Question of the Week: Transitional Bellyaches, and What to do About Them
November 2, 2009

tummy2Hi guys!

Glad everyone was so into the pumpkin smoothie! It’s one of my better blended creations, if I do say so myself.

I’m here tonight with one of the more commonly asked questions from raw newbies. I’ve seen it in countless variations, but I’m going to quote directly from reader Sarah, who recently wrote:

“Hi Gena! I love your blog. In the last couple of months, my husband and I have been transitioning into a vegan and mostly raw diet. We both feel really good — I have so much energy! — but we’re having a slightly embarassing problem. I hate to be graphic, but, um, we’re having gas. A lot of gas! Mine is worse, and my husband is actually teasing me about it. Also, before I ate raw, I tended to get a lot of constipation. I don’t anymore, which is great, but now I’m having the opposite problem, if you know what I mean!!

I know that raw food is supposed to help with digestive issues, so I’m just a little confused. Are we doing something wrong, or is this normal? Is there anything we can do to make it better? Thanks for your help!!”

Alright, ladies (and gents). It’s time to dish about digestion. Put on your armor, and listen up:

Yes, Sarah, it’s totally normal to experience bloating, flatulence, mild diarrhea, and other sorts of digestive changes as you transition into raw. Sure, the diet is famous for aiding in digestive distress, and over the course of time, it will. But depending on what you were eating before — and for many, this was cheesesteak and onion rings — the movement into clean eating can be a bumpy road, so to speak.

Why? Aren’t vegetables good for our bellies? The answer, of course, is yes. But vegetables are also high in fiber and alkalinity (translation: they’re very cleansing). As they cleanse, they awaken a lot of old waste matter. This can mean tremendous bloating and gas, and it can also mean loose bowels (if you’re lucky and all goes well, you’ll have tremendous elimination without the runs). In addition, the fiber in raw foods may upset those whose stomachs aren’t used to it.

Relax. This isn’t going to last: it will be a period of adjustment, and it will ultimately subside as your body becomes used to all of the cleansing foods you’re nourishing it with. But prepare yourself to be a bit patient.

Of course, the symptoms I mention shouldn’t be acute. If you’re doubled over with cramps or discomfort, if you’re plagued with flatulence that moves your partner from gentle teasing to a restraining order, or if your diarrhea becomes severe, something is up, and there’s a good chance that raw vegetables are only a part of the problem. In these cases, be sure to call your doctor or speak to a professional as soon as you can.

If your symptoms are obviously transitional, there are things you can do to alleviate them. These include:

1) Gravity administered colonics from a professional you trust (this is especially important if you develop constipation)

2) Probiotics and enzymes, which I discuss in this post

3) Speak to a nutritionist, dietician, naturopath, doctor, or coach with a backround in raw and vegan cuisine — like yours truly!

In the meantime, relax. If you’ve been eating a mainstream diet for twenty or thirty years, and a raw vegan diet for only three weeks, it stands to reason that it’ll take your system some time to come into balance. So often, those who are new to raw foods develop short term memories; they want complete transformation after two weeks of salad. This simply isn’t how it works: moving into a vegan or high-raw lifestyle is a process that demands patience.

And a healthy sense of humor.

Last, but definitely not least: do not go raw overnight. I’ve said it before, and I’ll preach it like gospel for as long as I have to! Our bodies exist in a delicate balance, and forcing them to move from a standard diet to a raw (or almost raw) one is not only unnecessary, but dangerous.

Remember: you have all the time in the world to move towards veganism and raw foods. The important thing is to construct a journey that will be gentle on your body. If you’re experiencing true digestive trouble–and indeed, Sarah, it sounds as though you are–my best suggestion is for you to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. Eat a combination of raw AND cooked: start with 80% cooked and 20% raw if need be, and adjust the ration in small increments. Avoid uncooked crucifers, roots, and other raw vegetables that are likely to upset your stomach, as well as an excess of dried fruit. Try food combining, and feel free to rely heavily on blended and pureed foods. Over time, as your system gets cleaner and stronger, you’ll be able to rock raw kale salads and broccoli like it’s your job. Promise.

Take it easy, Sarah, and good luck!

Have a great night, all.

xo

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    31 Comments
  1. WOW! This article just SAVED me from falling off the raw wagon lol! My husband and I have been experiencing all the above symptoms mentioned above with some pretty terrible stomach cramps today. We are on day 6 of jumping to straight raw vegan and I had no idea how what a shock it would be to our systems! We’ve been so focused on just sticking to it and not really enjoying it at all that some meals are simply skipped due to the thought of choking down one more raw salad lol. This article has give me the rejuvenation needed to continue on and not throw in the towel. I think 2 raw meals a day and a cooked vegan sounds like heaven at this point and will give us the much needed motivation!! Thanks for a great post! Fawn

  2. Love this post. I’m still experiencing lots of problems with raw and vegan diet. Constipation seems to be a regular state at the mo. But thank you for reminding us that perseverance and patience is needed; so on with finding the right balance for me. 🙂

  3. Great post! Personally, I have always had constipation/diarrhea issues. Even as a baby, my mom said I only had 1 huge bowel movement a week. (sorry to be so graphic) I have noticed a problem if I eat fruits immediately after grains. This goes back to your food combining post. Moral of the story, there is definitely some merit to the whole food combining thing.

  4. this was very interesting new information for me – thank you. I had rather the opposite problem as as soon as I gave up dairy the bloating and gas just went away. I did have one big day of elimination changing to raw vegan, but that was rather a relief…get it all out.

    nice to learn new things

  5. ajdowda – I sit here, reading your post, whilst eating the cauliflower salad – ah…. it is very tasty though… *freaking out a little* 😉

  6. “if you’re plagued with flatulence that moves your partner from gentle teasing to a restraining order”

    oh yeah, very cute and cleverly put.

  7. NOW I read about the whole be careful eating uncooked crucifers thing. Oh my Gena, I was going good on mostly raw for a while and then about a week 1/2 ago I decided to try out your cauliflower salad with the orange vinaigrette. I have never been much of a raw cauliflower fan, but this sounded so good, and indeed it was. It was so good I ate half the cauliflower in this salad at one sitting. No need to go into details, but I was hating life for a few DAYS. I swore off raw cauliflower…lol. I am okay now, and I no longer harbor any resentment towards the big white crucifer, but I wish I would have thought it through a little bit more before going to town on that salad. One of life’s little learning lessons I suppose ; )

  8. Is it common to also get small mouthsores, like little canker sores? I’m taking it slowly with raw, and this is something I notice. They’re not too painful, just a little annoying, just wondering…

  9. As always, great post on another interesting topic (that so many people seem so afraid to talk about). So thanks for acknowledging this very real issue.

    It’s good for me to keep this in mind especially when introducing more plant based foods to other people. Especially if I make something for myself and expect my family members to be able to digest it just as easily when they are used to lots of meat, eggs, and dairy. I’m heeding your advice and taking it SLOW with others who pique interest in “eating healthier” (aka- eat *more* veggies).

  10. I have bloating issues on raw days sometimes. In fact, today is my monthly raw day and I’m a little bloated right now! Not gassy, just tummy aches. I’ve taken in a crap ton (excuse the pun) of fiber today, and I’m sure that’s why. I also tend to overeat raw food because the feeling of “full” is different … and I’m sure that contributes to tummy issues too.

  11. Maybe I get to count myself among a lucky few–I’ve actually found that my tummy is quite often much quieter following a raw meal, or at least a vegan one. Pit that against the odd chocolate shake from Haagen Dazs and you can be SURE I felt (heard!) the difference (and I’m sure people around me did too). I’m not saying I’m immune to the effects of mass quantities of vegetables – the toilet would surely rat me out if I said I was – but generally speaking, it seems like my belly is happiest on a veganish diet.

    That said, I think I have made an interesting connection between food and the gas I DO get: TALKING! I often have noticeable gas, even painfully so, following social meals, and it seems to happen whether or not I “ate well.” I mean, it makes sense on some level–when you’re chatting it up, there’s a lot more air going in and out in between bites, so I think it stands to reason that there’s a few more bubbles to swallow!

  12. This was very helpful! Thanks! I’ve been thinking about transitioning into a partial/mostly raw diet. I am already vegan, but sometimes I have stomach/digestive issues. I am looking into probiotics to see if it will help.

  13. Thank you for writing this. Directly underneath Pea’s comment, I also get tons of questions about poop…daily. I wouldn’t write me asking me about elimination patterns, but people do! So now, rather than getting all graphic with them, I will just point them over here. So for selfish reasons, thank you for doing this post!

    I dont have gas issues since once and for all removing all items I am allergic to/intolerant to…and paying attention a little to food combining and hot diggity, I am in digestive nirvana for the past few yrs. As if you cared LOL 🙂

  14. Great advice. I must get 5 questions a day about how much gas do I have. 🙂 My advice is to always EASE your way into higher veggie intake. Thanks for telling it like it is, as always!!!

  15. thanks for another great post! i’m finally now getting doing raw so of right after 8 or 9 years of thinking about it, toying with it, figuring out how it could work for this long-time vegetarian/mostly vegan. whew! it’s been a long journey. but really i can’t say my, um, gas situation was better while eating cooked food. after being raw for 2 1/2 weeks, i was out of town and had some cooked beans in a mexican restaurant. although i love them, it was weeks before i had beans again. gas isn’t just something that happens on a raw food program, but taking it slowly is probably the best advice. eventually the benefits will outweigh any discomfort.

  16. I have had this problem at several points over the past few years as I’ve traversed my winding and switch-backing transitional path. When I’m in a more raw mode I have to remind myself not to get too clean, because inevitably (for now) I then eat some more mainstream food and my body is severely unhappy. It seems like the gut, like the brain, gets upset by changes in whatever ones normal routine is. When I eat “sad” foods my best bet is to later eat cooked greens and sweet potatoes, not raw food/juice. That seems to ease things a little.

  17. Gena! I have just been directed to your wonderful blog and I am loving every piece of it 😀 I am a looong way away from your lovely metropolis of NY, all the way in Sunny Australia! I have heard of this Raw food movement before but never realised just how simple and sustainable the lifestyle is till I read your blog, as a result I have now decided to go Raw myself. I am not a vegetarian, and for the time being don’t plan on giving up meat (or going raw with it) but I think that may be natural progression as I develop further with Raw Foodism…so just want to say thanks for simplifying going raw…
    Ana in Aus xx

  18. I’ve always eaten a plant based diet so it hasn’t been an issue for me. However, my husband is a vegan and it took some adjusting for him. The temp. issues were worth it for him because the SAD has a million issues to it – only they are long term so most people don’t worry about it

  19. Great post Gena. You covered some great points about eating more raw foods and the patience that is required in letting your body heal. I think most people want the quick and easy way to do things… sometimes I can fall into this … though I have been enjoying my raw foods journey. The good and the bad… I am learning so much about myself and how the foods I eat really do make a difference in how I feel.

  20. Great post! I’ve noticed more digestive issues lately and I think it’s because I’ve slacked off quite a bit on eating well. The body really does exist in a fine balance. Thanks for letting us know this is “normal” 🙂

  21. Another wonderful, understanding and well written post. Gas sucks. Story of my life. Hope Sarah finds relief soon!

  22. As you always tell me, “progress not perfection” – transitioning takes time, and bellyaches can sometimes be part of that journey. Thank you for addressing this issue of digestion!