Some LDS returned missionaries are proving wrong the cultural myths linking missionary service with inevitable weight gain.
Those receiving mission calls can often become concerned when they hear rumors their mission is one where many gain weight.
Kayla Dunn received her mission call to serve in the Salt Lake City South Mission, where missionaries are expected to gain around 40 pounds, according to mission rumors. Dunn, however, left for her mission determined that wouldn’t be the case with her.
Dunn not only achieved her goal but actually lost the same amount of weight she was expected to put on.
“Logistically, I shouldn’t have lost 35 pounds on my mission,” Dunn said. “My mission president taught me that if I wanted to achieve a goal, I needed to have a vision, set the goal and make a plan. So that’s exactly what I did.”
Dunn said her vision, goal and plan weren’t the only things that helped her; she said constant obedience to the mission health rules, help from companions and controlling what she could all contributed to her weight loss.
“I prayed for so much help, and I realized that it’s your mission and your choice,” Dunn said. “You have a lot more control than you think you do, and it’s your decision to how you fill it.”
Returned missionary Ethan Durocher had a similar experience. While preparing to serve a full-time mission in Argentina, he heard rumors that most missionaries gained at least 20 pounds in his mission. However, he didn’t let it discourage him.
“My biggest motivation was the knowledge that this is the best time in my life to make changes,” Durocher said. “I wanted to not only make changes spiritually, but also physically, because they both affect one another.”
Durocher lost 40 pounds within the first three months of his mission, and then continually thinned down during the remaining 21 months.
“Coming back has been hard because I’ve been tempted to return to my original habits, but I’ve made a promise to myself to apply what the mission taught me. I exercise every day and try to not eat past a certain hour like I did in my mission,” Durocher said.
Returned missionary Haley Ahlman served with Durocher in Argentina and was inspired by his weight loss success to do the same. Ahlman had gained weight while in Argentina and didn’t want to return home heavier than she had left.
“I knew in coming home I would start to date again,” Ahlman said. “I find healthy guys more attractive because of the fact that they take care of themselves and I knew that guys would be looking at me maybe feeling the same.”
Ahlman said daily exercise and smaller portions helped her, as well as drinking as much water as she possibly could. She lost not only the weight she had gained while in Argentina, but also excess weight from before she left for her mission.
“My goal was to get off that plane looking my absolute best,” Ahlman said.
Kathleen Nilsen served alongside her husband, mission-president Bob Nilsen, in the Ohio Columbus Mission from 2011 to 2014. Although the wives of mission presidents are not given defined responsibilities, Sister Nilsen said missionary health is one thing that the wives tend to oversee.
“I was the health coordinator; that’s what I called myself,” Nilsen said.
Nilsen fielded calls from missionaries on topics from emotional health to physical health on a daily basis. She dealt with a lot of missionaries that were concerned about weight gain.
“Most missionaries lie to themselves about how much they are doing,” Nilsen said. “I’d push our missionaries to get cardio in and actually exercise.”
Nilsen suggested that missionaries have more control over their exercise and diet than they think they do.
“The members will feed you and give you dessert because they want to serve you,” Nilsen said. “Be honest with the members … tell them that you want to look after your health. Tell them what your goals are … they want you to succeed and they feel good about that.”