First off, brace yourselves for a long and detailed post.
It dawned on me today that I've now been a (mostly) raw vegan for 2 years and counting. 2 years? How did that time go by without my noticing? I don't have an exact "raw anniversary," but I know that it all began around May-June 2009. I know that by July 2009, I became committed, and by August I've officially been calling myself a raw foodist.
I also realize that since that date, I've definitely had my ups and downs with that choice and I wanted to share them with you today. (Disclaimer: I do not blame my diet for any of these lows. Overall, my love for food and health have been higher than ever over the past few years. I only blame myself and the sub-optimal choices I've made leading to these lows.)
For starters, I've never been a big proselytizer when it comes to dietary choices (okay, except when it comes to choosing organic and unprocessed foods). What I do want is to contribute to your ability to make the healthiest and most informed choices for yourself, our environment, and those around you. In what I do, I just want people to know what has and still does work for me, what has made me feel fabulous and what has made me feel like crap, so you can learn from my successes and my mistakes.
To put it out there right off, I haven't followed the raw diet to zealous 100% perfection. While veganism is something I ethically and morally stand for, raw foodism is something I do simply because it makes me feel healthiest (and sure, it's also environmentally beneficial because of a lack of processing). In fact, for the best post I've ever read on the decision to be vegan vs. a raw foodist, read Gena's post about it because I couldn't have said it better myself.
On a raw diet, I've reached higher energy levels and periods of happiness and confidence in myself than I could have ever imagined. I've development a higher awareness of food, my body, and life in general (both for good and bad). During first my six months with raw foods, I honestly felt fantastic. Sure every girl has a bad day, but I was almost always on an physical, emotional, and self-confidence high. I needed to sleep less, I always had energy, and my workouts were a breeze because I had so much to let off. I was frighteningly productive and was always putting out my A game.
At that time, I was almost 100% raw, eating at regular intervals ending around 7pm, and focusing very heavily on fruits & veggies (very limited amounts of bananas and no dates), a few nuts and dried fruit a day, very moderate amounts of natural sweeteners aside from fruit (so honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.), about one cooked vegan meal a week when we visited the 'rents (usually steamed veggies and organic tofu/tempeh type dishes), very occasional sprouted legumes and dehydrated goodies, and no grains.
Since then I've fallen into some pretty bad patterns, namely the "just because it's raw means I can eat as much as I want" trap (which might be true for some, just not me), re-introducing and then re-rejecting everything from bananas, dates, grains, natural sweeteners, pulses, dehydrated foods, lots of raw gourmet, etc. Moving to a very veg-friendly city also allowed me to eat out a lot more than we ever had in the past, and legitimized a higher consumption of cooked foods, especially grains. Over the past year, my daily raw intake fluctuated anywhere between 20-80% a day, and most days I did not feel good.
I'm not trying to make this sound like a sob story by any means, nor am I trying to make it sound like I totally fell off the health wagon into despair. Far from it. I do realize that my diet is still extremely healthy, I still never get sick, and I still love to be active, but over the last little while, things haven't been working quite as well as they used to when I first gave this a shot, and whether it's a lesser quality of sleep, weight gain, etc. something isn't working out 100% right and I'm trying to figure out why by voicing the truth of my personal journey to you. Thing is, when you feel like 110% every single day for long enough, the minute things start to look down, you freak out.
So after two years, here are some of the highlights of what I've learned on my raw journey that might be helpful to you if this is the path you're choosing to get into:
- Raw = fresh foods, not dehydrated foods, not dried foods, not high amounts of nuts nor seeds. I definitely think all of those things are part of a balanced raw vegan diet, but they are supplemental foods to all the fresh things you're eating. I've also learned the hard way that eating too many dried fruits and natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, agave) leads to the potential of serious cavity development (a major let down, especially when I've always had perfect teeth).
- Just because it's "raw", doesn't mean you can eat it in absurd quantities at all hours of the day. This works doubly for badly combined and/or dehydrated foods.
- When you go raw, your body generally becomes more sensitive to miscombined or non-raw (including dehydrated) foods, so if you stray you will react more to them than before. I found that my body really easily reacts to foods now, even when they're vegan (aka. my face puffs up like popcorn when I eat grains, there is a small child in my stomach when I eat badly combined raw desserts).
- Most of why I feel good is not necessarily because of what I'm eating, but how and when I'm eating it (i.e. how many times, at what times of the day, amounts, etc.)
- Realize where your boundaries are. This might sound silly, but I realized that I enjoy food. The beauty, textures and tastes of the widest variety of foods possible are too much of a joy to me to become "100% anything" (that being 100% raw, 100% fruitarian, etc.). I realize there are some tastes and texture you just can't achieve through raw food, just as there are some tastes and texture you'll never know if you don't try raw food. If I want a piece of vegan cake once a year, I'm going to have it. If I want to go out for a nice meal somewhere once a month with friends or family, I'll do that too. Again, these are exceptions, not the rule.
- Eating late just doesn't work for me. I have to stop by at least 7pm-ish because then any food inside me just becomes a food baby rather than digested matter.
- The grazing all the time method of eating doesn't work for me. I just don't have the metabolism designed for that. I've done best eating 3-4 meals, because it allowed me to recognize proper portion sizes and when I'm actually hungry rather than just bored or in the mood to eat for the sake of eating.
- I can't really do grains. God knows, I love them (shout out to Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise and/or Heritage Cereal, Little Stream Bakery's Quinoa Loaf, and the Green Door's Herb and Onion bread), but they drain my energy, like to try to settle in my tummy for life and make my skin look puffy and sallow.
- Sweeteners that aren't fresh fruit make me antsy/dizzy/my teeth not happy/gain weight/some combination of those things.
In conclusion, I still think going raw was the best health decision I ever made. I wouldn't change it for anything. Just because I experimented in ways that weren't optimal will never mean I regret this choice. The more days go by, the more I know what I want to do, how to do it, and the food ethics for which I stand.
After 2 years, this has only a small sampling of the things I have learned over the past couple years. I could write a book about everything that has and hasn't worked. I'd love to know what has worked for you (and what wasn't so hot), so feel free to send your experiences my way!
If anything, changing your way of eating will always introduce you a new awareness about yourself and your relationship to food. I encourage you all to think about that relationship, whether its positive or detrimental to your life, because after all, that relationship is real, because I'm assuming you do engage in it at least once a day!
With that rant out of the way, stay tuned for the usual, namely, how awesome my parents are for having visited us last weekend and spending four days in the raw and vegan.