Eating Raw – Update

June 20th, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

Lots of people have requested an update on my progress with the raw food diet. This seems like a good time, so here goes…

I’m still eating raw and doing fine. I’ve been experimenting a lot with this diet over the past couple months, trying different variations, mainly to figure out what the most practical approach is for me.

From the outside looking in, I know the raw food diet looks like an exercise in self-denial. But in practice it’s been just the opposite. I’m eating more variety than ever, trying interesting new recipes every week. I definitely don’t feel deprived.

95% or 100% raw

I wanted to see what would happen if I tried eating 95% raw instead of 100% raw. Would a little bit of cooked food in the diet be a problem for me?

Many people who call themselves raw foodists don’t eat 100% raw. They eat mostly raw but not all raw. This includes some of the authors of raw cookbooks.

Sometime in May I started reintroducing a small amount of cooked food. At first I only did it while eating out. Then I had a little cooked food at home from time to time.

Initially I didn’t experience any discernable adverse effects, but I didn’t find the cooked food as satisfying as I once did. It felt more like I was drugging myself or feeding an addiction instead of nourishing my body. The cooked items seemed best when they were part of a larger raw meal, like if I had some non-raw hummus with veggies.

But in the long run, I found cooked food to be very addictive. Once I started including a little bit of cooked food, I seemed to crave more of it until a few weeks later, I was down to 30% raw. I noticed I kept craving cooked items, and raw foods were becoming less attractive for me. I really felt like an addict. I mentally wanted to eat raw meals, but there’d be this strong craving that would override my judgment, and before I knew it, I was prepping a cooked meal without even thinking. This practice was making me less conscious of my food choices, and I was falling back into old patterns.

The worst change I noticed was at the gym. When I started introducing more cooked foods, I noticed a gradual decline in my athletic performance. While eating 100% raw, I was doing interval training on a certain elliptical machine, gradually going up in levels. When I started eating some cooked food again, I was doing intervals between the machine’s levels 8 and 13, getting ready to progress to 8-14 or 9-14. But after a few days on cooked food, I couldn’t handle 8-13 anymore and had to drop down to 7-12, and even that felt unusually hard. I also felt a lot more winded after my workouts and less motivated to exercise altogether. My heart and lungs didn’t seem to work as well.

Eventually I came to my senses and went back to 80% raw for a few days and then back to 100% raw. I didn’t suffer any detox symptoms, but I do feel a lot better and more energetic on 100% raw foods. The addictive cravings for cooked food seem to be gone.

I still have to go back and check what intervals I can do at the gym now. I’ve been doing other exercises in the meantime, so I’ll have to test the interval workout soon. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to 8-13 without much difficulty, and hopefully I’ll continue to progress from there. The link between eating raw and my athletic performance has been made very clear though. If I was a competitive athlete (I’m not), I don’t see how I could justify eating cooked food.

What I learned from experimenting with cooked food is that it’s too hard for me to eat 95% raw. It’s too easy to backslide. It’s easier to stay 100% raw. So I’m sticking with all raw.

Superfoods

This month I’ve been experimenting with a class of foods called superfoods. These are nutritionally dense items such as wild blueberries, spirulina, raw cacao (the beans chocolate is made from), goji berries (from the Himalayas), and maca (a radish-like root vegetable from the Andes). Whether or not superfoods are a wise idea seems to be controversial in the raw community. Some people swear by them. Others say they’re pointless or even unhealthy (depending on the particular food).

In general, superfoods are quite expensive, costing $1 per ounce and higher. Of course many of the top advocates of superfoods also sell them. I can’t really count that against them because if the items are so great, then why not sell them? But this is a bias that could potentially cause people to value sales ahead of truth, so I’ve been pulling info from a variety of different sources. Unfortunately most of the pro-superfoods sources I’ve found eventually trace back to someone who sells them. Are these truly beneficial health foods or just a marketing ploy? There seems to be a lot of marketing hype surrounding these foods, but I don’t know if there’s any meaningful substance behind the hype.

I don’t know who’s right, so I’m testing for myself. At least I can afford to do this kind of experimenting. If you’re on a tight food budget, then most superfoods are probably out of the question, but you may not be missing much.

I’ve been blending some cacao and spirulina into smoothies and snacking on small quantities of goji berries, but I can’t say I notice any difference in how I feel. It may be too soon to tell, but if pushed to make a guess, at this point it feels like I’m putting dollar bills into my Vitamix and probably not gaining much from it.

Eating Raw in Los Angeles

My family and I took a trip to Disneyland several weeks ago, and I found it surprisingly easy to to find good raw food there. They had a very good fruit salad in one of the restaurants as well as plenty of fresh fruit and fruit cups throughout the park. I was impressed. It was hot the day we went (about 90 degrees), so the cold fruit (grapes, oranges, honeydew, cantaloupe, strawberries) was deliciously refreshing.

While we were in L.A., Erin and I ate at the Rawvolution cafe in Santa Monica. It was our first time there. I’d heard mixed reviews about it but wanted to check it out, so I dragged Erin with me (while she was trying to drag me to Native Foods). I grew up in L.A. and used to live only a few miles from there, so I’m very familiar with the area. The restaurant is across the street from a farmer’s market where Erin and I used to shop regularly.

Unfortunately I didn’t like the food at Rawvolution. I had the Big Matt burger, the Atlantis roll, and a smoothie. I felt like all the food was over-flavored. Eating the raw burger was like chewing a mouthful of mustard and onion. The Atlantis roll was ok, but I’ve made better-tasting roll-ups in my own kitchen. Maybe if you love strong flavors like raw onion, you’d like the food there, but neither Erin nor I really cared for it. Perhaps we’d have done better with other menu choices, but I can’t be sure.

Personally I liked the food at Juliano’s raw restaurant much better (it’s also in Santa Monica). I haven’t been there in years but will make a point of stopping by next time I’m in L.A. I own his cookbook, which has complicated recipes, but the food is really good.

On the four-hour car ride from Vegas to L.A., I packed a couple Fuji apples for myself. When I reached into the bag to eat one, I found both of them half eaten, and very brown/oxidized on the remaining surfaces. The kids decided they wanted my apples instead of what Erin had packed for them. I’ll spare you the expletives I shouted, but on the next family car trip, I’ll have to pack extra raw items.

Juicing

Next month I plan to experiment more with juicing, especially green juices. I made some juices during my January raw trial, but I haven’t done much juicing since then.

I only have a sub-$100 centrifugal juicer, so I decided it was time for an upgrade. The pricier juicers are more efficient, so they extract more juice, and they don’t heat or oxidize the juice in the process of juicing. They can also juice a wider variety of produce such as leafy greens and wheat grass. Plus they can make sorbets and nut butters.

After reading various juicer reviews, I settled on a Green Power juicer ($479 at Amazon). This juicer comparison page was very helpful in deciding which model to buy.

I can’t personally recommend the Green Power juicer since I haven’t had a chance to try it yet (I just ordered it today), but I know the Green Star juicers have a solid reputation in the raw community, and the Green Power is supposedly the newest model in that line. I feel comfortable that I made a good choice.

Raw Spirit Festival

I learned there’s a Raw Spirit Festival coming up later this year. It will be September 12-14, 2008 in Sedona, Arizona.

While pondering whether I should attend, a very unlikely synchronicity pushed me off the fence. Earlier today a Sedona radio show emailed me out of the blue to ask for an interview with me; they mentioned in passing that they’re a sponsor of the festival. I went ahead and bought a three-day pass for the festival. (I said yes to the interview too.)

I’ve been to Sedona several times in the past few years since it’s only a four-hour drive from Vegas. They have an excellent raw restaurant in town that I’ve been to only twice, and the vegan restaurant D’Lish has a really good raw plate.

The main reason I’m going to the festival is to meet other members of the raw foods community, so I’m going for the people and the experience more than for the food. Of course that won’t stop me from sampling everything in sight. :)

From the photos on their website, it looks like a very “hippyish” gathering. I don’t own any hemp clothing, so I’ll probably be easy to spot.

Apparently this festival has been going on for several years, but this is the first time I’m attending, so I don’t know what to expect. Therefore, don’t ask me. :) It looks like there are educational sessions as well as music, meditation, dancing, and more. Sedona seems like a very appropriate venue for this.

Depending on how it goes, I might blog about the festival afterwards.

Raw in Las Vegas

There are a couple Raw Cafes in Vegas, and I’ve always liked the food there. Unfortunately, since Erin doesn’t like the food there, I can seldom convince her to eat there with me. It would be nice to have lunch from time to time with people who understand this diet.

I have plenty of social support for this diet via the Internet, but you can’t really share a meal online.

I’d like to meet other raw foodists in Vegas and see if I can get more involved in whatever existing raw foods community there may be here. Since Erin isn’t raw, and since most of my local friends don’t really understand this diet, I don’t have any local social support for this lifestyle. That’s something I’ll need to remedy if I want this lifestyle to be sustainable and enjoyable in the long run. It gets kind of tiresome having no one to go to lunch with who eats like I do.

Anyway… if you happen to be a raw foodist in Vegas and/or know of other raw foodists in town too, please drop me an email.

How I’m Eating Now

Currently I’ve settled into a pattern of eating a wide variety of fruits, some fats (mostly avocado), and lots of green veggies. I’m not eating many dehydrated foods such as flax crackers, although I do eat an occasional raw bar.

Most of my meals are quick to prepare — usually 10 minutes or less, often 5 minutes or less. This diet is much easier with more fats since I don’t have to gorge myself on eight pounds of fruit every day.

I’ve cut back a lot on the bananas. I currently eat about 25-30 per week instead of 60-80 like I was earlier. Lately I’ve been enjoying a wider variety of fruits, including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, apples, oranges, and cherries. The cherries and grapes were especially good this week.

I’ve been enjoying raw soups more often. I finally have a decent sense of what works well together and what doesn’t, so I just grab items from the fridge and concoct something different each time. Two days ago I made soup from avocado, tomato, celery, cucumber, green onion, water, and a little salt. I just threw everything into the Vitamix and blended it. It was creamy, delicious, and filling.

Avocado, banana, and mango blended together is really good. I think a good ratio is one avocado, 1/2 banana, and one mango. Avocado seems to blend well with a variety of fruits. Avocado, strawberry, and some raw agave nectar blended together is very good. Some people don’t like blending fruit and fat, but it hasn’t been a problem for me so far. A little fat makes the meal more filling, so I don’t feel compelled to eat as often. As I type this, it’s been about 6-1/2 hours since I ate anything, and I’m not super hungry for dinner.

I’m eating lots of big green salads, usually 2-3 times per day. I buy tubs of organic mixed greens and spinach, so it’s easy to prepare with no chopping. Sometimes I’ll throw in some sun dried tomatoes or olives for a stronger flavor.

One thing that makes this diet easier is that more fruit is in season now vs. when I did my January trial, so there’s more variety to choose from.

This week I’ve been digging watermelon juice. I make it in my Vitamix, not with a juicer, so that way it still retains the fiber. I just scoop some watermelon into the Vitamix, seeds and all, and in about 20 seconds on high, I’ve got one liter of delicious juice. My daughter likes it too.

I’m going to try mixing some greens with the watermelon to make watermelon-green juice. I’ve heard that’s a good combo.

I have a small garden in my backyard that includes spinach, tomatoes, green onions, and strawberries. I’ve been using the spinach in smoothies and the onions in soups and salads. I clip pieces off the plants instead of uprooting them, so they can keep growing for a while without dying. That seems to work better for the green onions than for the spinach though. Hopefully these plants will be able to survive the summer heat. It was 106 degrees today and will probably shoot up past 110 within the next month.

Incidentally, some people have emailed me to say that if plants feel pain, then it’s cruel to eat them. By that argument it’s even worse to eat animal products, since animals will kill orders of magnitude more plants before being eaten themselves. Eating processed foods is bad too because even more plants must be pulverized to make ingredients such as flour. Consequently, eating plants directly minimizes harm to the plant kingdom (not to mention overall resource consumption and environmental impact). Also, if you eat a diet that’s heavy on the fruits, you’ll do even less harm vs. eating veggies because fruit-bearing plants will continue to survive and thrive after their fruit has been picked.

I suppose the next step up from eating raw is to grow your own food (or at least eat locally grown food), and after that you probably have to start fasting or become a breatharian if you want to reduce your environmental footprint.

***

I’ve learned a great deal about the practical side of eating raw during the past few months, thanks largely to all the advice I’ve received from other raw foodists. I especially want to say a big “thank you” to Laura Bruno for all the email tips she shared and the countless questions she answered — she’s been a big help in making this diet work for me. I highly recommend that you read her book The Lazy Raw Foodist’s Guide, which is filled with many practical insights on the raw diet as well as the raw lifestyle.

That’s it for this raw update. Perhaps I’ll share another progress report once I have something new to share. I’m still experimenting a lot these days, so I can’t say I’ve reached a point of long-term stability. There’s been quite a learning curve with this diet, but I think the hardest part is behind me.



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