If you would have told me 15 years ago that there would come a day when I would not only be a vegetarian but that I would also not even have any cravings for meat whatsoever, I would have told you that you were absolutely crazy! I had consumed the standard American diet my whole life. I had always been heavily involved in athletics, studied biology in college, and was on my way to an Ivy League dental school. I thought I was pretty smart and knew what it meant to be healthy. I would come to realize that I had a LOT to learn.
There were a few major events that took place on my journey to this realization. The first was marrying the most amazing woman on earth. My wife, Janeen, is one of the most dedicated people I know, particularly in her desires to increase her knowledge and have the happiest and healthiest life possible. Whenever she comes across any information that she thinks may improve her life, she doesn’t hesitate to try it out. If she sees qualities in other’s lives that she would like to have, she always thinks, “Well, let’s see if what they are doing will work for me,” and she goes to work. She never thinks to herself, “That is great that it works for them, but I am sure I could never do that. I could never give up such and such.” She is willing to put in the time to study it out, make sacrifices, and find out for herself, no matter how crazy people may think she is, no matter how much opposition she may face. Even if it means going against what others have taught her, including those she knows have love and concern for her.
I first witnessed this quality in her as a teenager when she began to investigate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She had many LDS friends growing up. She began to admire many qualities in their families, things she hoped to see in her future family life. She decided to find out the reasons why they lived the way they did. She asked for a copy of the Book of Mormon and asked if she could take the missionary lessons. As she read, listened, studied, and prayed, she came to know without a doubt that what was working for them would work for her and for anyone else who truly sought out the same answers. Throughout her entire investigation of the Church, she faced significant opposition from family and friends. Several thought she was totally crazy, most had great concern for her, some felt she was turning away from what good and knowledgeable people had taught her. However, other’s lack of understanding has never held back Janeen from applying what she comes to know, and shortly after she reached the age of 18 and could legally decide for herself, she was baptized.
Fast forward nine years to 2004 and the next big event. We are now married with a two year old son and infant daughter, living in Philadelphia where I am attending dental school at University of Pennsylvania. Janeen, who also studied biology at BYU, had finished her degree and spent my last year of college working as a personal trainer at a local gym. She had many frustrations with this job when many of her clients just couldn’t seem to lose the weight they desired even though they had been following what she had learned throughout her certification process. Something was missing.
At the time we came to know a family from church that lived down the street from us. They had become well known for their “unusual” eating habits, always bringing the strange healthy dish to the ward potlucks. They and their food often received raised eyebrows and skeptical looks. I was their home teacher. That December, during my home teaching visit, they presented me with a gift, a book written by their physician, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, called Disease-Proof Your Child. As I looked at that book I honestly thought to myself, “Should I even bring this book home or should I just hide it in my backpack and take it to a thrift store later? Janeen would never know. If I do take this home I know exactly what will happen. She will read it and if she believes it she will apply it. And she is never content with just applying things and receiving the benefits herself. She will want to share it with those she loves most and make sure her family also receives all the ‘blessings’ of her new found knowledge. I’m not sure I am ready to receive these ‘blessings.’ I don’t want to be weird! I am just fine with the way things are.”
I couldn’t, in good conscience, hide this book from Janeen. I brought it home that Sunday afternoon and showed it to her. On Monday evening when I returned home from school and came in the door, Janeen greeted me with a big smile on her face and excitedly says, “Guess what Honey, we are vegan now!” I thought, “Oh, no! I knew it! Why didn’t I just go to the thrift store?” I am not sure if my huge groan was audible or not.
“Are you sure Honey? That seems a little drastic.” She was sure, and she knew this was not only the missing piece in all her personal training studies, but it was the key to her family having long and healthy lives. So, just as what happened as a teenager when she learned that God had spoken many more words than just what was contained in the Bible, she walked through another door that also opened into a vast library of books that would continue to satisfy her seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge. The Amazon cart continued to fill and the books continued to arrive in the mail. Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Furhman, The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell, The Food Revolution by John Robbins, The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall, and many more.
Janeen truly believes in applying the “S.E.E.D. Principle” to any information she is presented with that may have an impact on her physical or spiritual wellbeing. She learned about this in Alma 32:27-28 in the Book of Mormon. If you take any teaching and plant it into your heart like a seed, if it is a good seed and you don’t cast it out because of your unbelief, you will come to know it is good because it will begin to Swell within your breasts, Enlarge your soul, Enlighten your understanding, and will begin to be Delicious to you. She “experimented” on the words she was reading and received a spiritual witness that this was the right thing for us to do, having experienced these exact results.
Though I continued for some time to get in my “meat fix” during lunch at school, resistance was futile at home, especially since Janeen did all the grocery shopping and cooking. It was not long before I began to realize the incredible health benefits of eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet. As we eliminated all the salt, sugar, fats, and artificial ingredients that had been dulling our senses for so many years, I felt like I developed a whole new set of taste buds. Foods I had despised in the past came totally alive and full of flavor to me. I was so much more energetic and feeling amazing.
Although it was not a goal of mine, I also lost weight, eventually down to about 20 pounds less than what I weighed at the end of high school. I started getting emails from concerned family members who thought I was looking too skinny, wondering if my wife was starving me. And yet from that time up until now, any time people eat with us they are amazed at just how much food we eat. They wonder how we can eat so much and stay so thin. The answer is simple; it is all about what you are eating, not how much.
The last big event took place after I had graduated from dental school and was halfway through my one-year residency program at an Air Force clinic in Mississippi. It was January 16, 2007. I was called out of a meeting to take an emergency phone call at the front desk, a call that no one wants to receive. Janeen could barely talk as she told me that she had just received word that my dad had died. He had been out shoveling snow from the driveway and had a heart attack.
I could not believe it! There was just no way. I had just talked to him two nights before, the same chipper man who was always eager to express his love for his kids and grandkids. There was no major warning sign, no history of heart attacks, nothing. He had just retired and was looking forward to a hard earned, much deserved retirement with my mom. He was also serving in the Spokane Temple presidency and, at age 63, was considered “the kid” of the presidency members.
It was after this experience that my commitment to live a healthier lifestyle and my understanding of the promised blessings contained in the Word of Wisdom reached a whole new level. I had already watched family members suffer through many difficult conditions including diabetes, osteoporosis, gout, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. I will also never forget watching my much loved, and very fit grandfather die a slow and painful death from colon cancer. I had come to learn that almost all of the major killer diseases and most other health problems could be prevented through proper nutrition. We were learning that scientists and physicians were now clearly proving the benefits of a diet prescribed by the Master Physician in the 1800s. Go figure. Yet the majority of LDS church members continue to only follow the Lord’s prescription to the minimum degree necessary to receive temple blessings, and thus still fall prey to so many of the same conditions that the general population does.
We cannot count the many incredible blessings that have come into our lives as we have tried to live the healthiest lifestyle we can. We LOVE being the “weird” ones now, and we smile whenever we see the raised eyebrows and questioning looks at our additions to the ward potlucks. We also can’t count the times we have heard the phrase, “Wow, this is surprisingly delicious!”
We started getting so many people asking us questions about our lifestyle that we developed a 6-week class to teach others what Janeen had been discovering through all her reading, which we have taught many times over the last 10 years. I joke with Janeen that she is now preaching from both the Book of Mormon and the “Book of Furhman.”
I was so excited when my sister-in-law showed me Jane Birch’s book and the videos on this website. I love it! We are thrilled to have another book to share, especially one that discusses the gospel perspective on healthy eating. The video is so great too. Many people tell us that it must be very hard to eat the way we do, passing up on so many delicious foods, yet I could not agree more with Orva Johnson when she says, “You cannot love your food more than I love my food.” I tell them the list of health problems I think it would very hard to live with is SO much longer than the list of foods I previously thought I couldn’t live without. Now that my body’s senses and warning systems are fully functioning, it is hard to believe that I used to be able to eat many of those foods without feeling sick right away. There have been no regrets.
It has been the most amazing experience to see many of the hundreds of people we have shared this with apply it in their lives and make incredible improvements to their health. We have heard multiple people say it feels like they “got their life back.” At those moments I feel like we experience a small portion of the eternal joy it must give our Savior when he restores both spiritual and physical life. I know it is His desire that we all have an abundance of health and a fullness of joy in THIS life as well as in the life to come. How appropriate that the book that started us on this path to great physical and spiritual blessings came to us as a Christmas gift.
Merrill and Janeen Alley are both 38 years old and currently live in Parker, Colorado. Merrill is a dentist in the U.S. Air Force. Janeen is a homeschooling mother of 4 who also works part time as a personal trainer, spin instructor, and health coach. She has also completed a certification in Plant Based Nutrition through e-Cornell University developed by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, PhD. They stay very active in many activities with their children and are currently training for Merrill’s second and Janeen’s third Half-Ironman Triathlon. The hope is to complete a Full Ironman Triathlon one day and a whole food, plant-based diet is fueling their desire and energy to do so.