For the past week I’ve been eating a raw food diet, save for the occasional hummus or tofu I squeeze in so I can try and use it up before it goes bad. But soon, my supply of cooked foods will be depleted and it will be nothing but raw. That’s right. The guy who likes to cook has been eating uncooked foods almost exclusively for the past week.
Why, you might ask?
When I went vegan 5 years ago (holy crap, has it really been that long?), I was suddenly opened up to foods I simply would not have experienced had my diet continued as usual. I had to learn new skills in the kitchen. I had to delve deeper into food chemistry so that I would understand what effect animal products were having on the dishes they were in, and thus know what non-animal foods could create that same effect.
I was able to veganize my family’s entire Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners (you know, when I was allowed in the kitchen).
But adopting a diet that was at the fringe of American eating put me into contact with individuals who were even further removed from the Standard American Diet—raw foodists, fruitarians, the paleo crowd, intermittent fasters, breatharians, and more. Raw food intrigued me, and I filed it away for further exploration.
Meanwhile, I felt awesome. My weight plummeted. I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford a new wardrobe, so I had to walk around holding my pants up since even my belt was insufficient to keep them on. A guy I shared a class with during fall term stopped me on my way to a class during spring term to ask me about my weight loss.
I peaked at an uncomfortable 295 pounds in high school, but by the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I was down to 205. I looked and felt amazing compared to just a year prior. And meeting people like vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke gave me the motivation to keep going—after all, if he could build muscle on a plant-based diet, then all of this talk about needing protein from animal sources was clearly bunk.
But then something went wrong. Especially during my senior year, I started packing the weight back on. It’s common for people to eat a lot of high sugar and high fat foods during periods of high stress, and that’s because our bodies know how to prepare for hardship. The only problem is that fats and sugars are more concentrated in our diets than in nature, and lots of things stress us out that have absolutely no bearing on our survival. Oreos are not survival food.
Finally I graduated, went to work, and wanted to start focusing on my health again.
After doing some reading up on what diets were in vogue, and what science had to say about them, I ended up cutting processed sugar and grains from my diet. The weight started coming off, but I plateaued long before I hit my previous weight of 205.
What had I done differently during my freshmen year that had helped me lose so much weight?
I realized that while I was on a school meal plan, I was eating a large amount of raw food. For breakfast I would get a large fruit cup. For lunch I’d get a veggie burrito, which except for the beans and tortilla, was filled primarily with raw veggies: tomato, lettuce, onion, jalapeno, avocado, cilantro, etc. Dinners were all-you-can-eat, but vegan fixings were slim. I’d get a small veggie stir fry and then get a huge salad at the salad bar, loaded with everything.
There were slight variations from day to day, but the truth of the matter was, I was eating a largely raw diet and didn’t even realize it. I was simply eating what was available to me as a vegan from the cafeteria.
After I went off of the meal plan and became responsible for my own food preparation, I began to stir fry the hell out of everything, and grains became the largest source of calories in my diet, namely rice. In fact, right before I went raw this week, I realized that with the exception of the occasional slice of tomato and leaves of lettuce or spinach on a veggie burger, I was eating essentially no raw food at all. I cooked everything.
I don’t know how it started, but as I surfed the internet this past week I found myself looking at raw food recipes, and watching raw chefs on Youtube. Eventually I got it in my head that I was going to give it a go.
Even though lots of people claim that a vegan diet can’t work, I learned from experience, from observing others, and from studying traditionally vegan cultures that it is possible to thrive on a plant-based diet. One of the biggest challenges as you diverge from the mainstream is that you have a lot more people speaking in pseudo-scientific gibberish about the very thing they’re promoting. When the language surrounding a lifestyle is irrational bunk, it’s easier to pass it by than to figure out why it might actually work.
But, I had anecdotal evidence that it can work, and that was at least good enough to give it a try.
- Big names in raw foodism have been eating raw for decades
- Some cultures consume little or no cooked food, like some of the small villages in vietnam, etc.
- People who claim to be eating a 100% raw diet are successful bodybuilders
- Our closest relatives, the great apes, thrive on raw food
- I looked and felt healthier when my diet consisted largely of raw foods during my freshmen year
- Personal development blogger Steve Pavlina did a 30 day trial with raw foodism, in which he measured weight, blood sugar, temperature, and his general mood/feelings, and found that he felt better on raw food overall.
Since Steve’s 30 day journey into raw foodism is some of the more rational writing on the topic, I decided to modify my diet to more closely match his. And, I’m happy to report many of the same benefits that Steve reported: weight loss, increased energy over all, improved mood, random bouts of euphoria, and increased muscular endurance—usually when I over do it at the grocery store, I have to set my bags down and regroup a few times between the bus stop and my apartment, but yesterday I was able to walk the whole distance with minimal fatigue.
Will I stick with this diet indefinitely? Maybe not. But so long as I continue to experience positive effects (Steve experienced withdrawal/detox effects for about 2 weeks, and I’ve experienced some of those as well), I imagine I’ll stick with it. This diet also agrees with the agricultural leanings I developed as part of my research as an undergrad, namely with regard to forest gardening, so if the diet works, that would just be one more piece that fits the puzzle about our interaction with the world.
Now I just have to figure out how to hang out with my friends. They’ve gotten used to the vegan thing, and now I pull this.
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