In December of 2016 I decided to go raw vegan until the Boston Marathon on April 17th. I completed my goal last week and crossed the finish line at Boston having eaten only raw food (and vegan, or course) for the last 109 or so days.
Going raw for me isn’t a huge adjustment from my regular vegan diet. I typically always eat my first meal of the day as just fruit, and then dinner is a big salad. Mostly it means eliminating rice, potatoes, bread and other cooked items I may have on a somewhat regular basis.
At the same time, even though I don’t eat cooked foods very often, I do enjoy them and of course, you know how what happens when you tell yourself you can’t have a certain food…suddenly that’s all you can think about. There is no doubt that cooked foods release more dopamine than raw foods and often cause me to overeat. Thus the battle I fight to continue eating the food that I feel best eating (raw) and eliminating the food that doesn’t feel as good (cooked).
Why exactly do I want to eat raw? What were the benefits I experienced from eating only raw vegetables and fruit in preparation for the marathon? I get these questions a lot, and I love answering them.
However, since I don’t weigh myself and I didn’t test my body fat levels pre and post, so much of what I describe here will be subjective. Nonetheless, the benefits of eating raw are pretty substantial and I hope you’ll find some value in my experience, whether or not it’s easily quantifiable.
More Energy – it’s listed first because it’s the most significant change in switching to raw. My energy level was already pretty amazing since going vegan all those years ago, but the switch to raw exponentially increased it. Perhaps it’s all that energy that went into digesting cooked foods, and is now available, but whatever it is, I’m a big fan. This spike in energy is part of the reason I gave up drinking coffee over 3 years ago. Don’t need it. Don’t need the caffeine.
When I’m getting all my energy from the raw food I eat, it would seem strange to even need caffeine, right? I wake up in the morning feeling great, and at the end of the day I never feel as tired as I used to. Sure, I still feel tired, especially during a 20 week training build up to Boston, but it’s not an overwhelming exhaustion as it had been previously.
More Chill – eating raw food relaxes me. I’m not sure of any other way to describe it, but events that would’ve normally bothered me or caused a negative reaction simply don’t anymore. It’s as if I’ve already counted to ten and any annoyance has dissipated.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like eating raw magically erases anger and frustration from your life (wouldn’t that be great?), but I certainly deal with challenges in a much more relaxed and confident manner.
Part of being more chill comes from feeling so great eating raw that much less bothers me than normally would. When you don’t have to worry about your health, when your default setting is that you generally feel pretty damn good, it certainly overflows into all the other aspects of your life. Everything becomes that much easier when you live in a strong, healthy body.
Weight Loss – this is one I can’t quantify with a measurement of pounds simply because I don’t weigh myself. But I can tell my clothes fit looser and that I’m lighter. Eating raw food naturally results in less calories consumed, simply because the calories per pound of raw vegetables and fruit is much lower than cooked foods.
The interesting part is that even though I’m consuming less calories I feel like I’m eating plenty and that I’m never having to restrict calories or control my portions. I simply eat until I’m satisfied, and even occasionally past that point (oops), but I still don’t gain weight.
As a runner I’ve always been conscious of my weight, since it directly affects my running performance. Before I tried raw foods I would gain and lose depending on how strict I was with portion sizes and limiting the amount I ate, but it was always a battle to stay in my desired weight range. With eating raw, I find it liberating not to have to limit portion sizes or worry about how much I’m eating.
Fat Loss – there’s no doubt that eating cooked foods always means eating a higher percentage of fat than eating raw does. Even if you actively avoid fats like nuts, seeds avocados and oil, it’s nearly impossible to avoid oil if you’re eating out or eating any sort of processed cooked foods.
Foods like hummus, bread and most processed vegan “faux” meats have olive, corn or safflower oil. Any stir fry or cooked foods like veggie burritos or even pasta you order at a restaurant are liberally coated with oil during the cooking process. Reading ingredient labels on your favorite foods can be quite an eye opener as to how much fat you might be consuming without knowing.
At 4000 calories per pound and no nutritional value whatsoever, all oils are unhealthy. With a raw diet, it’s much less likely that you’re taking in oils, though you do have to be careful with the amount of raw nuts, nut butter and seeds you consume.
I tend towards a whole, unprocessed type of raw diet, so I can easily avoid these high fat foods. Other than half an avocado in my epic salads, I hardly ever take in high fat foods.
I try and keep my fat percentage to about 10-15%, of my calories, because I agree with Dr John McDougall (disclaimer: he is not a fan of eating all raw) that the “fat you eat is the fat you wear.” However, I don’t actively count calories, fat grams or other macronutrients. I just eat whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables.
Food Preparation is a Breeze – people often ask me if it’s hard to be raw. From a food preparation standpoint, eating raw is the opposite of hard. I spend very little time in food preparation. I may cut up some oranges, a cantaloupe or watermelon, which usually takes at most 5 minutes of my time. I have no pots and pans to clean, because I don’t cook anything. A snack is as easy as opening a banana or biting into an apple. What could be easier than that? I dirty one plate per meal, that generally involves only a quick rinse.
At night I eat a giant salad, which involves cutting up some lettuce, half an avocado and chopping some mushrooms and peppers. It takes about 10 minutes at the most, and my clean up is rinsing my salad bowl and washing my knife and fork.
Simplicity – eating raw can be as simple or as complicated as you like, just as with anything. I know raw foodist that spend hours and hours preparing complicated meals that involve dehydrating things for 12 hours and sprouting beans and legumes for 10.
I have no interest in such endeavors, since one of the biggest advantages to eating raw is that it’s so simple. A meal can be five or six bananas and a couple of apples. It can be a medium size watermelon or a couple of small cantaloupes.
We’ve been taught that a variety of food is preferable to one food at a meal. But is eating so many different food items at one meal necessary, or even good for you? I would argue it is neither. When you combine so many different flavors and foods into one dish, it begins to taste like none of those flavors.
In going raw, I appreciate the flavor of foods so much more now. I don’t wish to combine things because I love the flavor of the food I’m eating. When you limit ingredients to 5 or 6 at most you’ll actually taste the flavor in each individual food.
One of my favorite meals is watermelon, or ten or so organic navel oranges cut up and arranged beautifully on a plate. I don’t need to blend the oranges, or juice them and combine them with other things to make a smoothie. They are so good on their own, in their natural state. Of course that’s not to say I don’t combine items when I eat out, or occasionally when I’m entertaining. But for the most part, I enjoy simply eating fresh, ripe, in season, organic fruit.
Resist the temptation to complicate eating raw. Sure, you can go buy a book or find some great websites with raw food recipes when you’re first starting out if you feel compelled to do so. But find a handful of fruits that you love and that are in season and make that your first meal of the day. I think you might be surprised how deeply fulfilling it is to simplify your diet and how much you really don’t need variety.
So there you have it. Six benefits to eating raw that I’ve experienced over the last 100+ days. Though I didn’t nail a PR in Boston, I had a great race and an even better experience. After a couple of days eating cooked foods, I’m back to eating raw again for the remainder of 2017. I’m excited to see what I can elevate my fitness levels to with an even longer period of time eating only raw vegetables and fruit.
If you’re considering trying out a raw diet, don’t become overwhelmed by recipes, exotic ingredients and food preparation.
Go simple to start, with meals of fresh, ripe fruit or a giant salad with just a few ingredients.