When I became a member of the LDS church in 1992, I was already not eating red meat. I mistakenly thought I needed to eat chicken and turkey for the protein though, and I continued to do so sparingly. I always thought it was strange that the Latter Day Saints I knew were heavy meat eaters, despite the Word of Wisdom that seemed so clear-cut to me. I would occasionally ask members why they only obeyed the coffee, tea and alcohol part of the Word of Wisdom and not the meat part. Trendy diets like Atkins, South Beach, Wheat Belly, and Paleo all felt inherently wrong to me.
I love to learn and practice “constant and never-ending improvement” so I made it my mission to continue to improve my health and the health of my family. The more I learned, the less animals I ate. All this happened very gradually, but eventually I stopped eating all meat.
After I turned 40, my children were a little older and more self-sufficient, so it was easier to make exercise a regular activity, and I started to get into pretty good shape. As my activity level increased, so did the desire to properly fuel my body. I started doing more plant-based nutrition research and fine-tuning my diet.
I watched movies like Forks Over Knives; Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead; and Food Inc. Forks Over Knives in particular opened up a world of plant-based experts to me. Some of my favorites include Joel Fuhrman, Colin Campbell, John McDougall, Caldwell Esselstyn, and Michael Greger. I began to devour the books these doctors have written as well as listening to their talks on YouTube. They all come to the same conclusion: whole, unprocessed plant foods are the key to good health. It’s so simple and yet it was an epiphany for me.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to eliminate animal products. I gave up dairy and eggs, and then after another year I completely stopped buying them for my family as well. I found all this pretty easy, especially after I purchased a good blender. I use my blender to make smoothies, soups, homemade salad dressings, nut milks, and sauces . . . all with fruits, veggies, beans, legumes, and nuts. I love it.
I have suffered from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) since high school. Painful IBS was a regular part of my life, and it happened so often that one of my girlfriends always made sure she had Tums and other stomach medications in her purse whenever she was going to be with me. I have three sisters that also suffer from it. Since adopting a whole food, plant-based lifestyle, I have not had even one reoccurrence of IBS. It just disappeared. My body feels better, I have more energy, and I feel like I have a renewed sense of purpose. It feels like an awakening, both physically and spiritually.
The challenge has been converting my family to this lifestyle, as they still love meats and treats. My children are constantly exposed to highly processed foods that are ramped up with flavor-enhancing chemicals. They are given these “treats” at church, ward picnics, school, birthday parties, family get-togethers, etc. My husband is a firefighter and works with a lot of meat-eating fellow firefighters. Coming home to our plant-based pantry is not as exciting, though they have embraced the morning smoothie and like most of the plant-based dishes I prepare. It is a challenge when your family doesn’t share your passion, but it hasn’t lessened my desire to continue to be a good influence on their eating habits. I’m hoping that the “seeds are being planted,” and they’ll make good choices someday.
I know that eating a whole food, plant-based diet is the kindest way to live. It is kind to your body, the planet, and all of Heavenly Father’s creations. It’s the most sustainable way for us to live. The fact that this healthful lifestyle is documented in our scriptures has increased my testimony beyond my ability to describe it. With my newfound knowledge, the Word of Wisdom feels like a sparkling treasure that is just waiting to be shared. I appreciate that Joseph Smith knew that we’d need these guiding words regarding our health and gave us this inspired gift.
Gina Alo is 46 years old and lives in Camarillo, California. She and her husband have three children. She’s a stay-at-home mom who loves the beach, riding a vehicle called a Trikke, reading, and doing plant-based nutrition research in her spare time.