the very vocal complaint that we are only supposed to eat meat in the winter or during a famine, and so the activity was against the Word of Wisdom. They were politely ignored.

    Getting to the question at hand, though, I think that we take our religion and overlay it terms that make sense to us. In the scriptures, we learn that God teaches us according to our understanding. I think that God does not actually live according to a binary system of yes and no, but He knows it is something that we can understand, and so He uses it to help us draw nearer to Him.

  3. Or even, do some people take the binary approach, while others are permitted, or expected, to take the alternative?

  4. dude, please don’t do atkins. it’s soooooo unhealthy. if you want to say “no” become a nutritarian instead (no dairy, no sugar, no processed food, no white flour, limited meat. yes to fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds.). i started “eat to live” and have never felt better in my life! i call it the garden of eden diet. eat everything God created (anything whole/natural), let the stuff man created go (i.e., eat a banana before a banana flavored power bar).

    p.s. i think the WoW is pretty clear re: meat and i’ve always wondered why we ignore that part of it. would love to read a post about that.

  5. For some fun binary thinking try in which sugar plays a major role in all of history..kinda like Forest Gump.

  6. Reading reviews of that book on Amazon, britt. They’re somewhat polarized…can someone with a testimony of the restored Gospel tell me whether I should believe William Dufty?

  7. God’s diet is Milk and Honey.
    When someone gets married_ they eat honey for a whole month___a honeymoon. (So I’ve been told.)
    Atkin’s is bad, but starts out sooo good. I have done it. But after two weeks_everything taste like moter oil___and I want and apple.

  8. You were joking when you described BYU/UofU as a binary, right? (Because people don’t really have to care about either as a sports institution, right?)

    I have actually met members of the church who, upon hearing about a ward activity that involved burgers and hot dogs, made the very vocal complaint that we are only supposed to eat meat in the winter or during a famine, and so the activity was against the Word of Wisdom. They were politely ignored.

    It’s not the part of the WoW that’s in the temple interview question, so it’s just a personal thing…

  9. gwenydd mccoy says:

    people take the WofW seriously? that’s new to me.

  10. Generally speaking, I think we accept what makes sense to us, so we overlay religion over our individual perspectives. It’s when our paradigm is challenged or shattered by seeing something new or in a new way that we then question our religion.

    As to the question of binary thinking, pretty much all of the great and the terrible leaders throughout history have been quite binary in their thinking at first. Some move away from that, while most move even further into it when they experience success. Watching what I see as Joseph’s life-long struggle to find a proper balance of both viewpoints fascinates me.

    In the end, I like the idea of opposition in all things – which I think applies in complex ways to both binary and non-binary constructs. I think there must needs to opposition to both of them, and I choose to label it the “muddle in the middle”.

    It’s a way of saying I don’t know, and that I have to figure it out question by question.

  11. StillConfused says:

    Thanks for the word “nutrarian” that describes me perfectly

  12. Kyle m. I like the book myself. I found the history amusing. It is true the civil war was fought not solely for slavery…but sugar wasn’t it’s sole driving force either.

    I do think sugar is an antrinutrient…after eating it, you are left with LESS than you started…your body has to leach nutrients to digest it. same with white rice, white flour. It’s not that bad if you eat a balanced diet otherwise, but let’s say you live in a rice eating country and suddenly change to ALL white rice. It’s bad.

    The book is throught provoking, but also very fear and threat based. (eat sugar and you will die!)

  13. I confess that I’m a bit sad that no one has engaged the the last 4-5 paragraphs of the OP, because I think they’re extremely interesting to consider. I’ve been thinking a lot about absolutism and it’s influence on me in terms of receiving personal inspiration or revelation lately, and I’ve found that I tend toward absolutist attitudes and that it seems to be almost always detrimental to me in this particular area.

  14. I have a binary question about brown rice, now that we’re off onto the subject of nutrition. Is brown rice really that much better for you than white rice?

    1. It’s twice as expensive.
    2. It takes 3 times as long to cook.
    3. It stores only for about half as long as white rice.
    4. The taste gets better after you quit trying to think of it as white rice, but it’s still not really all that great. Sort of chewy and nutty flavored. Some people say YUM, chewy and nutty. But I say HMMM, chewy and nutty?
    5. The glycemic index of brown rice is about the same as white.

    Is it that much better????? yes or no????? (and if so, why?)

  15. I think people who think in terms of black and white often don’t fare well in Mormonism. It appears to me that religion is most often rejected today because people often view relgion (or organized religion) as absolutist–which it often is, and that doesn’t fit their paradigm. I’m sure I see things in more absolutists terms than I realize. Ultimately, I think it’s true that absolutism must be wholly rejected or wholly accepted.

  16. mmiles, I think one of the party lines that we hear again and again is that some people are drawn to religion because of its absolutist nature; that people are looking for something solid to believe in. You gotta admit, to outsiders, the church probably looks much more absolutist than it actually is. I wonder how many are repelled by that vs. being attracted by it.

  17. I think the open canon and the idea of eternal progression definitely keep Mormonism from being absolutist in the way that Catholicism, say, is. Once the Pope has spoken ex cathedra on a subject, that’s very difficult ever to retreat from. One reason I’m LDS is because our theology, at least, is not so absolutist. Whether the rank and file members are, though, is another question.

  18. Tatiana, I’m not a huge fan of brown rice for all the reasons you state. But my favorite Korean place serves a beautiful and DELICIOUS “brown rice” that is actually purple. If you google purple brown rice there are some links talking about it. I don’t know where to buy it, but that stuff is tasty and nutritious. (I suspect that the restaurant actually only uses a percentage of the purple rice in there, say 1/4-1/3, and the rest is regular sticky rice, because I can see some grains are much darker than the rest, which do absorb some stain).

  19. KyleM, I really like the themes of this post. I’ve noticed that as I’ve become less black-and-white in my theological and moral opinions over time, it has been really hard for my behavior to adjust. The philosophical/belief transition has been smooth, but the praxis has at times been somewhat chaotic. I’m just not good at nuanced real-world decision making. I’m not sure if that’s just human nature, or my nature, or part of the LDS upbringing. I’m good at hardcore, against-all-odds, super-obstinate abstinence from things, but once I let go of that I find it easy to lose my footing.

  20. I’m sure that’s true. As you wrote in the OP ” I think the church (and almost ANY church) instills in us a reflex to embrace absolutism”. But I think rejecting religion as wholly absolutist, is still an absolute truth contention.

    It does seem to me that people who grow up in the church and view Church teachings as moral absolutes within the framework of absolute truths are more likely to become disaffected.

    I think if we apply Hegel’s absolute idealism to both truth claims and moral claims, then religion works–especially within Mormonism. It seems to me that fits into both the 9th and 13th Articles of Faith.

  21. These are some rice comments, guys!

  22. brown rice v. white rice
    Every complex carbohydrate conteins the nutrients necessary to help digest it. Once it has been processed it has to leech those nutrients from your body. So much of this applies to wheat v white or cane v. white sugar
    The bran and germ are left on the rice in brown rice. That means brown rice has about 4 times the fiber. It contains Essential fatty acids (the fats that make it difficult to store). To give white rice that clean, white look it is frequently bleached (YUM!-so is white flour to be fair).
    Beri beri is a disease cause by lack of thiamine…the easiest way to get this disease is switch from primarily eating brown rice, to primarily eating white rice (to speed the process drink alcohol, as it burns thiamine)

    Here is a view on the vitamins… “The complete milling and polishing that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67% of the vitamin B3, 80% of the vitamin B1, 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids. By law in the United States, fully milled and polished white rice must be “enriched” with vitamins B1, B3, and iron. But the form of these nutrients when added back into the processed rice is not the same as in the original unprocessed version, and at least 11 lost nutrients are not replaced in any form even with rice “enrichment.” ”

  23. Here’s a quicj look website on brown v. white rice

    including this nugget of science… “Harvard researchers found that eating five or more servings of white rice per week raised a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while eating two or more servings of brown rice per week actually lowered a person’s risk of developing the disease”

  24. Senile Old Fart says:

    Perhaps those of us in religions/churches with absolutist truth claims are more binary than those in other religions. The LDS church loses one of the common absolutist binaries: heaven/hell. Still, one can search a long while before finding nuance in the teachings of living prophets.

  25. Okay, I admit it. I only came here to see how long it took someone to accuse you of violating the Word of Wisdom. Only four posts! Impressive!

  26. That’s a good point Senile Old Fart. I alluded to it briefly in the post, but it seems to me that the atonement does away with the heaven/hell binary system by design.

    The challenge that the plan of salvation addresses is the binary requirement that no unclean thing can dwell with God–we’re in or out. Satan’s plan dealt with this requirement through simplification (we’re all in), Jesus’ plan deals with it through nuance–introducing judgment, redemption, and levels of glory instead of all-or-nothing. I like that idea.

  27. “I do think sugar is an antrinutrient…after eating it, you are left with LESS than you started…your body has to leach nutrients to digest it.”

    Wow. So sad that it is necessary to wade through such BS in order to discuss a fantastic post. I agree that there is just enough absolutism in scripture to make me uncomfortable in my anti-absolutist tendencies.

  28. we read this morning about an interesting complex binary…they that are not with me are against me and they that are not against me are with me . huh.

  29. I would say that the mission is the pinnacle of absolutism. Every minute planned, every activity is either black or white. You are either apostate, or a good missionary. There really isn’t much in between.

    Coming home from the mission, and the 2-3 years that followed, I was more absolutist than is my nature. I have slowly returned to a greek-like philosophy of moderation in all things, nuance, and acceptance.

    The gospel is a funny thing. Much like was pointed out in the thread that followed John C.’s post about civil liberties, you can find evidence for just about every opposing philosphy in the scriptures and modern day revelation. This contradiction in all things fits well with my contrarian nature. It gives me the ability to argue with every person on every subject. Its awesome.

    I think the church, as an institution, needs different personalities. I think the absolutist and the moderate both need to be represented so that the church is neither too authoritarian nor too laissez-faire. The atonement has often been described as dualistic in nature, satisfying both justice and mercy simultaneously. People however rarely argue for both justice and mercy at the same time, so you need both personalities to balance each other out.
    So . . . . I think the gospel is both binary, as well as nuanced. I think that we should be both authoritarian and moderate. And I think both personalities can find a comfortable home in the church, but they will be destined to argue with each other in Gospel Doctrine forever.

  30. Fascinating thoughts on binary thinking.

    I love the absolutism of the gospel, but I attribute it to the Lord, not to the church. And I assume in the end the Lord will be the arbiter. And it’s up to me here to figure out how I am in relation to the Lord’s fixed point.

    As a younger person I was really drawn to the easily defined lines of the church so I’d know where to color. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that I need to look harder to find the lines — not because my spiritual vision has gotten worse, but because it has gotten better and there’s so much more to see.

    As for that Atkins stuff — my wife kept reminding me how opposite the WoW it was in terms of meat vs. grain consumption. Good luck.

  31. You can start your Atkin’s diet at breakfast___six eggs over easy, two ribeyes, and a cheese log.
    Or, head out to work on a toast point (with no butter).

  32. I like this post, it is something I think about a lot in reference to how to teach my children. I also really like comment #29, that seems to be my experience in the church.

    Religion/belief systems seem like very difficult things to pass on to new generations or new comers unless they are packaged in absolutes. Otherwise, each new generation with pick and choose which ideas nicely fit into their new way of looking at things and before long, the institution has died out.

    It is a tricky balance, but for a church so focused on teaching the next generation and on proselyting I can understand why absolutism seems so dominant. Packaging the church in absolute terms just feels more concrete and in a way that is inviting.

  33. StillConfused says:

    #14. Tatiana, have you tried Quinoa in lieu of rice? It has a nutty flavor that I really like. It is a complete protein.

  34. I like this post a lot. A lot of really nice questions. I don’t know the answers, of course, but I like thinking about the questions. I tend to think of absolutism as the lower law. The one the children of Israel are given until they have the capacity to understand and appreciate the nuances of things as they really are.

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