The evolution of a raw foodist.

Though it’s been around since about as long as food has been shutterstock_183253376around, raw food is about as strange as one can get on the dietary restriction spectrum.  I can say this because I’m a vegan raw foodist myself.  90% of my diet is raw food.  I occasionally eat rice and potatoes, but for the most part I eat large quantities of fruit and salad, with little to no overt fats. (i.e. avocado, nuts, etc.)

Sure, you have your paleo people and your gluten intolerant people, but as far as freak factor, I imagine most people consider raw vegans to be at the top of the heap.  When I first heard about and began researching the benefits of eating a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, I certainly wondered how anyone could eat that way and sustain it.

I’ve even heard a vegan raw food diet referred to as vegan without the joy.  Which makes me laugh.  What that refers to is that by virtue of not eating cooked foods, raw vegans don’t eat any of the yummy vegan diet mainstays, like hummus, or rice, or beans.  Or pita bread.  Or, as I thought before I tried it, anything that tastes good.

Don’t get me wrong, I love eating raw veggies and fruit.  But I couldn’t imagine doing that exclusively.  Giving up the mainstays of my diet, like homemade soups, potatoes, rice and beans, sounded both torturous and downright wrong.

So what made me decide to give an all raw diet a chance?  Morbid curiosity? Temporary insanity?  Actually, in the end, I did it to see if there was an even higher level of health and energy out there, above and beyond the vegan diet I already embraced and loved.  I was, as I am still currently, actively training and running marathons, ultra marathons  and competing in triathlons.  I wondered about the day to day benefits but also how it would benefit an endurance athlete.

So for 30 days I ate a completely raw diet.  Though at the time I was still drinking coffee, so full disclosure it wasn’t really a fully raw diet by definition.  I’ve since given up coffee for good, but at this time I was still on the sauce.

80/10/10 diet (I mean lifestyle).

I realized quickly that when one eats a raw diet, all added sugar, salt 5114pA7RNKLand fat is pretty much eliminated.  Though most versions of a raw food diet involve tons of fat (usually in the form of high fat nuts and avocado), I subscribed to the 80/10/10 diet, which is 80% carbs, 10% fats and 10% protein.

I read Douglas Graham’s book, 80/10/10, and it resonated with me.  I liked the idea of eating mostly fruit, with some added greens and vegetables.  It certainly made sense that eating the other option, a high fat raw food diet wasn’t going to do my body any favors.

A couple of things to note on the 80/10/10 diet.  The ratio is not meant as something that you monitor with every meal and make sure is strictly 80/10/10.  What it really means is that only 10% of your calories can be from fat.  To give you an idea, if I only eat raw veggies and fruit, with no avocado or nuts or any type of overt fat, I will still take in around 4-6% of calories from fat.  This fat is mostly from fruits.

For most people, and for me at the time, this meant that I would be Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 11.32.46 AMtaking in much less calories from fat than I did on my typical vegan diet.  Here is a snapshot of Cronometer on a typical day of eating 80/10/10.  This is more like 90/6/4, but you get the point as far as the importance of keeping fat to the bare minimum on this type of raw vegan lifestyle, as well as the types of foods one would be eating to arrive at this ratio (or above).

Benefits of eating raw

One word.  Okay, two words.  Energy and digestion.  Understand this is my experience on a raw food diet, which I’m not backing up with science.  But anecdotal as it is, my experience might be useful to those considering a raw food diet.

I’ve never eaten a big meal and felt like I could go do a workout immediately after.  Eating raw foods didn’t make me feel too full or like I wanted to go sit or lie down as some of my typical meals did when eating vegan.  After eating a raw food meal, I didn’t feel sluggish at all after eating.  I felt more energized and like I wanted to go for a walk or even a run.

I also felt much more energy when waking up.  It was as if I had slept longer than I really had.  I have never been a nap person, but eating raw foods really eliminated the afternoon lull of sapped energy that leads most people to drink that afternoon coffee or sugary soda.

Digestion became much easier and I spent a lot less time in the bathroom.  I also had much less flatulence (okay, farting) than I had while eating beans and legumes on the vegan diet.  Digestion became something I didn’t even think about, since it happened so effortlessly and quickly.  A life with no upset stomach and no constipation, ever, seemed pretty cool.

I can’t point to weight loss, since I didn’t start out to lose weight by going raw.  I can’t point to changes in my blood tests, since I  didn’t get those done, though I have since received blood test results.  I can tell you that although my subjective results aren’t backed by science, I felt good enough eating raw vegan that I continue to eat a mostly raw food diet to this day (over 2 years later).

Here’s the catch with going to an all raw or mostly raw vegan diet.   You will feel great, you’ll have better digestion and more energy.  You’ll probably also go back and forth between including some cooked foods in your diet.  Sticking to 100% raw is tough.  So there you’ll be, gradually adding some cooked items back in to your diet.

The problem occurs when you add to much cooked foods and you being losing the benefits of eating raw.  You might find, as I have, that there is a certain amount of cooked food you can have before you start to feel bad.  Unfortunately, it’s not that much.  So the other day I had a curry tofu mixture that had coconut milk and some added salt.  I felt terrible the next day, and noticed I had some bloating from the salt in the dish.

This is your cross to bear.  You will feel bad if you go from eating raw to cooked.  You’ll feel full and maybe bloated and not much like doing anything.  If you’re like me you’ll scale back on the cooked foods immediately as you’ll want to be back basking in the glow of eating fresh, uncooked food with no salt, sugar or fat added.  You’ll simplify.  You’ll crack open a banana.  You’ll eat a bowl full of clementines.  Then you’ll remember what it felt like to be raw and make a plan to get back to it.

 

 

Restaurants are Evil?

Let’s be clear, restaurants are in business to make a profit. Well, hopefully they are. They make a profit by satisfying taste buds and by getting customers to order more and order often. They do this by adding copious amounts of sugar, fat and salt to whatever type of food it is that comes out of the kitchen. This is what the public wants. And this is what restaurants provide.  Hence the obesity epidemic we’re experiencing.

What does this equation mean for people on plant-based diets that don’t want to inhale a weeks worth of sodium or calories in one sitting? What it means is that you must be have a solid plan in place for situations when you’re eating out.

I will also throw it out there that regularly eating out will make it virtually impossible for you to eat healthy. For that, you must be in control of the ingredients and preparation of your food. The only way to do this is to eat at home. That’s right, before you start throwing objections out there, understand that it might not be fair or convenient or even possible, but eating at home with quality, organic ingredients is your best chance to eat healthy.

I love this video by Dr. Michael Klaper in regards to oil being a healthy food and for eating out. He advises people to be aware, no matter what kind of food the restaurant sells, it’s full of fat and oil and probably later, regrets. Don’t kid yourself that even eating at a so called “healthy restaurants” prevents your poor arteries from being besieged by saturated fat and added sugar and salt.

In fact, even if you’re trying to make better choices and you decide to eat at Whole Foods, with it’s giant salad bar and endless aisles filled with delectable looking prepared foods, you’re still navigating a minefield. Unless it carries the wonderful HSH (Health Starts Here) label, those delicious smelling soups and hot bar items contain, you guessed it, crazy amounts of sugar, salt and fat. Don’t even get me started on the football-sized burritos and fresh made gourmet pizzas dripping with melted cheese. That’s why it tastes so dang good. Makes sense, right?

So what are your options when meeting friends or family for dinner or trying to at least be somewhat social on your amazingly healthy plant-based mostly raw, low sodium, low fat and no added sugar diet? Huddle in the corner in the fetal position? Go and order a glass of water and hope no one notices you’re not eating? Bring your own food and eat it under the table? Hopefully you won’t have to resort to those tactics.  Here are some better options.

Pre-Eating

Yep, you need to eat before you go. Eat a bowl of soup or a giant salad or make a smoothie or juice. Your spouse or significant other will undoubtedly ask you “aren’t we going out to eat?” as you prepare your food just prior to leaving. Yes, you’ll say, which is exactly why I’m eating before we leave. This will confuse them greatly but just leave it at that. You should have some mystery in your relationship.

In fact, I make a point of never leaving for a group dinner without having something. That way, I will be less tempted by the giant bowl of fresh crusty bread or salty tortilla chips or whatever appears on the table as you peruse the menu. This also helps when dinner is delayed (as it often is) and also when I can only find a few items on the menu and they’re way smaller quantities than I normally eat.

In 2013 I ran the New York City Marathon. We had a great group of runners from my former hometown of Phoenix doing the marathon. After, I received the dreaded text that our whole group had settled on a steak house for post-marathon dinner. Apparently running marathons makes you want to eat cheeseburgers and fries. Great! Perfect for the poor, lonely vegan, I thought sadly. So out I went from the hotel, hobbling across the street to grab a smoothie before dinner. It ended up being exactly what I wanted, and when dinner was an hour later than we all planned on I was the only one not dying of hunger spasms. Win!

Check out the menu online.

I advise you be prepared about food all the time, but especially when eating out. Always know what your options will be so there isn’t any last minute decisions you’ll regret later. I noticed the steakhouse, as is usually the case, had a healthy number of side dishes and even a couple of entrees that I could ask to be prepared with less oil and no salt. I ended up ordering and thoroughly enjoying a large side of brussels sprouts (low oil, no salt), a salad (no dressing) and a baked potato with salsa. I could tell my runner friends were actually a little jealous of my food. Don’t assume steak houses are not good places for vegans or that you can’t order items with no salt and no oil.

Looking at the menu online has occasionally resulted in me declining a dinner invite. I’ve only had to do this on rare occasions, but there have been situations where the menu is such a meat and dairy fest that I’ve had to let the group know I’m out. While I feel bad doing this, I also don’t care to spend my money at restaurants that don’t offer healthier options. You can also call before making this decision to see if there are choices that don’t appear on the menu.

It’s all about the side dishes.

I love side dishes. Not only are they easier to order and veganize than ordering an entree and asking for no cheese, no butter, no oil and no meat, but a lot of times I get to make my own awesome meal.

For example, instead of ordering fajitas at a Mexican restaurant, I’ll order a side of tortillas, a side of beans (make sure and ask for no cheese garnish on top), a side of salsa and guacamole and a side of rice and veggies. Often I get more food for less ordering this way. Though the server may roll their eyes, they are probably secretly jealous of how smart you are to order this way.

This sides strategy also makes it less likely they’ll make a mistake in the kitchen with your food. If you order an entree and have to ask for several ingredient modifications, there is a good chance something will be missed. The kitchen is busy. It happens. While with sides, chances are pretty good you’ll get your food without any errors. The worst that may happen is they forget one of your sides.

Don’t be afraid to order a double (or more).

Let’s be clear about one thing. The size of my own homemade salads and the size of a typical restaurant salad are not even on the same scale. They are orders of magnitude different. I could eat my salads out of satellite dish. The typical restaurant salad is like a Jenny Craig meal. Small and sad. So when you do find something healthy, order up!

I had this happen on a trip to Boston this year. I found a great salad on the menu that just required a no-cheese and no dressing modification. Perfect! I even asked the server about the size and reluctantly allowed him to talk me into ordering a single serving instead of my usual double.

Imagine my sadness when it arrived and though larger than most I knew it wasn’t going to tide me over. So I actually ordered not one, but 3 more salads. Yes, 4 total. Pretty sure the entire kitchen staff imagined I had an eating disorder and would be puking up my dinner shortly after eating. No such luck! I loved the salad and actually almost felt full after eating 4 of them. Better yet, my friend decided he was picking up the tab. Those salads weren’t cheap!

A note on the cost. Of course it’s going to get expensive ordering multiple items on the menu. Perhaps another good reason to not eat out?

Bottom line

Eating out is a dicey proposition for someone dedicated to eating a healthy plant-based diet. I don’t know of anyone with the willpower to consistently make healthy choices when faced with a menu full of entrees loaded to the gills with fat, sugar and salt. You would never prepare food in this way at home. At least I hope you wouldn’t.

So bottom line? Eat at home. When you do eat out, as Dr. Klaper says, pre-eat, get in there and get out, asap! Make the best choices and minimize the damage. But don’t kid yourself that eating out is a good long term plan for healthy eating. Don’t outsource your food preparation. It’s the only way to control what goes in to your body.  Nobody cares about your health more than you.  Take Control!

Change your tastebuds.

People often ask me how I stick to a plant-based, mostly raw way of eating.  They rattle off a half dozen foods, like chocolate, ice cream, donuts, french fries, that they have a hard time imagining life without.  They pause and consider me carefully, as if I just told them I figured out how to live on oxygen alone.   For most people, a life of not craving foods high in fat, salt and sugar isn’t something they understand.

Giving up unhealthy foods is not nearly as difficult as everyone believes it to be.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  It’s a challenge, and I still struggle sometimes with craving vegan crackers from Trader Joe’s, or eating some artisan breads dipped in almond butter.  But cravings are a rare occasion.  More often, I find myself craving the healthy foods I eat on a daily basis, like bananas.  Ha, imagine that!

The key to giving up unhealthy foods is realizing that you can train your tastebuds to crave healthy foods.  The problem is, it takes at least 3 weeks to adjust your buds to healthy fare.  3 weeks to most people might as well be a life sentence.  Most people won’t ever trundle down the path I’m advocating of weaning themselves off high fat, high salt and high sugar foods.  It’s just too damn long.  But that’s okay.  That’s not you.  Right?  3 weeks is a tiny blip on the screen of your life.  It could make all the difference in the world if you just commit to a little 21 day experiment.

So let me tell where I’m coming from and how much I progressed from a super salt-addicted and somewhat sugar addicted person to a high carb low fat raw vegan.  I was that person that salted their food before even tasting it.  Yep, that was me.  I carried a ziplock bag of salt to work with me just in case I came upon a food that I deemed lacking in salt.  Which was, let me tell you, practically every food I put in my mouth.

I also ate a fair amount of processed vegan foods, like faux meats, crackers, cookies and a lot of prepared and packaged foods from Trader Joe’s.  Though I felt these foods were healthy since they were vegan, they were full of preservatives and super high in calories.

Then I started dabbling in raw foods and reading about high salt processed foods and how bad they are for you.  I read labels on everything and noticed the ridiculously high salt content of foods I commonly ate.  Like an innocent can of black beans with 750 mg of salt in one tiny serving.  Really?  Down the rabbit hole I went.

In typical fashion, I devoured tons of literature on the ramifications of high salt diets.  The most influential by far was Joel Fuhrman’s  Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss.  Buy it, read it!  I even bought it on audio and it proved to be the turning point for my husband, Brian, to switch to a plant-based diet.  Thank you Dr. Fuhrman!

But it also dispelled the notion that I could be healthy and continue to consume the amount of sodium I took in on a daily basis.  Talk about eye-opening! It proved to be the next level for me.  I went from vegetarian to vegan and now I was about to give up added salt, sugar and fat!  I’ve heard that called vegan without the joy.  Ha!   Funny, but not true!

Now don’t get me wrong, the body still needs sodium.  This is the first thing people will tell you when you say you’re kicking high sodium foods out of your diet.  As an athlete, I’m also warned repeatedly that I need salt in my diet in order to train properly for endurance events.

Let’s clarify though.  Salt is needed in your diet, but eating fresh fruit and vegetables will provide you with plenty of sodium.  There is no need to add in your own.  Remember, nature is pretty dang smart.  It created fruits and vegetables that contain everything we need for a healthy diet.

But what does giving up salt have to do with changing your taste buds?  It has everything to do with that.  Let me also lump in added sugar and fat as well.  So giving up added salt, sugar and fat by not eating processed foods and not adding them to the foods you prepare, you will eventually lose your taste and desire for those tastes.  I know, right? It’s hard to believe.

Alas, it’s true.  I’m walking proof of it.  I may never forget the first time I made soup and didn’t add salt.  I thought I was going to cry when I tasted it.  It was…well, horrible! Inedible!  Like I couldn’t fathom eating one more bite.  It tasted like nothing. Like I was eating mildly spiced hot water. I felt sad and couldn’t believe that a lifetime of bland foods awaited me.  How was I going to get through this?

For a long time I used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos instead of salt.  But eventually I knew this was going to have to go as well.  I used less and less.  I weaned.  I sulked a little.  But it did start to get better.  I noticed I needed less and less Bragg’s and that I was so much more sensitive to salt in foods when I went out to eat.

Going out to eat may be the biggest obstacle to maintaining a low salt diet.  Restaurant food is good. Mostly because it’s full of salt, fat and sugar. And all three makes a food practically irresistible. Hence the reason restaurants are successful.  The food is addictive.   I challenge anyone to find a restaurant entree that isn’t loaded down with ridiculously high amounts of salt, fat and sugar.  It’s impossible.  I’ve tried.

So after 3 weeks of eating very low to no salt, I noticed that food started to taste better.  That no salt soup was actually pretty dang good.  I modified many recipes by merely leaving out the salt.  The food actually tasted good still!  I drastically decreased the number of times I ate out.  Instead I cooked at home a lot, or didn’t cook and ate huge raw salads, smoothies and juices.

I also read another book that changed my life.  The Pleasure Trap by Doug Lisle and Alan Goldhamer really enlightened me about being addicted to foods high in salt, sugar and fat.  Biologically, humans are designed to choose foods higher in calories.  We also have a dopamine response to foods high in salt, sugar and fat.  It’s not unlike our dopamine response to drugs.  Overriding that by choosing whole, unprocessed foods is the only chance we have of eating an appropriate amount of calories.

Our body doesn’t recognize heavily processed, high calorie foods.  Therefore, our satiety isn’t triggered and we tend to overeat.  The only way out of the Pleasure Trap is to avoid those foods and stick to low calorie, high nutrient foods like fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts.

If you’re willing to devote 3 weeks to getting salt, sugar and fat out of your diet it will be well worth the effort.  Though you may not lose your cravings entirely, you will certainly learn to crave healthy foods on a regular basis.  Read one or both book recommendations and take your time with the change. Pretty soon you’ll be reaching for a banana instead of peanut butter pretzels.

Photo credit: M Glasgow / IWoman / CC BY

Juice cleanse fail!

My plan was to go 7 days.  At least 5.  I only made it about 4.5 days.  Arghhh.  Why?  Because it’s freakin’ hard to go 5 or 7 days drinking only juice and smoothies for every single meal.  I’m not going to lie.  It was way harder than I thought.

I posted in a previous blog entry my reasons for doing this juice cleanse.  I also threw down the proverbial gauntlet and said I was going to last 7 days.  Which I didn’t.

Weight loss success.

But….I did end up losing 8 lbs in those 4 + days.  My goal was to get motivated for the long term by cleansing and losing a few pounds.  I certainly accomplished that goal.

I have to say I also felt pretty darn healthy drinking all those juices and smoothies packed full of nutrients.  I felt light and lean.  My stomach felt flat.  I wanted to run up the closest, tallest mountain.  I slept like a champ.  I scampered through my prescribed run workouts, whizzing around the local high school track like Prefontaine.  Okay, if Prefontaine ran a 6:00 mile.  Which he didn’t.  Ever.

Day 4 and I hit the wall.

Then day 4 arrived and suddenly I had inexplicable cravings for something cooked and salty and savory.  Like some brown rice and lentils, or potatoes coated in herbs and roasted.  I couldn’t help it.  I thought about it all day long.  I suddenly felt deprived.  Like the only kid on the block running away from the sounds of an ice cream truck.  Woe was me.

So I broke he fast.  On the evening of day 4.  What did I eat?  A salad.  A big salad from Whole Foods with some plain brown rice.   Yes, I know.  You could probably think of 1000 things to eat after a juice fast and a salad wouldn’t be within shouting distance.  I know, I know.  But that salad may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten.  It was divine.  And expensive.  And completely worth it.

Learning from Failure

I really have no excuse for not making it the additional 3 days.  I am happy I made it almost 5, and certainly feeling as great as I did and shedding some lbs. leaves me thinking I may give this another shot in the near future.

As with anything I fail at, I’m ready to learn as much as I can from this experience.  I certainly have much more respect for those people like Joe Cross from the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead who made it through a 60 day juice fast.  That’s a sick amount of time to drink only juices.   Though Joe is not vegan and is a staunch believer in the mythical and sort of ridiculous idea of moderation, I do appreciate all the good he has accomplished and lives he has affected with both his movies.  He just really needs to adopt a plant-based lifestyle full time. Then he could jump off that roller coaster of weight loss and gain he appears to be stuck on.

Fail, fail, fail.  All the way to succeeding.

So the takeaway, dear readers, is this.  Cleansing is hard.  Committing to doing something, whether it’s working out a certain number of days, going on a juice fast or deciding to give up meat and dairy is hard.  You might fail.  Chances are you will a few times if you keep trying.  But is failure such a bad thing?  I failed at my cleanse.  But I still learned a thing or two about discipline and motivation.  I’ll take that with me next time I do a cleanse or a fast.  Heck, I’ll take it with me the next time I eat something.

So throw your hat in the ring.  Try a cleanse.  Try juicing.  Or whatever else it is you feel you can’t do.  Grab your significant other and make them do it with you.  Afraid you can’t do it?  Failing might help you as much as succeeding.  But succeeding would be cool.

 

 

Why I’m against cleanses but I’m doing one right now.

I’m on day 3 of a 7 day juice/smoothie cleanse.  So I’m eating no solid food, only juicing or making smoothies with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Today is the end of day 3 and I’m actually doing surprisingly well.  Considering I’ve never been a fan of cleanses.

Let me clarify.  I’m not a fan of cleanses as an attempt to repeatedly atone for poor eating habits.  I hate to see people doing cleanses as a way to eat (or drink) healthy for a period of time and then go back to the same old crappy diet.  This doesn’t make sense to me and is really hard on your body.

I’m also not a fan of cleanses in regards to doing them for some short term weight loss, i.e. a wedding or high school reunion.  That’s just crazy.  Really.  Don’t do that.

So why am I doing a cleanse if I don’t believe in them?  Well, in my case, I was horrified to find out a few weeks ago that I’m way, way above my ideal weight.  Despite being super active and eating a mostly raw, super healthy diet, my body has been betraying me and secretly packing on the pounds behind my back.  Or, right in front of me, actually.  Okay, okay, I may have had something to do with it but still…WTF?  How did I get here?  Some changes are in order.  And stat!

My cleanse is an attempt to get myself motivated and going in the right direction for a sustainable change that will be a part of my permanent lifestyle.  It’s a bit of a jumpstart, to be sure.   But it’s not short term results I’m necessarily looking for.  I’m seeking weight loss as a way to motivate myself towards staying at my ideal weight.  I need to see and feel the benefits of packing around less weight in order to improve my eating habits on a permanent basis.

What implications does this have for you?  I’m recommending you do a cleanse.  But only for the right reasons.

A cleanse, to be clear, is going without something for a period of time in order to reach a wellness goal.  My wellness goal for the cleanse is to break a bit of an addiction I have to high calorie cooked foods and hopefully replace it with even more desire for raw, fresh fruits and vegetables.  Though I don’t eat cooked foods often, even the occasional 2 or 3 meals a week will result in weight gain if you’re not careful.  At least for me it will (or did).

What kind of cleanse should you do?  Well, depending on where you’re at on the plant-based spectrum, you could choose to forego any animal products, or to eat only raw vegetables and fruits, or even to do as I’ve done and only eat (drink) fresh fruit and vegetable juice or smoothies.

How long you go also depends on you.  I chose a 7 day cleanse.  I had heard the first three days were really hard and then after that it gets easier.  So I wanted to make it at least that long, and I felt 7 days was long enough to see some significant results.  Heck, I may even go 9 if I continue to feel so great.

I’m at the beginning of day 4 as I finish writing this.  I’ve lost a total of 8 lbs in only 3 days.  I’m feeling really lean and rather than feeling tired as one would imagine I might, I’ve got tons of energy!  I’m drinking 3 smoothies and one juice per day, approximately.  I’m certainly not starving.  My juices and smoothies are HUGE!  A minimum of 32 ounces and probably closer to 48.  So don’t be shy about making big juices and smoothies.  I don’t feel hungry or deprived at all.  The only real challenge is not chewing food, which takes a little getting used to.

All in all, so far so good!