Raw pesto pasta at Giva, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2013
After 6.5 years of eating an extremely high raw diet (100% for months at a time, usually a bit of cooked food in winter, nothing major) and following and learning from a multitude of sources, I am no beginner. These are the lessons I have learned:
1. Any version of a raw food diet is going to make you feel amazing at first.
I was on a high fat raw vegan diet, almost exclusively, for the first 3 years. I deviated very rarely and always stayed plant-based. I felt amazing, was radiant, and slim as a whip.
Higher fat raw foods are great transition foods, and when I ate them I followed no caloric recommendations, I just ate everything raw.
I know people on low fat raw, high fat, low calorie, high calorie, all natural, people with plastic surgery, thin, chubby – some look amazing and some look like shit. The important thing is to do raw or high raw in the way that you can stick to, and that makes you feel your best!
You must be patient as you will will probably have some detox symptoms to begin with, but they will pass and you will understand why people are so passionate about this lifestyle.
2. 80/10/10 is a good basic guide, but not a rule book.
This diet has basic good macronutrient ratios and outlines just-as-important aspects of true health. (note – my answers in the link are from 2.5 years ago and have changed greatly).
A low fat, high carb diet is excellent for mood, energy levels, and athletic endeavors. I don’t agree with all of the book, as it excludes things that I think can be beneficial (juice, herbs, certain supplements, seaweed for iodine and sodium for example), but in general, it gives good basic guidelines to follow, however, tweak the suggestions to work for you. Take what makes sense, and toss what doesn’t. Eliminate the non-essential.
3. Raw till 4 is misleading and incomplete
This diet is better than the majority out there, but I disagree with some aspects of it. When I followed this a couple of years ago, I felt really good but still feel better being all raw.I was also bloated and rashy.
The idea that you can eat unlimited calories, and need to stuff yourself, is ludicrous. You need to take in enough. There is evidence for failure on this diet everywhere, as well as successes – generally the people who are successful are very active and have been for a long time. Newcomers that gain a ton of weight and are confused by it are going to be disparaged and either continue to gain or fall off completely. Activity level must be on par with the amount of food calories you take in. Movement is essential for health.
Restricting calories is not the way to go, either – but restricting is not the same as eating just what you need.
Another problem is lack of greens and vegetables (and variety of them). The majority of vegetables being eaten are cooked and so are devoid of most minerals that would be available otherwise.
The addition of processed food is one I disagree with. Whole foods like root vegetables, beans, and even grains (depending on what kind) are much better choices.
Lack of fat is another issue – the phobia of fat that is being perpetuated is nonsense. Most people who follow 80/10/10, or 90/5/5 and struggle are often satiated by a bit of fat – we do NEED it, but not in excess.
I do agree with getting in mostly carbohydrates because it improves your mood and your energy levels. However, macronutrients are not the only aspect of health! MICROnutrients are VASTLY important and need to be addressed far more often. Sodium is also higher on this diet (but still low) which may explain why people are so drawn to having some cooked food as sodium is required for proper health! This is one other thing I like about Raw till 4.
4. Don’t treat your teachers as gods
No one knows everything. If you start treating your teachers as gurus and leaders, or idolizing them, you will ignore your own intuition and continue to do things that do not work for you.
5. Your results should not take years
If you have greatly abused yourself for a long time, then yes, it may take longer for your body to heal – but the important thing to focus on is feeding your body the healthy amount of VITAMINS and MINERALS, and making sure that you can absorb them. Be patient and focus on feeling good first. Consistency is really the key.
6. Raw food can make you lose or gain weight
Yes, 2000 calories of raw food or whole food is going to be dealt with much differently than 2000 calories of junk. They are not the same. However, taking in more calories than you need is hard on your body and also hard on your finances. The only need for excessive caloric intake is if you are extremely active. You have a basal metabolic rate – which is how much energy (calories) you burn while at rest. For instance, for my height and weight, I would require 1300 calories just to keep me alive and functioning properly while lying bed doing absolutely nothing for the entire day. Then you need to figure out how much energy you expend while moving through your day. If you eat more than you burn, you may gain weight, unless you are regularly active and have a high metabolism.
7. Lower fat is the way to go, but protein, minerals, fat, and sodium need to be taken seriously
The main issue I had when going low-fat raw is that my skin got very dry and I had a bumpy rash on my cheeks for 2 years that mortified me. My skin was beautiful on high-fat raw. I was convinced my problems were from salt, but no matter how long I avoided it, nothing changed. I went without make-up for ages, no change. When I had a blip in my diet last winter and was questioning raw, I was eating mostly cooked for a little while and my skin got amazing. It was then that I made the correlation between lack of sodium and being dehydrated. Too little sodium will make you unable to hold on to any water you take in.
A low fat raw vegan diet is VERY low in sodium, particularly if you are eating mostly fruit and not enough greens (and you need a LOT, especially if you are eating low fat and not getting minerals from nuts and seeds). A better way to get sodium, if you are not consuming enough greens to do so (the bare minimum to live healthfully is 500mg a day, and should be below 2000mg per day) is from living foods such as miso, or the highest quality unrefined salt you can find, and a very small amount (no more than a teaspoon a day). Celery and greens are the best natural sources of sodium, however they still do not provide enough for excellent health.
Protein is to also be taken into consideration. Low-protein is touted as best, but people do get quite a lot of protein if they are eating a vast amount of calories. If you are not an athlete and do not require a lot of muscle re-building, this isn’t something you really need to worry about. If you do want to build a lot of muscle, you either have to eat a huge amount of calories (which will give you a lot of protein, yet it would be a small macro ratio) or eat a higher protein food (like beans, or grains, or raw vegan protein supplement). For instance, if someone eats 50 bananas, there is 64 grams of protein right there. But 20 would give you 25 grams. That is not conducive to building muscle mass. It is also 5000 calories vs. 2000, so it all depends on your fitness goals and personal aesthetics.
Having too little fat makes the diet more difficult to follow and makes it less satiating. You have to eat a lot more fruit to be satisfied and it might be much more than you require or want. By the end of the day I can’t wait for my savory meal. Fat is also important for a lot of functions in the body. People who eat low-fat raw, especially who avoid overt fats, will lack omega-6. If you do not eat enough greens, you will also lack omega-3. You also need certain fats to absorb certain nutrients. You do not need a lot of fat, but you do need some.
8. Cooked food is not poison, but you need to be careful what it is, and expect consequences
Living foods are superior to cooked foods, but not all cooked foods are created equal. Steaming is going to be better than any other cooking method, but even that does minor damage and should only be done for short periods of time.
A living food is still full of enzymes, probiotics, and other helpful nutrients, as in fermented foods. Sprouted foods (grains, beans) are also good, though they may be harder for you to digest – experiment.
There are some cooked foods I am still okay with, but keep to a minimum. These must be whole foods only – nothing refined and no grains unless sprouted and you feel okay with them.
I still feel better 100% raw and you may also. If I eat cooked food as a choice, it will be small amounts with large amounts of raw salad. If I start to neglect my fruit and salads and get bingey on cooked foods, then I know I have to cut them out again. It’s best not to flip-flop – either stick with raw or stay partially cooked.
9. Food combining does matter
You can experiment with combos that work for you, but this is especially important when it comes to combining fats and carbs, and also raw with cooked. You can see a good food combining guide here. Improper food combining causes havoc on digestion and can cause bloating, gas, and improper absorption of nutrients.
10. Supplements are not evil – put health before diet dogma
If you are lacking something and cannot get it through your food, then supplement. If you are in a colder climate, or want to stay pale, take vitamin D. If you are low in B12, get supplementation in sublingual pills or shots. If you have specific body-building goals and follow a strict regime and require more protein yet want to limit your calories and fat intake, then by all means supplement – there ARE raw vegan protein powders available. If you lack zinc, selenium, or any other mineral that is available through small amounts of nuts, but are allergic, eat more greens or take a green powder like Vitamineral Green. Or simply take a supplement for whatever you are lacking – you can track on cronometer.com. You can tweak and figure out ways to get all the nutrients you need with whole foods (which is always best) but for whatever reasons you cannot eat certain things – location, allergies, previous health issues/surgeries, whatever – there are other options to help you!
There are a lot of options to allow you to reap the benefits of eating raw without falling back to cooked.
11. Exercise should be studied and taken seriously as well
Study the correlation between movement and diet, as well! So many people come to raw, or high carb, whole food veganism, and neglect the exercise part. You must have a method of aerobic movement, as that is what burns fat. Study physiology and basic exercise principles.
12. It is entirely possible to do while traveling, socializing, or on holidays with family
With enough planning and care for oneself, this can be done easily. I have gone traveling both prepared and unprepared, and guess when I was successful? There are lots of resources online to help you, especially places like happycow.com – if you struggle with family or socializing, then simply don’t socialize with these people around food. There are many other ways to be with other humans than chowing down. I rarely go out to eat with people and when I do, I invite them to raw and vegan places. Everyone so far has liked it, and if I am invited out I bring my own food and if the person doesn’t know I eat a strict diet, then I tell them! If people make fun of you, then question how good of a friend they are.
13. No scene is devoid of drama and being pushy doesn’t work
There has been a lot of drama in the raw food movement in the last year, and it can be off-putting. Don’t allow the arguments of others taint what speaks to you. The most important thing is that you focus on your health, basic nutritional needs, and your own intuition.
Pushing your dietary beliefs on others will never be taken well. Wait until someone asks. Living your life will speak volumes more than being a raving fanatic.
14. You MUST MUST MUST think for yourself and do your own research
This is the most important point. Never take the word of anyone, even the people you think have all the answers. NO one does. I have learned so much from a multitude of people, professional and not, over the last six and a half years of daily study. Some information is monumental, and some is destructive. Some is fear-mongering, some is money-grubbing, and some is even in the pursuit of power.
If something does not ring true for you, tweak it and question it. Consider all angles and do a lot of research, on the actual science and on the person advising you.
15. A rigid, extremist viewpoint will be more detrimental to your health than anything else
Fanaticism will get you nowhere. If any of these methods work for you, CONTINUE DOING THAT, and if that changes, tweak it and question what you could be lacking nutrient wise or taking in too much of. Keep your ethics in mind as they are extremely important – plant foods are always the way to go for the benefit of yourself, animals, and the environment.
On an end-note – don’t take my word for it. I don’t know everything and do not claim to. These are simply my experiences and important things I’ve learned on my journey. I continue to research and tweak where needed. I know health is best on a plant-based diet, but I also know that health is much more than just macronutrients. There are tons of resources – documentaries, books, and ways to be raw. Do what makes sense for you, your goals, and your lifestyle. Drop the dogma, and embrace the pursuit of health and knowledge. Question everything, and don’t take any shit.
The 80/10/10 Diet
Green for Life
Creating Healthy Children
Nutrition and Athletic Performance
The Raw Cure
The Pleasure Trap
Could It Be B12?
The Vitamin D Solution
Eat to Live
World Peace Diet (for ethics)
Healthy at 100
The Food Revolution
Diet for a New America
The China Study
The Starch Solution
No Happy Cows
The Raw Secrets
Raw Food Controversies
The Detox Miracle Sourcebook
Forks Over Knives
Earthlings (for ethics)
The Diet Wars
Fat Sick & Nearly Dead
Supercharge Me: 30 Days Raw
Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days
Healing Cancer From the Inside Out
Hungry for Change