Go Raw or Go Home!

Perhaps you recently read Carl Peaslee’s article about the self inflicted agony of eating vegetarian for a week.  Perhaps (like me) you thought, “Psh, Lame!” If so, try this one on for size: the raw diet. My original intent was not to one-up my editor.  I was already on day 13 of my diet when Carl’s article surfaced. My story begins in the utopian land of Vermont. A friend of mine had recently started dating a person 100% devoted to the raw lifestyle. Within a few weeks, my friend had bought her one way ticket to crazy town; she chose to go raw.

Knowing nothing myself of raw eating, I asked her about a million and one questions. “So, can you eat tuna? That's raw!” I ventured.  “No," she responded, "because when the tuna get killed they’re really stressed out, and when you eat the stressed tuna meat, the stress gets injected into you.” I just stared at her blankly. Initially, I dismissed the diet as hippie jargon that was stupid, unscientific, and unhealthy. My friend, realizing she was not getting her point across and  that I'm never one to turn down a challenge, challenged me to eat raw for 30 days. Ok, I thought, bring it on!

So, what exactly is the raw diet? Put simply, it’s a diet in which everything you eat meets the following criteria:

  • Nothing in the product has been heated over 116 degrees
  • The product is unprocessed
  • The product is preferably organic

Foods that fit these requirements are fruits, vegetables, nuts, and a category known as superfoods. This means no breads, pastas, meats, cereals, granolas, or dairy (unless unpasteurized milk is used) qualify as raw. The theory is that when food is cooked, the healthy enzymes and bacteria are killed, the nutrients are removed, and the food becomes more acidic. By eating living foods, you feel more alive and your body processes those foods better.

Superfoods are a class of food that are considered extra nutritional. When at all possible, you should incorporate these foods into your diet. Things that fall into this category are blueberries, gogi berries, açai berries, raw organic honey, cacao, maca, and varieties of seaweed.

Raw foodies describe their eating habits as a lifestyle, not merely a diet.  Though weight loss is a benefit, there are many more positive effects. Benefits include a massive increase in energy, more focus, a boosted immune system, clearer skin, and reported cures for ailments from asthma to diabetes. A raw foodie may see colors brighter, feel more in tune with the earth, and feel at peace with the world. Raw foodies even have their own Facebook-like social networking site: Thebestdayever.com

Sounds great, right? A miracle diet that could fix virtually everything ailing your body and mind. The only cost, a high one, is giving up everything delicious. Ok, maybe not everything delicious; you can still get the benefits if you eat at least 80% raw. I tried to go 100% with 3 exceptions: salad dressing, coffee, and alcohol.

The first days were torture. I tried to equate good scents with flowers-- something I liked to smell but didn’t want to eat. Not effective. I felt depressed and crabby, by day 10 it was already monotonous. I began to look beyond Trader Joe’s and the dining halls for options. I ended up ordering foods online and finding a few places in the Village (more on these below) that sold raw treats. After two weeks I started feeling better...and better...and better.

I'll answer the most pressing question: What do you eat?!

Morning:

  • a glass of water mixed with red maca root powder
  • Pitzer smoothie (you can make your own fruit-only smoothies)

Afternoon:

  • Salad at any dining hall, including all veggies that are raw. (Note: Scripps and Frary have the most raw salad options)
  • celery and carrots

Mid afternoon

  • mix a spoonful of Seaclear with water
  • a handful of raw nuts, gogi berries, and cacao nibs
  • Raw energy bar

Evening

  • Dinner= More salad
  • For a great dessert grab a banana at breakfast and freeze it. After dinner eat it with a few spoonfuls of honey.

Where to buy raw foods and favorites at these places:

  • Trader Joe’s: raw almond butter, raw honey, and Pure bars
  • Gluten Free Market: (next to Yogurtland) raw cheesecake and ice cream (made with cashew cream) many raw energy bar options
  • Farmer's Market: fresh produce in the Village each weekend
  • EcoTerra: (Next to American Apparel) raw cheese, cacao nibs, pre-made raw salads like raw bok choy, or acorn squash and peach salad.
  • Therawfoodworld.com: Red Maca root powder, Seaclear, truffles.

Drawbacks:

  • The dining halls are relatively easy, but club barbeques or dorm events with pizza are more difficult.
  • Raw food is expensive.
  • Constantly being on the defensive with questions, comments, and judgment is tough--“Aren’t you anorexic this month?” I got often. Without the excuse of “my friend challenged me” the comments may have gotten to me.
  • Alcohol toleration goes way down: Frank the Tank quickly becomes Sally the Scooter.

Now for the big question: Did it work?

  • Weight loss: absolutely. I lost about 10 pounds, not too shabby for only 30 days.
  • Increased energy: surprisingly, yes.  It took about 2 weeks for the energy to noticeably increase. By the end, I had cut my coffee intake from 8-10 cups a day to 1 every few days. I didn’t need it anymore, I was napping less, and I felt more alert in class and around campus.
  • Clearer skin: There was no noticeable difference, but perhaps with a longer test period.
  • Brighter colors and a deep connection with nature: debatable. How colorful a day here is mildly dependent on the smog levels.  Mother Earth and I have always been pretty tight, so this probably didn't have an effect.
  • Overall, I felt healthier and happier throughout the month. This was a huge test in self-control and creative eating. I’m plan to continue with a bit tamer version of the diet, and I would recommend the raw lifestyle to anyone.

So would these guys.