My initial foray started as a desire to find something as good for my body as the raw food diet I'd been feeding the dogs for nearly a decade. I was exploring vegetarianism and veganism. Those culinary and dietary adventures took place the June and July of 2007. I was not a fan of the high soy content and it just wasn't feeling like the lifestyle would suit me. I was definitely looking for a lifestyle, not a fad. The word diet has so many connotations, many of them not good but is really just about choices. We all follow a diet. Some follow a McDonald's and potato chip diet, others follow Weight Watchers, The Zone, Atkins, etc. But when trying to experience greater health and increased energy, what I was looking for really had to be something that meshed with my lifestyle, meaning it resonated at all three levels of my being; physical, mental/emotional and spiritual. Something that would incorporate over time into just being what I do because it feels right and not something I have to work too hard at "staying on" with the inevitable "falling off" and accompanying effort, struggle, guilt and feelings of failure.
My friend Melissa was doing her own exploring in this area and suggested the book that forever changed my relationship with food; The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose. It is one I suggest to people interested in raw foods as a good starter because it is not dogmatic about being "a raw foodist." It's about assessing your current choices and lifestyle and making small improvements over time. Natalia Rose is a nutritionist so it is also overflowing with valuable information about our digestive process, how foods are utilized, what certain foods do to the body and, of course, recipes. I also happen to love her approach to raw foods and eating awareness with children since she is also a mother.
After reading this book, I immediately bought a juicer and started drinking fresh juices, some green but a lot fruity. At this point, I focused mostly on getting good stuff into me and less on avoiding things. Things sort of skyrocketed at that point, the more live enzymes, live foods and cleaner eating began crowding out the less optimal options. Then before I knew it, I actually desired more and more live, energy-giving raw foods. My goal initially was simply 50-60% raw and the rest primarily vegan with occasional fish and some unhealthy junk food habits. This amounts to fruit until lunch, a salad at lunch and a mostly cooked dinner. She outlines eating light to heavy over the course of a meal and the course of a day. The logic Rose gives on this made sense for me and I still tend to eat in this pattern. Whenever I found myself going off the rails at this point, forcing down juices for a day or two quickly brought me back. I think the slow improvements and transitional foods Rose advocates are really what helped me transition into a primarily raw vegetable diet. Transitional foods such as sprouted grain breads, brown rice, whole grain pastas, fish, sweet potatoes, lightly cooked vegetables, and organic 70% dark chocolate bars as treats. During the first 15 months or so I was able to get accustomed to these changes, fall back into my prior habits and get right back on rather easily. I knew from the get-go this was the lifestyle I was looking for. It honors the planet, local and organic produce, the animals, and my body. It felt good on all levels. I lost the 20 pounds I have fluctuated between for most of my adult life. I had abundant energy, clear skin, and simply felt fabulous. The cleaner diet made way for a clearer spirit and calmer way of relating, particularly with Ian. Who I was on the inside was reflected in who I was on the outside and vice versa. There was harmony in my being.
By the one year mark I had started eating 70-80% raw with short bursts of 99+%. I felt joyful. I also was feeling a little too concerned with the number, like it was some sort of self imposed challenge to remain raw. I beat myself up when I "failed." This is when, now, I see the emotional stuff started surfacing. The stuff I needed to face and every person who loses weight needs to face, lest they gain it all back. I needed to face the emotional ties, but I wasn't ready. The universe, in its infinite wisdom, delivered me an emotional challenge in the fall 2008 that rocked my previously calm and centered self. As if to say, "Oh you think you got it figured out, here, let's challenge that!" I sank into a very mild, 8 month depression and found it challenging to stay raw and make healthy choices. Comfort foods called to me. Slowly, but surely, cheeses and ice cream (and the excess mucus and eczema) made frequent appearances. Mentally justified baked goods were often created lovingly in my kitchen and then devoured every time I passed by. Feelings of failure at my lack of willpower or any comment that implied such made me feel worse, so I reached for more. Pastas led to cooked meals a few times a day. By spring, raw was the fleeting, often pathetic attempt between binges on carbs. Needless to say, every one of the twenty pounds came back in a flash. I tried the gym in a half-hearted attempt to justify my poor eating choices. I needed my drug of choice to medicate the pain. I still had an intellectual interest in raw foods. I networked with other raw food people in the area. I read new books. Nothing helped spur me back on the track of desiring my health again. Short bursts of eating raw gave me some clarity and relief but they didn't last. I wasn't addressing the cause of my problem.
As spring moved into summer I was able to get back to regularly eating about 60% raw with the other 40% being less than optimal choices. I experimented with adding small amounts of meat back into my diet up until just last weekend. I know the last year sounds like it was a real bummer for me, but it really served me to get to see exactly how different foods affect my body, mind, and spirit. This experience was illuminated for me when I read Raw Emotions by Angela Stokes. A MUST READ for anyone who struggles with yo-yo-ing, dieting/bingeing, and emotional, unconscious eating. It shines a light in the darkness, at least it did for me. While her point of view is obviously as a raw foodist, the bulk of the book is not about that. It's about our emotional and physiological addictions to food and it contains several tips and techniques for recognizing unhealthy patterns and ways to help fix them. I've never read a book focused on the EMOTIONAL reasons for obesity and how to address those, the one thing that everyone on a quest to be healthy and lose weight must address at some point. So with the light shining from Raw Emotions now in my thought process, I was able to see patterns, connect dots, draw conclusions, become conscious and make better choices. Easily. And it began the next day.
For the last 3 weeks I have easily chosen a 99% raw foods, 90% of the time. And the other 10% of the time, I am conscious of my choice. I pause and do some internal work, and think about what's going on. The lousy choices made in the last few weeks have had clearly observable results making it easier to make better choices thereafter.
For example over the last 2 years and particularly the last few weeks I have determined;
ALL cooked grains and most particularly white ones and processed sugar are what I reach for when I am stressed. I don't taste them and slow down to enjoy them, I eat them compulsively. They don't fill me because they are not being eaten to fill a nutritional need. They are eaten to fill an emotional disturbance, so once eaten I am still actually hungry and must eat until satiated anyway. This I noticed a few days after reading Raw Emotions. I was stressed about packing for the trip to Vermont and given that we were leaving for the weekend, my fridge was sparse. Ian asked for pasta for lunch and I made him a brown rice pasta with peas, broccoli, and red peppers, seasoned with olive oil, salt, and a little nutritional yeast for cheesy flavor. I was stressed out and rationalized a taste. This turned into a spoonful or two right out of the pot. Then when I was feeling overwhelmed by something, I found myself standing there again, spoon in hand, and the illuminating awareness appeared. STOP. THINK. I recognized in that moment I was stress-eating to dull the emotion. I've read in several places that one cannot feel emotionally during the primitive act of eating. What a highly affective emotional sedative. But wha-la, there it was and I was in the act. So it wasn't like it went unnoticed or realized in retrospect. This was a monumental moment of growth for me. I stopped and for the rest of the day noticed immediately when I felt drawn to the stovetop and stopped to address why I was stressed instead of self-medicating.
In more than a minute quantity, the morphine-related addictive property of carbs changes my mental chatter and I begin craving more of them and rationalizing why I need them or should have them. It messes with my ability to make good choices...sometimes for days, sometimes for months as it did last fall. A small exposure, taken consciously and not in the midst of an emotional challenge is received better and doesn't send me down that path. Consciously is the key here. For example, in Vermont Ian and I picked 6 cups of fresh blueberries and were faced with an afternoon of "hanging around" followed by a cookout with friends. So together we baked a traditional blueberry pie. I savored it when I had it and was aware that later when the craving for more sweets/carbs hit, I was ready for it and knew it was the carbs talking. Overall, I have a much easier time saying no to the first bite than I do talking myself out of a second piece so its just easier not to have it at all. That doesn't mean I never will make the choice to have something sinfully delicious, I am focused working on making conscious choices, savoring the moment, and knowing what to expect afterwards.
The physical component goes like this for me. Carbs and processed sugar make me lethargic and hungry. The spikes and falls in blood sugar coupled with the gluten is hell on my system. If you mix flour with water you get glue. So bread, essentially, acts like a gluey sticky mess in the digestive system making all other digestion less efficient.
Meat. I have been occasionally eating meat over the last several months and this is what I learned. Not only is it a gateway drug for me because I feel so miserable afterwards, it makes me angry and agitated, which leads me back to carbs for soothing. I also suffer insomnia after having it yet am also exhausted. Probably because my body is so busy trying to digest it, it doesn't have time for any other activities. The anger and agitation is so apparent it is not worth having it at all. This is where my patience that is so abundant when eating raw foods, disappears entirely. I am snappy and angry. I yell a lot. I get sick of my own voice. I become resistant to everything and what you resist persists. So Ian and I get into control conflicts that I must "win". Battles of wills abound. I know a lot of you will think I am crazy, but I recognize this as the energy of the animal I am eating being taken into my body. If you can imagine the mental and emotional state of a factory farmed animals in tight living conditions culminating in an inhumane slaughter...that is the anger I manifest when eating them. It comes right through me. I'm all set with it. Ironically, I do not have this same reaction to fish at all. I try to always choose wild fish that is not over-fished or high in mercury and enjoy it occasionally. I do not experience any of the same symptoms. It took several "tests" of this theory before the cause/effect relationship sunk in for me. My final confirmation came again this past weekend in Vermont. I came up from putting Ian to bed RAVENOUS (never a good place to be) and the cook-out menu on this night was burgers and dogs on white bread. A third reincarnation of the leftover salad in the fridge as my only healthy option was quickly discarded because I was unbelievably hungry and bored with the salad. I quickly and unconsciously rationalized how long it has been since I had a hot dog and hamburger and before I knew it my burger was on the grill and I was eating a hot dog. At this point, I did stop and became conscious, or mindful as the Buddhists would say. Then, at least, I savored and enjoyed the food as I chewed it appreciating that it was a rarity in my diet. I did this for the burger on white bread too. After this I easily rationalized unhealthy eating for the remainder of the evening and enjoyed too much dessert.....and I paid for it later. I tossed and turned all night. I was sweating. I got up several times. The drive home the next day was horrid. I was exhausted, angry. I pissed off Evan as Ian played off my short fuse and antagonized me the whole way home. It was utterly miserable. I will never say me and meat are done forever but I think its highly unlikely that I will ever choose it unconsciously again and not fully understand the aftermath that will be in store. Meat is, by far, the single worst thing for my mental and emotional well-being. Without it, it's smooth sailing. I do sometimes wonder if ethically raised, "happy" meat or wild meat would make a difference but for right now, I don't care to find out. I'm sure at some point I'll conduct that experiment.
Physically speaking, eating meat cause a spike in white blood cells. The body recognizes a foreign body and mounts an immune response. I don't feel the effects of this per say, but I do know that Ian does not eat meat and eats a diet very high in raw fruits and vegetables and is rarely sick. (knock on wood). I feel his diet combined with his no-vaccination, no-antibiotic, full-term breastfeeding history is the reason he has thus far enjoyed the benefit of health. When I go through a crap-eating period, so does he a bit by default and whala...he's sick or at least he looks sickly with dark circles, congestion, and puffy eyes. When I say this I by no means take his health for granted or like it is some sort of accomplishment on my part. I am just grateful to have a very healthy, happy boy thus far and I believe my choices for him are supporting his growth and wellness.
Dairy: By this I mean cow's milk products mostly, but for me also goat and sheep. This one affects me negatively purely on the physical plane. I sourced local, raw, naturally raised cow's milk so any of the other factors with milk procurement have been neutralized as far as inhumane treatment and hormones. Milk products give me excess phlegm and eczema and when consumed in excess, zits. Cream and butter don't contain the casein protein, so they are less of a problem if I want them, but I generally don't choose them anyway. There is a lot of information to read online about cow's milk but it is one of the least effective forms of calcium for people. Dark leafy greens and nuts are a much more useable form of calcium for humans. That said, I do buy this local milk occasionally and make it "live" again by making yogurt for Ian. He doesn't do well with dairy either but I like him to have some animal products in small amounts. I don't want to experiment with his growing body and nutritional needs and he seems to handle this form of dairy just fine.
So here I am, 2 years raw-ish and 3 weeks pretty easily and effortlessly enjoying a high raw diet. I've lost almost half of my 20 transient pounds. The first two years gave me lots of time to learn and grow and also to adjust. The food preparation is different. It requires some different equipment to really live the lifestyle and feel satisfied both as a consumer and as someone who loves to create in the kitchen. Two years to finally uncover and start working on the deep seated emotional eating, cravings, and patterns. And a lifetime left to work on where my challenges are. Socially, traveling, visiting family and friends, these are where most of my poor choices take place. I can't travel with my kitchen, I can't stay home indefinitely, and not very many people adopt a raw lifestyle. I can always only do the best that I can. After all, I am visiting Paris next week for the first time and I do plan to mindfully and with full awareness enjoy a perfect croissant.
I feel like huge strides have been made, the biggest ones being in the emotional awareness realm and breaking unhealthy habits. New adventures in raw food are of interest to me as I explore and learn more about wild edibles, living natural spring water, and individualized herbal elixirs. Looking forward to more of this amazing journey, wherever it takes me.