First of all, here’s why I went raw vegan:
1. Gluten and dairy intolerant with additional annoying food and environmental allergies I couldn’t quite pinpoint, even with testing
2. Social/ecological responsibility
3. Deep love of animals
What is now over 2 years ago, I grabbed my son (also a long-time vegan–before I was–and general health fiend) and drug him with me to hear a lecture on raw foods in our neck of the woods, put on by raw foodist Tonya Zavasta. The woman (who I had no prior knowledge of), in her 50’s, looked at most, about 32 years old. I went raw that day and haven’t looked back. Yes, it’s the healthiest diet on the planet (and for the planet) for a lot of people, yes it all but eliminates the likelihood of getting cancer and any death-by-fork diseases, yes, it solved all of my food allergy issues, yes, it makes me feel great not to be causing pain and suffering to animals or the planet, and she also talked about ways to ensure that you dtay healthy inside out. Yes, I have more energy than a 12 year old and sleep like baby most of the time, but I’ll be honest, maybe MOST of all, I want to look 35 when I’m 55. There. I. Said. It. I’m not 55 yet, but I’m doing pretty well so far 😉
I just didn’t see any downsides to eating like this. Sure, buying all organic (like I do), and supporting local farmers (check), can be more expensive than coupon-shopping bargains at Walmart; it’s just a fact (however, it’s also an investment in your health. Pay now, or pay later–too bad insurance doesn’t pay you to be healthy upfront instead of just paying for treatment after you’re ill on the backside). But here’s the downside about eating raw foods I never considered until recently: you can’t go back. Well, you could go back, if you like to feel like crap. Believe me–eat raw for a month and then have a pizza. Eat raw for TWO YEARS and eat a pizza–haha! No, actually, how about just have a bowl of rice–healthy BROWN rice even, and see how you feel. Tell you what: I’m going to save you the trouble and explain exactly how you’ll feel: not optimal at the very least. And when you’re used to feeling optimal, it feels indescribably gross to feel non-optimal; to have brain fog, to feel shlumpy and not-quite-right.
Recently I pulled a lot of the fat out of my diet (I was eating WAAAY too much of it), and am re-learning how to eat again, how to get calories without all the nuts, seeds and oils I was ingesting (a bit of a challenge). At the suggestion of a nutritional coach, I started eating a little brown rice and root vegetables to get some extra calories–by all accounts, extremely healthy foods! At first I did okay, but then I started to feel somewhat minorly icky: achy finger joints, interrupted sleep, and subtle brain fog, all of which went away when I went back to all raw. I’m not saying I won’t ever have a grain of rice again, but if I do, I know how it makes me feel. I’ve done this experiment over and over during the past month, and it’s the same every time. Now, this is just me, and it’s likely you are different than I am–you may not react at all to going back to cooked foods (although I think it’s unlikely you wouldn’t notice a difference). My coach recently referred to me as “delicate,” which in layman’s terms means “allergic to lots of stuff and extremely sensitive to everything else.” I’ve made the decision to continue to feel my best, and to continue on raw foods, with which I have very-few-to-no issues.
You’ll see all kinds of miracle-worker stories if you start researching raw foods, and a lot of these are true. The Standard American Diet is so out-of-whack and unhealthy that people recover completely from all kinds of illnesses and diseases just by eating raw. Weight loss is pretty much a given, which eliminates a lot of related issues right there. If you socialize with other people who eat raw food, they tend to be an interesting subset of the population; typically socially conscious, progressive-thinking, big hearted people (if not, at times, also a bit fanatical and self-rightous–just sayin’, from my own experience…..). Some, as in any group of people I suppose, can be a little fervent and evangelical and possibly, just possibly, overstate some of the benefits of this lifestyle (and it truly does tend to become a lifestyle). I’m not saying they are lying, and I’m sure all of the claims have happened to someone, or a bunch of someone’s, but some tend to be stated as if they will be true for everyone who eats raw, and in my experience, this just isn’t true.
Everyone is different, has a different history, different life experience, different genetic make up and different circumstances, not to mention eats different things even if they are eating all raw, and is bound to have a different experience with eating this way than others might. So many gaping holes remain in our scientific knowledge about foods and nutrition, in addition to the confounding factors of marketing, skewed studies etc., that an absolute knowledge of What You Should Eat that applies to everyone simply doesn’t exist. Yes there are long-range, well-respected studies that point out a plant-based diet is best, etc etc, but you will also find studies that refute all that as well if you look hard enough (also, some people will tell you that if you eat even a BITE of cooked food, that it nullifies the benefits and you won’t see results. I don’t tend to subscribe to that belief–I think our bodies are more adaptable than that, although I certainly noticed feeling less-than-amazing eating a relatively small amount of cooked food. There are others who will tell you that eating 80% raw will provide the same benefits as 100%. I think each person has to listen to their own body).
All I know is that I feel amazing eating this way. My body tells me this is the right way for ME to eat. However, I’ve been eating this way and educating myself, consulting experts etc. for over 2 years straight, and some of the common claims you will hear in high-raw and raw food circles simply haven’t happened for me. For instance, my grey hairs haven’t turned back to my natural color (dammit), I still periodically have hormonal skin issues (aargh!), all my skin imperfections didn’t disappear and it’s not unheard of for me to get a cold. Maybe all these miracles are still in the future for me; I do like to think so! However, I was able to go off of all medications (which I’d been on for over 20 years) successfully and without any major issues, get rid of chronic skin rashes and arthritis (embarrassing), eliminate back pain from disc issues and have very limited seasonal allergies and no problem with my used-to-be-chronic asthma anymore. Though I don’t have scientific proof, I do attribute the majority of these improvements to my changed diet; they were too dramatic and occurred only when I revamped my diet.
I’m just saying that, though raw food is amazing and is guaranteed to make you feel better, if you expect ALL of the claims you hear about raw foods to come true for you personally, you might be just a teensy bit disappointed. They didn’t all come true for me, but I can say without reservation that I’m healthier, happier and have more energy than I’ve ever had, and that’s enough for me. As for the first warning, I’m prepared to feel and eat this way forever. Now please excuse me while I go work on reducing stress and being joyful–those come with proven health benefits too. Really, as always, it’s the big picture that really matters.