Our raw-food experiment has been over for two weeks now, and I finally feel like my eating habits are my own business again.
The cycle of raw-based interactions went something like this: surprise and skepticism over the raw diet, inquiries about what is or is not raw, the mid-experiment avalanche of “how’s it going?” questions and the end-of-diet curiousity about which cooked foods each us was planning to eat first. Mine was cheese, for the record.
Although I have been greatly enjoying a variety of cooked food over the past two weeks, I have not forsworn eating raw meals, either. I’ve been making green smoothies for breakfast and eating salads for lunch and enjoying them just fine.
Still, I’m glad the raw diet is over. This month has been far busier than April was, and there’s no way I would have had enough time to eat healthy and raw while always on the run. (Not that I’m running right now – I’m actually working from home with the worst sore throat I’ve had in ages. Thank heaven I can eat chicken soup!)
As for the effects of my transition back to cooked food, I’ve found that I have more energy than I did on the raw diet. I’m not sure whether that’s a result of my physiology or just that it’s easier for me to find the nutrients my body needs in the food I’m more accustomed to eating. Either way, I’m rolling with it.
I’ve been ruined. Or saved, depending on how you look at it. The enjoyment I got from most of the food I ate pre-raw has been spoiled. What I have eaten still tastes good, but the guilt and obsession that I now choke down with it overwhelms most of the gratification. Sugar is out of the question. The only white sugar I’ve swallowed in the two weeks since we stopped being totally raw is in the one bite of cake I had at a colleague’s going away party. I want the homemade oatmeal cookies sitting on the office file cabinet, but I don’t dare. Blue raw agave and raw honey are the only sweeteners I allow myself. Red meat appears to be a definite no-no. I haven’t had one bite in more than two months now, and although it was never a regular thing for me, I used to enjoy an occasional grilled cheeseburger or steak. The thought now makes me ill. Meat in general gives me the heebies. I’ve had one or two bites of chicken. It seems the only flesh I can stomach is grilled salmon and shrimp, which I’m craving. And what’s that about? I never even liked salmon. Maybe it’s the iodine I need. Dairy seems verboten. I have enjoyed a little cheese, some my boss brought back from Madeira, and some yummy horseradish cheddar. But I can’t bring myself to eat more than a bite or two every couple of days. So far, no eggs (a former favorite), no milk or plain yogurt, all pre-raw staples. The exception to my feelings of guilt: 1/2 cup of coffee, with almond milk as a creamer and sweetened with agave. I had planned to wait for winter to go back to caffeine, but it’s been so damn cold for May, that I gave in on Mother’s Day. It was good. I could feel it coursing through my veins, strengthening my every fiber. What am I eating? Generally, green smoothies for breakfast, or chia seed pudding and fresh squeezed OJ (I’ve had toast twice.) A salad or second smoothie for lunch, or an organic apple with almond butter. For dinner, I’ve been eating another salad, or cooked veggies, lots of them — another craving I don’t understand. I have this need to throw a little olive oil, onion and garlic in a skillet and stir-fry zucchini, mushooms, spinach, peppers, any veggie I can find. Sometimes I wrap a whole-wheat tortilla around them and add some salsa, other times I eat them straight from the pan. I can’t get enough of them. Just the fact that I can remember most of the cooked food I’ve eaten since April 30 is an indication of how little I have had — or how mentally ill I’ve become: spicy black bean soup, veggie Panang curry, a few organic corn tortilla chips with mashed avocado, the above-mentioned seafood and sauteed veggie burritos. I don’t feel sick or tired when I eat cooked food, just guilty. My energy level is still high, I haven’t regained any weight, and apparently I haven’t lost the previously blogged about “glow.” An example of how far around the bend I’ve gone: It’s Mother’s Day. I get up before my family and decide to forgo my smoothie for a single slice of whole-wheat raisin pecan bread. Not toasted, no butter. I work in the yard the rest of the day and forget to eat until we’re at my new favorite Thai restaurant. I order the Panang curry, no meat, no tofu. I eat one quarter of the rice with it, and maybe 1/2 of the veggies and curry broth. When we get home, I start obsessing about the ingredients. I go on the Web. I find out it has coconut milk. Then I find out coconut milk has a whopping 50 grams of SATURATED fat per cup. There must be some mistake. I keep looking on the Internet. Wait. Light coconut milk drops to 12 grams of fat per cup. Surely that’s what I ate. It’s too late to call the restaurant. You see what I mean. Even if I drank an entire cup of the thick coconut milk, I would have still consumed less than 1,000 calories that day. And I worked in the garden for more than nine solid hours. I really need to get a grip — or a therapist. I haven’t obsessed about food like this since I was a college student. For more than 25 years I have railed against women who are obsessed about their appearance and their weight. I don’t think that is what this is about, although I’m forced to admit I don’t want to regain the weight I’ve lost. It has made exercise and dressing so much easier. So what the hell is going on? My best friend says she is not surprised. For more than 30 days, we micromanaged and monitored every morsel that went into our mouths. Hundreds of people were watching us, and still are. There is this blog post, and one more. We’ve been asked to do another television interview. People still want to talk about it. It’s almost like they are waiting for us to start looking and feeling like our pathetic, pre-raw selves. But the aftershock isn’t all bad. Some positives: I am successfully spreading the word on the miracle of chia seeds. I have two (maybe three) of my co-workers eating them, and one of my neighbors, who recently underwent cancer surgery, is extremely grateful for the chia-seed pudding I whipped up for her to help her eliminate (pun intented) the effects of the pain medication she was on. My food bill is a bit lower, even though I am buying as much organic as I can. I think it’s because I’m not buying processed foods (bread and canned items don’t count, although even with those I am buying organic and preservative-free.) Even though they are complaining a bit, my kids are eating better, because the fruits and veggies in the house are the only choice they have. And they don’t mind the homemade cookies, fruit breads and muffins (sweetened with agave) I’m making to feel the void of the processed alternatives. Will I ever revert to my poisonous, pre-raw ways? I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before I get a healthier perspective. Because those oatmeal cookies are still calling to me.
I had this strange hunger Sunday, a hollow hunger that my morning greens smoothie and hearty lunchtime salad of kale, seaweed and avocado couldn’t quite get at.
I felt it deep in my bones. I needed a blast of protein. And not this raw protein business of hemp seeds and bee pollen that I’d been relying on for more than 40 days. This sort of hunger begged for the real, decidedly un-raw deal.
And so it came to pass that I finally “broke raw” this past weekend. A hard boiled egg and a few slices of savory chicken ended my uncooked streak. I nibbled them with glee and felt wholly satiated, and not a smidge guilty. Truth be told, the end actually came with my indulgence in a wee cup of coffee the morning before.
I woke bleary-eyed to the hated piles of laundry I’d put off all week. As I lugged them down to the laundromat with dread, the corner coffee shop beckoned — a comforting, caffeinated distraction. And I surrendered. A lovely reunion, that first sip.
Still, beyond those transgressions, it’s been all-raw for me since the official end to our 30 days. And I use the word “transgressions” loosely. As I wrote in my last post, I’ve been approaching each day, each meal as it comes. I’m not playing by any set of rules. I’m just eating as it makes sense to me, thinking about how what I put in my mouth now will feel in my body tomorrow. And funny thing, as I’ve been doing that I’ve been chugging along on raw anyhow. (Though full disclosure, there’ve been ample amounts of red wine involved, too).
So I continue along. Aside from that one cup, I haven’t felt pulled to coffee the mornings since. I’m going to try to hold to that as long as I can (if only for admittedly vain reasons: my sister swears my skin looks better without all that drying caffeine). I’m aiming for as high a raw diet as practical. But I can also say that when I meet a friend for lunch later today, there’s a good chance there’ll be some grilled salmon on my salad plate. (Mmm...grilled salmon).
It should be easy enough. For now. The real challenge comes in a few weeks, when I’ll be visiting family in Poland. Forget that the elders feel personally affronted if you decline even a morsel of their food. But there’s not too much of a raw selection on their traditional meat-and-potatoes menu. The only thing I know of that the Poles do raw is cow’s milk.
Done properly, eating raw food isn't just part of your life, it becomes your life.
During the past 30 days, I've learned definitively I don't have the time or, frankly, the interest it takes to live at such a high raw threshold: Soaking and sprouting seeds or nuts before I can eat them, sorting through the reams of advice and counter-advice, monitoring the minute details of my digestive process. It's just not for me.
That's not all I learned, however, when I gave up meat and dairy products and anything cooked above 118 degrees. And though I was initially determined not to, I even gave up coffee (mostly because I ran out of beans before I had a chance to buy more).
With those things off limits, I found myself necessarily paying closer attention to the food I've been eating. Because I've prepared much of it myself, I know what ingredients comprise pretty much everything I have ingested, and that's surprisingly empowering. It's also what I'll take with me as I return to a more inclusive diet.
There are parts of the raw-food diet I'll keep. Salads of sprouts and dark, leafy greens, for example, and breakfast smoothies, along with certain dishes that were delicious. I'll be eating more fruits and vegetables and way less processed food.
I also plan on eating meat and cheese and bread, and by the time you read this, I will have already brewed myself a hot cup of dark-roast coffee.
I doubt the level of raw food in my diet will qualify for what raw foodists call "high raw," but that's OK: Henceforth, I don't mind getting most of my "Raw Power" from Iggy & the Stooges.
The beauty of a fantasy is that it can change at will. Instead of that lonely tropical island I longed for, I am now on a yacht, sailing warm, calm seas. I am still alone. Well, almost alone. There is a chef on board — a culinary master with unimaginable skills. She knows Thai. She knows Indian, Mexican, Cajun, Asian, Caribbean. And, yes, she knows raw. Tropical green smoothies for breakfast. Luscious salads for lunch. And endless, eclectic delights for dinner. With so many choices in the world, and so little time to enjoy them, why would I settle for just one option? After 30 days of eating exclusively raw foods, I am hungry for variety. That doesn’t mean I won’t carry a lot with me from this experiment. My eating habits definitely have changed permanently. I’m not willing to forgo the extra energy I feel or to regain the small amount of weight I have lost, which makes exercising so much easier. And although this is a healthful way to eat, it’s not the only healthful way, and I don’t see my life taking me down an exclusively raw path — mostly because of its limitations, but also because I am just not an extremist in anything I do. So I won’t be sad to leave this experiment behind, but I won’t be going back to SAD, either. I envision eating salads, smoothies and chia seeds daily. Soaked nuts, almond butter and almond milk are here to stay. Raw agave and honey will be my sweetener of choice. Processed foods are mostly part of my past. But I will be eating dinner with my family and dining out with my friends in moderation. My choices on those occasions will no doubt include more raw, but not exclusively. What I won’t miss? The monotony. Green juices. Multiple trips to Whole Foods. Thinking today about what I’m having for tomorrow’s dinner. And my bathroom. Will I ever eat exclusively raw again? Only if my yacht sinks, my chef drowns and I end up stranded on that island after all.
Yesterday's paper carried essays from the three of us explaining what we plan to do, post-raw. Here's what I wrote. Be sure to check back on the blog in two weeks, and then in a month, to see how we're doing.
There's a perception that this month of going raw has been about deprivation, that a celebration of burgers and fries awaited at the end. But for me, that would be beside the point of going raw in the first place. And it's not at all how I've been looking at this challenge.
I wanted to give raw food a go to quiet the frenetic pace I had found myself in -- eating on the run, chewing on sugary sweets, slapping meals together without much thought. I felt tired and burned out, and I hoped a living-foods lifestyle would be the pick-me-up I needed.
None of us came to raw to tackle a major health problem, as a lot of people suffering from chronic illness or obesity do. And that's where you'll hear a lot of the stories of staggering transformations, of people vibing big-time on raw.
Still, it's fair to say I saw my own tangible shifts. Did I find the raw bliss I envisioned? No. Do I feel better, lighter and more alert? Without question. I no longer rely on a java jolt to wake me in the mornings, and I don't have the afternoon slumps that drew me to the office coffeepot for another cup. I've learned there's a lot more variety and pleasure in eating raw than I expected. And I've found a balance that keeps me energized enough to sweat through my evening spinning classes.
Am I going 100 percent raw? I don't see that in my permanent future. But I see it for today, tomorrow and probably next week. I figure, I'm in a raw groove and feeling good, so I might as well stick with it until I decide it's not working for me. Why fix what ain't broke?
Still, rigid rules aren't my bag. So I'm certain I'll find my way to the coffeepot and an order of grilled salmon soon enough. I enjoy those things too much to swear off them for life.
But for now, I'm keeping as high a raw diet as is practical in the daily grind and seeing where it takes me.
People keep congratulating us -- like we've done something special.
But people set challenges for themselves all the time, diet or otherwise. They succeed. They fail. They try again.
But they don't do it with hundreds of people watching.
So on this evening, during the last few hours of our little experiment, that's what I'm looking forward to most. Not breakfast, but the choice to choose what I eat without it being so public -- the choice to fail or succeed without letting anyone else down.
Don't get me wrong. I've truly enjoyed most of this, but I'm not sure I could have done it without the pressure of everyone watching.
So I don't feel that I have done anything that challenging or special. The people who are conquering real challenges are the raw foodists who are constantly bombarded with the memory and smells of cooked foods but resist eating them because they believe it is what is best for mind and body.
So I'm happy to be out of the public eye, but I'm willing to let you know what I'm eating for breakfast on the first day of my new semi-raw life:
One piece of sprouted-grain toast with organic butter and raw honey, chia seed and almond milk pudding and organic freshly squeezed oj.
People have been asking me what's on the menu for my breakfast tomorrow, the first official meal outside the confines of this raw experiment.
Answer: Probably a greens-and-fruit smoothie.
You can read more in tomorrow's paper about what exactly the three of us plan to do, post-raw. But I'll just say this much. I wasn't looking at this challenge as, well a challenge. It wasn't an experiment of deprivation with the reward dangling at the end of 30 days to pig out. In fact, it didn't feel very depriving at all. I came to this month of raw out of curiosity, and to see if I could dust off some good health habits that had fallen to the wayside. I had a slow, frustrating start. But standing on this side of 30 days, I'd say mission accomplished.
One of the coolest things about this process, though, has been the response. I've heard from a good number of people who've said reading along has made them reflect on their own dietary choices, and think a little harder about what they're putting into their mouths and onto the table for their families. It doesn't have to be a question of 100 percent raw or nothing. Cutting back on sugar and packaged foods, putting out more fresh fruits and vegetables, scaling back on caffeine. Even my mother, come to find out, has been inspired to make green smoothies her breakfast and lunch staple. (We'll set aside the fact she has some strange combinations. Romaine lettuce, fruit and...red bell peppers?)
All these little steps that people have told me they're making can add up to big changes. I fully believe that.
Last weekend, I finally had a chance to watch an advance review copy of "Raw for 30 Days", the documentary film that, in part, inspired our experiment. (None of us, however, came into this trying to treat a major health issue). The movie's new title is "Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days" and it's set to premiere at the Newport International Film Festival in Rhode Island in June. It's a provocative film and worthwhile viewing for anyone exploring the connection between food and illness. Hopefully it'll spark an important conversation about the way we look at health and medicine in this country.
So am I going 100 percent raw? I won't answer that right now. But the question is, if I do, do you think my editors will let me change my byline to Courant Raw Staff Writer?