I had such fun in my first year of raw! I ate all sorts of things as long as they were technically, theoretically...(at a pinch?) 'raw', and vegetarian/vegan. I watched various health problems melt away...I felt excited, exhilarated - on a raw 'high'!
I discovered Natural Hygiene. The simplicity, the logic, made absolute sense to me, and out went the dehydrated foods, the 'superfoods', the complex raw-food-pretending-to-be-cooked 'abombo-combo' dishes, making way for a love affair with fruit that has never abated!
At time of writing I've been raw for three and a half years. And '100%/close to' for all but the first few months. But...about eighteen months into my raw food journey, I had a period in which the list of 'non-optimal' foods that I felt I should prohibit myself from eating seemed to be growing daily with my reading, and, as well as feeling anxious about my food, I had fallen into the trap (that, ironically, so many cooked-food eaters are in) of having my life revolve around food, with every day full of dilemmas as to whether I should or shouldn't eat something, and what the consequences for my body would be.
Raw fooders by definition are people who hold themselves to very high standards, and we're generally enthusiastic 'all or nothing' types. The problem is that, if we push ourselves beyond the point we're ready to go to too quickly, placing too many restrictions on ourselves too soon, we can get to the point where we actually deserve the much misused term 'orthorexia' that cooked-food eaters love to apply to those following healthy diets, and in our constant worrying and ruminating can become poor advertisements for raw food.
There seems to be a downer/dilemma attached to just about everything that's a candidate for the raw fooder's gullet.
Have you ever denied yourself raw food you've desired because you've been worrying about one (or more...) of these?
AVOCADO 'I must only have half as Raw Food Teacher A says a whole one is too much.'
THE OTHER HALF OF THE AVOCADO 'Oh no - can't have it now. It's...oxidised!'
AVOCADO 'Maybe I shouldn't have it at all. People on the forum I like say it's 'clogging'.'
BANANA 'Mustn't eat it because my forum buddies say it's unripe unless covered with blotches/spots.'
BEETROOT 'Raw Food Teacher B says we shouldn't eat it as it's a high-sugar hybrid.'
CUT BAGGED SALAD. 'Hmm...would be so easy. But it's probably washed in chlorine.'
BRASSICAS 'Possible link with thyroid disorders?'
FRUIT 'Can only have x pieces a day as Raw Food Teacher C says any more is bad for us.'
FRUIT 'Can't buy that; it's not organic.'
FRUIT 'Can't buy those; they're not Fairtrade.'
FRUIT 'Can't buy those; they're not local.'
FRUIT 'Can't buy those; they're flown in.'
(CITRUS) FRUIT 'Can't have any more of those; could be bad for my teeth.'
(DRIED) FRUIT. (Ditto above.)
FLAX CRACKERS 'Shouldn't have dehydrated food.'
GARLIC 'Hmm...Debbie Took's article was quite persuasive and it said...no.'
HERBS 'Can't have those as toxic and, anyway, we shouldn't eat anything 'we can't make a meal of'.
JUICE 'Raw Food Teacher D says we shouldn't juice, as fibre and other nutrients are lost.'
LACUMA 'It's a powder, and powder isn't food.'
MUSHROOMS 'Shouldn't eat them as they're a fungus.'
NUTS 'Shouldn't eat them as Raw Food Teacher E says they're difficult to digest and not 'optimal'.
NUTS. They're dried...should only eat them from the tree in my garden when in season (er - me recently!)
NUT BUTTER 'Can't have that as it's not fresh, and it's processed.'
PUMPKIN SEEDS 'Can't have those as already had 10% fat today.'
OIL 'Can't have that as it's a fractionated food.'
OLIVES 'Can't have those as they've been salted.'
ONIONS 'Natural Hygiene says they're not food for us.'
RAWGOURMET FOOD 'Transition food' is only for beginners! 'Transition foods' are high in fat. 'Transition food' will drive you back to cooked food.' (Etc.)
ROMAINE LETTUCE 'I musn't eat it today, as I have to 'rotate my greens'.
ROOT VEG 'Perhaps shouldn't eat as once pulled from the ground the plant can't continue growing.'
SEA VEG 'Can't have that as I'm vegan and minute sea creatures get caught in the harvesting.'
SMOOTHIE 'Raw Food Teacher F says 90% of the nutrients are lost in blending.'
SPICES 'Can't have those - toxic stimulants.'
SPINACH 'Can't have too much as could be too much oxalic acid.'
SPROUTS 'Those following the diet I aspire to say they're 'pointless'.'
TOMATOES/PEPPERS 'They're 'nightshades'...'
SPROUTED WHEAT 'My forum buddies think grains are the devil.'
I'm not going to give my own views as to the validity of any of the statements above. Regular readers will know that I've planted a few of the 'downers' as above in my own articles. Suffice to say that some I agree with, and others I very much disagree with!
But, if this article has caught you at a point somewhere between the 'honeymoon' phase of the raw food diet and men in white coats knocking on the door, I do hope it will turn things around for you!
When I found myself, in that second summer, in a place where the raw food diet was making me feel anxious, I made some changes.
I stayed raw, but relaxed a little within the raw food diet. (I don't recommend that anyone relax into eating more cooked food - I've seen that happen with others too often to be convinced that it is anything other than the road back to ill health!)
When attending raw food potlucks, instead of taking fruit and leaves and eating nothing of others' offerings (feeling a little smug wearing my Natural Hygiene 'hat') I decided that I would instead partake of the various things on offer - cacao (toxic stimulant), fermented foods (that fizz - I'm sure we shouldn't be eating them!), nut/fruit pies (sure-fire recipe for 'football tummy'), dehydrated cookies, all sorts of weird concoctions.
When I went to California, as well as returning to our holiday home laden with piles of fruit and the most amazing romaine lettuces I'd ever tasted from farmers' markets, I partook of the rawgourmet cuisine out there with gusto! I tried packaged 'Leaf Cuisine' rawgourmet, visited well-known raw food restaurants, and ate dehydrated, salty food, because...I wanted to tick them off on my list of raw food restaurants 'experienced', wanted to take my husband, and because...they were fun! Places where raw food people gather have a buzz around them that always gives me a high, whatever the variant of raw food is on offer.
This relaxation within the raw food diet rejuvenated me. I've never looked back, and two years later am still very happily raw. If you can identify with any of this, whether you've been raw for months, years, decades, I hope my experience here can help. As I know of some people who didn't just spend a few weeks feeling anxious like I did, but have spent years feeling this way, and who, I believe, may well benefit from retracing steps a little before going forward again.
Let's remind ourselves of how far we've come.
Anyone who's following a Natural Hygiene-oriented raw food diet (which is how I describe mine) is light years from the standard cooked diet of the previous life.
Years of conditioning on a damaged, multi-ingredient cooked food diet dies hard. For most people, going raw is in itself such a huge step that restricting ourselves too soon within raw can backfire.
If eating 'less-than-optimal' raw food helps you enjoy your raw food diet more, go for it!
Oil, for example, is not an ideal food. Ideally we should be eating our salad without it. But a while ago, after visiting VitaOrganic in Wardour St, London W1, I developed a passion for huge crunchy brassica salads. I'd had such a lovely day in Soho and I had a psychological urge to recreate the meal I'd had there. I missed out the apple cider vinegar (for me that would be going too far!), but dressed my salad with cold-pressed sesame oil and lime juice, and...a little salt, which again, we should NOT be putting into our bodies - see my article on this!).
Sure, there's a valid and logical Natural Hygiene argument that says we should be able to eat foods without adornments and that these can pervert the tastebuds resulting in our being unable to enjoy food in its pure natural state. However....I cut myself some slack there and greatly enjoyed crunchy salads for several weeks. After a few servings, I cut out the salt! I'm not so enthusiastic about them now, but perhaps at that time my body was very much welcoming a particular nutrient abundant in red cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli!
Food is not the only thing that affects our health
So you went to a raw food picnic and had dehydrated cookies. But you spent three hours sitting in the fresh air, in the sun and interacting with other raw fooders! Sure, you could have stayed indoors mono-eating grapes. Which is better?
We can eat more avocado than someone else might consider 'optimal', go out for an hour and smile at everyone we meet, improving our mental well-being, not to mention that of others. Or we could spend that time furiously hammering the keyboard in a bid to convince someone on a raw food forum who happens to follow a raw food diet different from ours of the errors of their ways.
Raw food leaders are often more relaxed with their diets than their followers
I remember asking Dr Doug Graham ('80/10/10 Diet') whether he would be taking his own food to a party at SAF (London rawgourmet/vegan restaurant) recently. SAF food is just about as far from the high-fruit and leaves 811 diet that it is possible to get. He said no, that he would be having an '811 holiday' that day. Doug follows the policy that's it's the lifestyle you lead most of the time that is key to state of health.
I've seen 811 adherents on forums tell others firmly that herbs and spices such as basil, rosemary, cinnamon etc weren't '811'. In that case, someone should tell Doug that, as he enjoys them all.
(I'm using Doug as an example here only because he's the raw food leader I know the best. I also believe he has an integrity that certain other raw food leaders lack, and I've found he is upfront and honest about his (excellent) diet.)
Raw food leaders are fallible human beings
If a raw food leader has firmly told you that x or y is the way to go (or not go), that it is 'impossible' to be successfully long-term raw if you eat 'x', or 'impossible' to be successfully long-term raw if you don't eat 'x', please don't believe them! Because there are thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) who are living contradictions of these diktats!
Also, however authoritatively your raw food leader talks, there will be other raw food leaders of equal intelligence, experience and love for their fellow-men and women that will feel differently.
And the raw food diet that your raw food leader promotes is just one variant of the raw food diet - the variant that they have come to prefer. I love a high-fruit diet myself but can see from the evidence of those thriving on other sorts of raw food diet that it is not the 'only way'.
Do we pay a price for eating 'less than optimal' foods?
For sure. Whenever we ingest a toxin (eg salt), or alter a food so that it is significantly different from the natural (eg dehydration) or mix lots of different foods that were never meant to be eaten together (eg foods from different parts of the world), we must surely pay a price. For me, it would not be logical to think otherwise.
But, if our overall vitality is high ('nerve-energy' in Natural Hygiene parlance) our bodies should be able to manage occasional transgressions. For example, if we eat salty poor food combinations at raw food restaurants, we may experience symptoms later. We may feel thirsty. We may get a tummy-ache. We may get gas. If we only partake of these foods occasionally I believe (OK, I'm hoping!) that there will be short-term eliminative symptoms only. If we ate these sorts of foods every day we could assume a greater and more long-term negative effect on our health. But occasional short-term symptoms from partaking infrequently should simply 'remarry' us to the sorts of raw foods we know we feel best on. We may find ourselves consuming a far higher proportion of fruit and leaves in the days to come than we would have done otherwise. When we are raw, I think we can trust our bodies to set up desires which will 'even things out.'
if you really feel like papayas, but are denying yourself because they're not organic, because they'll have to ripen in the kitchen rather than under the sun, because they've been flown in...buy those delicious papayas - your body's crying out for them! If you feed your body what it desires rather than what your mind (or a raw food teacher, or those on a raw food forum) tell you you should or shouldn't, you'll feel all the better for it and be far better equipped to change the world/persuade supermarket managers to stock organic papayas etc!
If right now you have a desire for some raw food that you've prohibited because you do believe it's 'not ideal', consider having some! Have a whale of a time eating all sorts of raw foods you've denied yourself. My experience is that it will not 'open the floodgates' but in fact will more likely make you appreciate even more the sort of food you like to eat most of the time.
It can be hard on the ego (I do know!) to admit that perhaps we've pushed ourselves just a little further than we were ready to go. It may mean some loss of face on your favourite NH/811 raw food forum to say that, yes, you went to Euphoria RawRevolution yesterday, had 'sunburgers' and enjoyed them! But, actually, at the end of the day, other people worry less about your diet than you do, and so what if someone gives you a 'ticking off'!
If you are fine eating whole mono foods only, have been doing so for twenty years, then this article is not for you. However, for the remaining 99% of my readers...if you at any time find you're kicking against self-imposed shackles, I suggest retreat a little, regroup and make further 'improvements' (and, as discussed, that can be a subjective thing!) only when you wholeheartedly want to make them.
I now follow a policy of eating whole, unprocessed foods in simple combinations most of the time.
But I reserve the right to eat virtually any plant food raw, in any quantity I fancy, as long as it's not been heat-damaged. On a close-to-100% raw food diet, that's as far as I want to go right now while I turn my attention to non-food aspects of my lifestyle, the improvement of which could improve my health far more than cutting down on pumpkin seeds could.
I do aim for 'purist' - it's a goal. It is a sin, however small we might like to persuade ourselves it is (and you can see in this article that I do my share of that!), to fall beneath the standards we know we can achieve and our bodies will manifest the consequences of our transgressions from what is perfect. But let's remember how far we've come, and continue to improve, but only at a rate that we feel happy with. Our 'inner selves'/'higher power'/the universe/God will give us a shove when we need to move on again, and when that happens we will be given the strength to find it easy to take a few more steps forward. We need to distinguish between that direction, direction we can trust, from the perplexing and sometimes destructive stuff our minds can get up to from listening to the opinions of other human beings.
It's this policy - of having a great time enjoying all sorts of raw foods, of (at least this point in my raw food journey) not placing too many restrictions on myself within raw, that has enabled me to stay raw now for three and a half years, without any cooked food cravings, without ever 'falling off the wagon'.
It's this policy that enables me to enjoy the raw food diet, and stay...rawforlife!