Raw Food Diet

February 4th, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

This is the final postmortem of my 30 day trial of the low-fat raw food diet, which I conducted from January 1 to January 30, 2008.

The two posts I made before starting this trial explained the background on this diet and my reasons for doing this, so I won’t rehash all of that here. If you haven’t yet read those posts, I encourage you to do so since they provide the context for this experiment:

Adaptation

The initial detox period seemed to last about two weeks. Symptoms included bad breath, chills, headaches, daytime drowsiness, mental fogginess, concentration problems, low libido, and an unstable yo-yoing of my alertness and emotional states. It wasn’t until day 14 that I began feeling consistently good on this diet.

The mental adaptation was more difficult than the physical adjustment. Even during the last week of the trial, I still found it difficult to come to terms with how much food I had to eat each day. For example, on the first day of the trial I ate 8-1/2 pounds of food, and I was 2.8 pounds lighter on the scale the next morning. That really takes some getting used to.

Challenge

I found this trial extremely challenging. It was by far the most difficult 30-day trial I’ve ever done. In some ways it got easier after the first week as I got used to making raw meals and eating larger quantities of food, but it still seemed to require a high level of self-discipline to stick with it. That may be because I transitioned so abruptly instead of making more gradual changes over many years.

Raw Food

Overall I liked the raw food on this diet and didn’t have too much trouble with variety, despite doing this trial during the winter when the availability and quality of fresh produce aren’t the best. I noticed my cravings for sweets declined tremendously, and I was completely satiated by sweet fruits. Even when returning to cooked food after the trial, I had no desire to eat anything sweet aside from fruit. Sometimes I felt a little overloaded by all the sweetness in this diet, but overall it wasn’t too bad. I’ve found that when I ate more vegetables, especially celery, it helped increase my desire to eat more sweet fruits. The vegetables seemed to cleanse my palate of the sweetness.

One thing I really liked about this diet is that I discovered new foods I’d never been interested in before, including okra and Asian pears. I also enjoyed the simple green smoothies made from bananas, spinach, and water. I expect to continue enjoying those foods for a long time to come.

Cravings

The cravings for cooked food on this diet were strong some days and virtually nonexistent on other days. Overall they weren’t too difficult to deal with. Usually when I ate a sufficient quantity of raw food and got enough calories, the cravings diminished. Cravings were strongest when I allowed myself to get too hungry.

No Salt

Early in this trial, I had some strong cravings for saltier foods, but they dissipated over time. I was surprised at how easy it was to go without salt.

No Supplements

I didn’t consume any supplements during this diet at all. No pills or powders of any kind. No superfoods either. I didn’t think it was necessary to increase the price of my urine.

Low-fat

The low-fat restriction, less than 10% of calories from fat, was the most difficult part of the trial. Many days I fell like my cravings could’ve been satiated by including more fat in the diet, such as avocados, nuts, or seeds. However, I didn’t feel as good when I ate too much fat in a single meal.

When I started the trial, I aimed to to keep my weekly average below 15% of calories from fat, but over time I was able to successfully drop it below 10%. My energy levels became more stable once I brought the fat down.

For the first half of the trial, I averaged 12.2% of calories from fat. For the second half of the trial, I averaged 8.7% of calories from fat. Adjusting my fat calories downward became easier as the trial progressed.

Exercise

During the trial I experienced increases in both strength and endurance. I continued doing light aerobic and strength training workouts during the trial, and I experienced strength gains in all muscle groups. I also noticed on several occasions that my aerobic workouts seemed easier than usual, as if my heart was beating at a lower rate even though the heart monitor showed that the rate remained the same.

The biggest improvement was in my muscular endurance. On day 3 I was able to do 27 pushups. On day 7 I was up to 31, and on day 24 I did 36 pushups, setting a new lifetime personal best. Those were the only times I did pushups during the trial, and I didn’t do many chest workouts during this time. This is definitely a very unusual improvement for me.

The muscle endurance improvements helped me accelerate my strength gains because I was able to progress to heavier weights more quickly and manage more reps with those weights. Weights I struggled to do just 2-3 reps with, I could crank out 7-10 reps with ease the following week. The weight still seemed just as heavy, but my muscles didn’t give out as soon. That really surprised me.

I don’t recall experiencing any serious muscle soreness during this trial at all. I often get sore when I progress to significantly heavier weights, but this time there was nothing. Also, while lifting the weights, I didn’t experience much pain when I reached the point where my muscles were about to give out. Sometimes the acid build-up in my muscles creates intense, burning pain before my muscles reach the point of failure. During this trial I seemed to reach the point of muscle failure before that pain got too strong. This made it easier to crank out a few more reps. That was new. I suppose this diet could reduce the waste build-up in the muscles, since simple sugars provide the cleanest burning fuel the body can use.

I can certainly see why this diet is so attractive to many athletes. In my case it seems to provide an obvious edge in the area of physical performance. I would definitely give this diet some serious consideration if I was involved in any sort of competitive sports.

Weight Loss

During the 30-day trial, I lost 8.0 pounds, about 1.9 pounds per week. I started at 186.0 and ended at 178.0. My body fat also dropped 1.8 percentage points. As of the morning of Feb 3rd, I weighed 174.0. That additional post-trial weight loss was largely due to the illness I experienced upon eating cooked foods on day 31.

Here’s a chart showing my weight loss day by day. I charted my weight for a few weeks before this trial to establish a baseline and for a few days afterwards as well. You can see that before I started this trial, my weight was fairly stable. In fact, my weight stayed very close to 185 pounds throughout all of 2007. I also didn’t make any significant changes to my exercise routine or routine physical activity during the trial.

Weight Chart
The day one arrow points to my weight at the start of day one. The day 30 arrow points to my final weigh-in at the end of the trial, which occurred on the morning of day 31. The two days show the drop in weight I experienced from illness after a day of eating cooked food on day 31.

There’s no plot for Dec 8th (long before the trial started) because I neglected to weigh myself that day.

My weight loss slowed considerably in the second half of the trial, but I also averaged about 200 more calories per day in the second half vs. the first half. That change wasn’t deliberate. I simply ate based on hunger. But it did teach me that I could probably eat about 500 more calories per day on this diet vs. my previous cooked vegan diet and not gain weight. So this does seem like it could be an awesome diet for long-term weight loss, especially if you enjoy eating lots of food.

Daily Averages

Here are my daily nutrient averages for the 30-day trial:

2,298 calories
29g fat
532g carbs
40g protein
352mg sodium
86g fiber
305g sugar
10% of calories from fat
6% of calories from protein
84% of calories from carbs

Before this trial I averaged about 2,000 calories a day on a cooked vegan food diet, so I actually lost weight even as I increased my daily calories by 15%.

Protein

This diet is abundant in protein. I averaged 40g of protein per day, which is more than enough to meet my needs, even with daily exercise and strength training sessions every week. I was aiming to average at least 25g of protein per day, which is very easy to achieve on this diet as long as I consume sufficient calories. Since all the protein was raw instead of denatured by cooking, its bioavailability should be much higher than with cooked foods. Incidentally, if you want to see what happens to protein when you cook it, pluck a hair off your head and put a flame under it. Cooked protein becomes a sticky mess that doesn’t digest well at all. Raw plant foods provide all the protein we need, in the right form for easy assimilation.

Body Temperature

My body temperature dropped only slightly during the course of the trial. My average body temperature during the first week of the trial was 98.5°. During the second week of the trial, it was 98.2°. The reason I decided to track my body temperature was that I’d read that long-term raw foodists can have significantly lower body temperatures, so I wanted to see if there’d be any change during the first 30 days. Although I did experience a slight drop in body temperature, it wasn’t particularly severe.

Blood Pressure

My average blood pressure reading for the first 5 days of the trial was 131/76. For the last 5 days of the trial, it was 117/73. So the net drop in blood pressure was 14/3. My lowest reading of the trial was 110/65, which occurred on day 30.

Blood Sugar

I monitored my blood sugar using a blood sugar testing device, the same kind diabetics may use. It showed no discernible spikes in blood sugar throughout the trial whatsoever — absolutely none. In fact, my blood sugar remained incredibly steady throughout the trial. My highest blood sugar reading of the trial was 94, which is still medium-low. All that sweet fruit in my diet simply did not have any adverse effect on my blood sugar.

Eating this way gave my blood sugar more consistency than ever. I couldn’t spike my blood sugar on this diet if I tried. Even eating 19 bananas in one day made no difference.

Alkalizing

I measured my urine pH several times on the last day of the trial, and all the readings were between 7.4 and 8.0, very much on the alkaline side. Testing urine is less accurate than testing blood, but I see no cause for concern that this diet would be acidifying.

Energy

After the first two weeks, my physical and mental energy levels were consistently stable. I only seemed to run into problems if I ate too much fat or if I improperly combined foods, but with practice those problems can be avoided.

I had some brief bursts of euphoria throughout the trial but nothing that seemed to stick. I also had occasional bursts of extreme mental clarity. I’m curious to know what would happen if I were to continue eating this way for a few more months.

Dry Skin

Perhaps the worst problem I experienced during the trial was dry skin. The problem appeared about 10 days into the trial and continued for the remainder of the trial. This left me feeling itchy all over my whole body at times, especially when I started to sweat. The worst dry skin was on my hands. The skin on my fingers got so dry that it cracked and started to bleed in several places. Those cuts have been taking a long time to heal, although most of them are now fully recovered. I’d really like to know if this problem would correct itself over time, especially since the skin is one of the body’s major detox organs.

Return to Cooked Food

Although returning to cooked food was not technically part of the trial, it certainly had an impact on me. I started feeling poorly shortly after my first cooked meal, and things only went downhill from there. The following day I was stricken with a fever of 103 and felt horrible. I’ve been eating mostly raw fruits and vegetables since then and feel much better now.

Feedback

I appreciate all the feedback, advice, and encouragement I received throughout this trial. At times it became overwhelming to try to keep up with it, but I did my best. Unfortunately the advice I got was all over the place, so I mostly had to rely on my own judgment and not so much on the opinions of others. Nevertheless, I did pick up some good ideas and suggestions along the way; most of those came from long-term raw foodists with a lot of experience.

Daily Logs

For convenience the daily logs of this raw food diet trial can be easily accessed from the Archives page. They can be found under January 2008. Those logs include detailed measurements of all the food I ate, along with photos of most meals.

Raw Food Diet Conclusions

I’m glad I undertook this 30-day trial. I certainly learned a lot from it. As for whether I’ll continue eating this way, that remains to be seen. On day 31 I was delighted to return to cooked food, but after the fiasco of doing so and becoming ill from it, I’ve been eating mostly raw since then. Now that this raw food diet has become a habit, it’s not nearly as hard to continue as it was to begin. I’m certainly curious about what it would be like to eat this way long-term, so it seems likely I’ll continue eating raw (or at least mostly raw) for a goodly while longer. I bought lots of fresh fruit today, so if I don’t keep eating this way for at least another week, a lot of food will go to waste.

Regardless of what happens next, I must declare this experiment a success. I can’t see myself going back to my previous way of eating, so it does appear I’ve made some permanent changes, but it’s too soon for me to grasp what exactly they are. Time will tell.

I hope you found the detailed documentation of this experiment useful and educational. I’m sure some people will have even more questions about this diet, but the best way to get those answers is to try it (or at least research it) for yourself. Real-life growth experiments don’t often produce black and white results, but that’s no reason not to undertake them. Personal growth is a lifelong journey, not a destination.

Update – April 8, 2008

After returning to a cooked vegan diet for two months, I decided to go back to 100% raw for a while. Here are two blog posts explaining my reasons for doing so:

I enjoy the abundant energy and mental clarity that comes from eating raw, and I feel deprived of these gains when I eat too much cooked food. Some people would think that eating raw means deprivation, but the opposite is true in my experience.


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