How to succeed on a raw food diet - what I and other raw food enthusiasts have learned the hard way. Enjoy raw, don't go too extreme, stay balanced and healthy.
- Eat bee pollen for energy, protein and B12 vitamin. Supplement with B12 sublingual spray where necessary. Nutritional yeast and algae, e.g. spirulina, may help too. (But yeast is not recommended if your stomach bloats easily.)
- Eat plenty of greens (easiest in juice or smoothie form) - as dark colour as possible (e.g. lettuce, wild greens) - rotate your greens. Note: raw cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, may slow your thyroid down - therefore it is not recommended to eat them raw in any large quantity.
- Get yourself tested at least once, ideally twice a year for deficiencies or imbalances. Many tests are available at Genova Diagnostics - www.gdx.net - but you will need to collaborate with a doctor or a nutritionist to order the home tests for you. Test and prices can be viewed online.
- Eat plenty of fruit and berries for carbohydrate energy and to ensure enough calories. Frozen berries may give nausea or stomach ache whereas fresh berries usually won't. There is also a risk of bacterial contamination (there have been recent warnings) when eating frozen berries uncooked. However, you can always freeze your own berries from fresh.
- If you cannot tolerate fruit, tackle this problem first before beginning a high-raw diet. In my case fruit intolerance seemed to be linked to an infection which was eliminated with blood electrification and avoidance of dairy. I am not fruit intolerant anymore.
- Unless you eat copious amounts of fruit, ensure that you get carbohydrates from other healthy sources, for example from raw sprouted millet, sprouted quinoa, or sprouted wild rice. These keep hunger well. Soaked raw oat groats may be beneficial (raw porridge), however, in my case they cause bloatedness and some claim that grains should not be eaten unsprouted at all. Too low-carbohydrate diets will sap your energy, athletic performance and can be dangerous. It is important to find healthy sources of carbohydrates that work for you and your unique body.
- Ensure you get enough protein, e.g. from spirulina, algae, sprouts, green vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted beans, etc. You can take an amino acid supplement and/or Bragg's liquid amino acids as well though they will not be raw.
- Keep snacks nearby all the time - dates, bananas, your favourite nuts and dried fruits (dried mango, cashew nuts, raisins, figs, plums rolled in liquorice powder, etc.). If you have lots of time to spare you can make raw chocolate cake/mousse or dehydrated sweet potato crisps, sweet potato cakes, or even kale crisps handy. But as plan B, have the quick ready snacks as well.
- Make sure that each meal (especially breakfast) includes a healthy form of fat, to keep hunger. Avocado smoothie or cashew cream salad dressing are my staples. Cacao butter, coconut oil, olive oil and seed pastes come handy too.
- Make sure you eat enough! As you overcome certain cooked food addictions (e.g. processed carbs, sugars, cheese, etc.) it becomes easier to tolerate hunger. You may get complacent and lazy and start to eat less and less food. While some advanced raw foodists (notably Tonya Zavasta) claim that eating as little as possible is most healthful, it is certainly not the case for the first few years of being majority raw. If you don't eat enough, you will slowly become more and more tired and miss out on all the fun!
- Ensure that the food you eat is high in nutrients. Nutrient-per-calorie score (ANDI) is used by Dr. Fuhrman to determine which foods keep your energies high. Don't eat calorie dense foods which are not high in nutrients. Nutrient-high foods keep cravings away and energies high.
- If you react negatively to dried foods, consider that they may be moldy. I can't eat nuts or nut butters unless I soak them in ozonated water first - that is sufficient to kill the moulds and other oxygen-sensitive pathogens, e.g. bacteria. Sometimes buying the same food from a different manufacturer is helpful to ensure better quality.
- Don't make your food too complex. When I first started eating raw and 'super-healthy', I crammed endless ingredients into my smoothies, including superfoods, herbs from around the world, supplements, etc. This is not a good idea. You will completely confuse your body, your taste buds, and yourself. Focus on simple foods because they are easy to digest - e.g. smoothies with three ingredients (e.g. greens, fruits or berries, water). Don't confuse your body with many concentrated ingredients or with very big changes to how you're used to eating.
- Never skip breakfast. Never have junk for breakfast as breakfast sets your whole day and throwing your body out of balance first thing in the morning is not a good idea.
- Get to know your cravings. Most cravings are usually for salty foods, fatty foods, sugary foods (bread and pasta are included in this category - as explained here), or for protein. Make sure that you have a healthy meal replacement idea for each of these cravings. Buy the ingredients for these regularly or in bulk.
- Only attempt 100% raw food in the short term. At my first trials of 100% raw seemed easier than I had thought, but it is a huge and sudden change for the body, mind and your habits. It seems kind of 'violent' to force your whole being into this new life suddenly without warning. My experience of 100% raw diets was that I got great benefits on some days but also down days when I felt very unwell. I wasn't used to not feeling hunger so I went too long times without any food, which caused me to feel weak the next day and probably also caused some long-term damage. The reality will be that what you now think is the ideal diet will go through many changes before you find a right balance through experience. Therefore do 100% raw trials as experiments, if you feel very inspired to, but in the long-term it's better to change things slower because that is the only way to hear your body's message and to adjust to something new and amazing with success.
- Make sure that your new diet doesn't cause stress in your life. Our primary addiction in life is for happiness. We want to be happy and should be happy - therefore, if your new diet takes too much away from your happiness short-term, without any guarantee of great benefits in the long-term, you will at some point make the intelligent decision to quit the diet. Keep it fun and take baby steps. Make sure you feed your taste buds, it's more important than you might first think.
- Quit caffeine before starting on a raw food diet. If you are mostly eating light food, caffeine (as well as other toxins) can have a much worse effect on you than before. In addition, it decreases hunger, making it very easy to overdrink caffeinated drinks and to undereat. You will feel very weak in no time.
- Beware of taking your health too seriously. There is a disease spreading among the health bloggers and the new health conscious web-savvy generations, where people literally burn out from too much exercise, too little calories and very restricted diets. Keep a balance. When exercising, you need recovery days for best and quickest results. When dieting, you have to keep it fun, don't let it be stressful. Eat enough calories to keep your energy levels up and your brain functioning but ensure that they are from healthy wholefood sources, ideally raw.
- You may have to avoid artifically concentrated foods, such as syrups. This depends on the individual and some people may be fine with healthier forms of syrups in moderation. For sweetening, use dates, honey, or perhaps apple juice and always eat them with fiber and/or protein to avoid blood sugar swings. Cinnamon can be used in small quantities as an additional help to balance blood sugar.
- Prepare food in advance when you are NOT hungry and busy. When hungry it becomes a lot more difficult to go to shop and/or to prepare food. This applies to all diets.
- Try to plan your meals at least one day ahead if you can.
- You should have a Plan B of your diet figured out for days when you don't want to cook but just want to leave the house as soon as you wake up. Fruit is fast food, you can buy it anywhere. However, you will also need fat, salt and protein to stay satisfied. Keep snacks ready so you can take them with you.
- When eating out in restaurants, call ahead if possible to ask for slight adjustments to the menu. In practice you will probably find yourself eating out much less than you used to due to lack of raw meal choices on the menus. If you do eat out with non-raw friends, have a smoothie before going to the restaurant to make it easier to resist temptation of junk foods.
- Allow yourself to cheat on the diet once in a while, however, eliminate everything that you know throws you off-track the next day. Foods that cause huge cravings and make you feel unbalanced are likely ones that you are intolerant of or very addicted to. Often it can be a sign that you can't break down the certain food and therfore you become intolerant to it. Digestive enzymes before the meal can help a great deal. Keep in mind also, however, that strong cravings may be due to a deficiency. The only way to be sure is to get your nutrient levels tested. On the other hand, we often crave sugary foods when we are low on energy. This can be remedied either by eating more high-nutrient, easy-to-digest foods (as recommended by Dr. Fuhrman), such as green juices, or by drinking freshly-pressed fruit juices. Whether fruit juice is healthful or not is controversial, however, so check your reaction to it carefull and if in doubt, drink in smoothie form with some fruit fiber and perhaps spirulina included.
- Eat before you get hungry. I know many advanced raw foodists pride on NOT eating until they are hungry but at the same time many raw foodists are know to end up dangerously malnourished or with their bodies out of balance. This approach ensures that 1) you eat enough and 2) you won't have to fight cravings nearly as much. (Take cravings seriously. They work in subtle ways and play upon your subconscious mind. You won't feel like dying of 'cold turkey' but you WILL find that your mind starts coming up with increasingly clever reasons and excuses for quitting the diet.)
- Boredom is one of the greatest challenges for any change. The first days and possibly weeks of a new lifestyle are exciting but the changes never seem to come quickly enough or be long-lasting enough and the enthusiasm will wax and wane. At times when your mind is temporarily occupied by something else than enthusiasm for your new way of eating the earlier decisions and commitments will come to seem insignificant. The best way to fight off this 'evil' is to anticipate it: Expect to get bored. Practice patience. You won't get to the point where you reap rewards unless you get past this test first. Try and get yourself into a state of mind where you don't question whether you should stick to the diet or not but you devote yourself for a certain period of time, e.g. 30 days. Keeping a diary helps many people immensely.
- Keep a diary. This helps to notice the changes, many of which build subtly day by day and, when occupied with your daily chores and living, you won't have time to reflect on how you feel unless you take a moment to stop and think about this.
- Write a list of challenges which you think may hinder your enthusiasm on the way: e.g. in my case: 1) Will I become too thin and my boyfriend won't like me anymore? 2) Will I run out of money? 3) Will there be special occasions where I will feel entitled to 'cheat'?, etc. ... and address these in advance by finding solutions, anticipating how you will feel and reasoning about these, and also, importantly, deciding break-points, good enough reasons to quit - e.g. if my weight falls below a certain point or if I spend too much money (specific amount) I will allow myself to quit and re-evaluate. But be specific. Don't leave any room for creative bending of the rules later ;)
- Stock up on interesting and inspiring reading on raw foods. These will inspire you but will also work as affirmations to your subconscious mind, which will be a great asset if 'programmed' to help you succeed.
- Take hot baths to help with detox and to relax into your body's feelings. Make sure there is 'unplanned' time where you can just let your mind wander. This is always important but even more so when you are making big life changes.
- Exercise. Make it a habit to exercise 3-5 days per week so you sweat (include both muscle strength training and endurance/cardio). 2-4 days per week should be dedicated to stretching and/or non-sweaty, lighter exercises. Train your body between 5 minutes to 1 hour everyday. The important part is to form a habit of doing something every day. Monitor your pulse if running so as not overdo it, to ensure best results. Make sure you enjoy the exercise. Don't push yourself too hard. Exercise less at a time and more often. For each muscle group, have one rest day in between training days - e.g. train leg muscles one day, arms the next, have a rest day, then core strength on day 4, running on day 5, take a rest on day 6, and yoga on day 7.
- Shop for food every day or schedule a regular food delivery. Make a list of what to keep stocking up constantly. In my case this includes: avocados, bananas, apples, fresh berries, extra virgin olive oil, kale, lettuce, lemons, dates, a variety of nuts, sea salt, 100% licorice powder, dried plums, flax seeds, spring water, orange juice, soya sauce, wasabi paste, chilli sauce, other fruits and vegetables, coconut oil, raw crackers. The more stock the better.
- You can also freeze bananas for using in 'ice kream' or smoothies. Anything fatty takes well to freezing, including nut-based sauces, cashew kream etc.
- Don't drink alcohol or take synthetic drugs. These bring the body out of balance. Some raw foodists drink alcohol although from my experience the more this is limited the better (but then again I have histamine intolerance). However, if you choose to drink alcohol, choose as clean drinks as possible, without chemicals, eat high-fat raw foods before and after drinking, drink plenty of water with fresh lemon juice before bed, take a B vitamin complex supplement, and follow the instructions in 'how to cure a hangover'.
- Practice eating raw foods on the go. Lettuce leaves on their own can be quite filling, because of the fiber. Fruit is available everywhere. Keep nuts and seeds with you always. Have a plan for what to have on the go for 1) fat, 2) protein, 3) carbohydrate, 4) tasty and/or salty foods.
- Recognise that it is almost impossible to be 100% raw unless you can afford your own chef and have finances available for very special food deliveries. Nuts, for example, are usually not raw, even if labelled 'raw'. Some seeds sprout and some don't - the latter have probably been heat-dried. Extra virgin olive oil is not always raw... It is not necessary to be 100% raw to get huge benefits, but it IS necessary to stay away from processed food as much as possible, because only small amount of preservatives, or other chemicals can have surpisingly strong effects on how you feel everyday.
- Eliminate food intolerances, using the pulse test.
- Be dairy-free.
- Understand that not all raw foods may suit your body. Experiment.
- Don't overdo exotic superfoods. Get most of your nutrition from fresh, local produce. The strong herbs and ingredients have different effects on different people. Ideally, consult a master-herbalist or a Chinese Doctor before taking too many of these.
- Consider that your body may not like too much fiber. Whereas most people are adviced to eat more fiber, raw foodists may get too much of it, and too suddenly. Fruit fiber usually causes no problems, but vegetable fiber can be harder to digest. If you get negative symptoms after eating huge salads, for example (my problem is unquenchable thirst), consider blending your vegetables, juicing them, choosing softer-fiber veggies, cooking them in a soup, fermenting them with probiotics (e.g. probiotic apple chutney recipe), marinating them, eating them with fat, or finding other ways to help your digestive system process them.
- Be vegan. I've tried eating raw eggs and raw cheese but both seem to reduce the benefits of a raw food lifestyle. Some people say they need animal products to stay healthy but try the vegan lifestyle first and monitor your nutrient levels.
- Consider taking a multi-mineral supplement, extracted from natural waters. According to Dr. Joel Wallach, vitamins and other nutrients won't work without minerals. He also advices that minerals won't work in isolation, they use each other as catalysts - therefore take a multi-mineral supplement which is is right proportions and not isolated mineral supplements.
- Consider blood electrification for eliminating parasites and infectious agents.
- Never have green juice, chaga mushroom tea, or other strong foods or drinks on an empty stomach as this will quite likely result in stomach pain and/or nausea. At the very least dilute them a lot.
- Keep yourself warm since your body is not getting heat from food anymore. Take hot baths, wrap up with warm clothes, be out in the sun, exercise, go to sauna, drink hot tea. This is more important than most people think (unless you live in a hot country or are a professional athlete), whereas the practitioners of Chinese Medicine know very well the far-reaching consequences too much cold and damp can have on the body. Animals balance eating cold foods with huge amounts of movement and exercise, as well as by having fur. Your body is used to getting more of its heat through food than you think - you will have to retrain it slowly.
- Keep in mind that 99% of the raw foodists in the world do not eat 100% raw food all the time. More important than avoiding all cooked or heat-treated foods is to eliminate toxic and chemical foods - as well as those that don't agree with your individual body. Best health comes from clean eating, exercise, being in nature, wholefood supplementing for deficiencies, the elimination of inflammation and infections, and a stress-free, happy, sociable and exciting/ fulfilling lifestyle.
- Eat enough solid foods, don't live on juices and smoothies only if you get signs of indigestion - i.e. bloatedness, feelings of being too full for a long time after eating, etc. Your digestive juices may work better when not diluted by lots of liquid.
- Don't drink your smoothies too quickly! Sip on them over time.
- Consider that if you don't get enough calories in your daily diet you may get headaches, feel weak, or even possibly develop anxiety. Fruit, some nuts and nut butters, seed butters, some olive oil and other fats, avocado, dates, etc. should help you add some calories to each of your meals if they tend to be too low otherwise.
- Make dehydrated sweet potato cakes, or include sweet potatoes (NOT normal white potatoes!) and other root vegetables in your smoothies to get some raw starches for energy.
- Find out about the toxins and anti-nutrients in certain raw foods, e.g. too much raw broccoli can cause hypothyroidism, too much raw pak choy is toxic, potatoes should not be eaten raw at all (sweet potatoes are said to be ok though), etc. Note that herbs with strong effects should be researched first before eating, e.g. raw liquorice powder (yellow), though a medicinal plant, can be dangerous in too large doses whereas the processed version (black) has milder effects.
- Aim for small long-term changes instead of big short-term diets.
- Trust your instincts. There is no perfect diet ready laid out for you. Take inspiration from other people's diet ideas but tweak them to your liking. Since your body, mind and lifestyle are unique, your perfect diet will be a combination of different things. Trust your own judgement and listen carefully to your feelings.
- As your energy begins to increase, don't go straight into 'superhuman-mode' and start sleeping less and doing more. This is a common mistake. Enjoy the extra energy and remember to incorporate rest and relaxing activities in your days. Let your body use the new energy for detoxification and cellular repairs. The detox tends to come in waves and if you spend all the extra energy on additional activities, work, and chores, you will not be prepared for when the detoxification wave hits you, but you will feel exhausted and find it increasingly challenging to keep up your new healthy lifestyle. On some days you will probably need more sleep in the beginning than before. Detoxification requires extra effort by the body, give it a chance to begin rejuvenating you!
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