Raw Food Rehab: Raw Pros and Cons with Chicago Marathon Val!
December 30, 2009

Here at Choosing Raw, we try to discuss the benefits of the raw vegan lifestyle: the smooth digestion, the boundless energy, the euphoria, the glow. But for all of its amazing benefits, the raw veganism can present the occasional pitfall: digestive hiccups, practical challenges, sneers from coworkers or friends, detox symptoms, or seemingly mysterious weight gain – all of these things can happen when one switches over to a mostly raw diet. In my experience, they’re infinitely less common than the sudden improvements. But they’re all possible, and it would be remiss of me ignore them as I wax poetic about the joys of raw, vegan eating.

A few months ago, my friend Val left me a comment asking me if I’d consider writing a post about some of the challenges of the raw lifestyle—some of the common stumbling blocks or problems that newbies to raw might experience. It’s taken me some time to follow up, but Val’s question resonated with me—so much that I’ve asked her to do a little guest post summing up her experience with high raw, vegan eating: the good, the bad, and the ugly! I’ll hand the mic over to Val, and after that, I’m going to share some of my feedback about what Val might have done a little differently to make her raw experience less tough, and to steer her in the right direction in the future.

Without further ado, I present everyone’s favorite Chicago marathoner, Valerie!

* * *

val2Hello, Choosing Raw readers!   Gena asked me to talk a little bit about my foray into raw foods, both the benefits and the pitfalls.

After reading Choosing Raw for quite some time, I became curious about the raw food movement and decided to give it a try myself. In addition to reading Gena’s blog, I also spent many hours at Borders reading up on various raw cookbooks.

I began integrating more raw food into my diet almost immediately.  I aimed to be as “high raw” as possible, eating all or mostly raw food until dinner time.  I really loved so many aspects of the raw lifestyle, such as:

•    I realized that raw food is SO much more than just a plate of carrot sticks! It was so much fun to learn new raw recipes, as well as new techniques to prepare food (making raw soups, nut pates, etc.)

•    Prompted by my desire to eat a wider range of fresh produce, I joined a local, organic CSA which really opened my eyes to all of the amazing varieties of produce out there! Every week I anxiously anticipated the arrival of the CSA delivery, and I can honestly say that each week I was surprised with at least one new vegetable that I had never worked with before, and many that I had never even heard of.

•    With my newfound love of local and organic produce, I found that preparing food was so much more interesting than before.  Oddly enough, while the raw food diet seems restrictive at first glance, it actually provided me with more creativity and freedom in the kitchen than ever before.

•    As you probably know, green juice is a focal point of the raw food diet, and I instantly got hooked on the energizing boost that I would get from drinking my morning cup o’ green!

•    Most importantly, I found that the raw food lifestyle opened my eyes to the world of veganism.  I didn’t start off on the raw food path intending to go vegan – in fact, many raw foodists are actually meat-eaters – but this ended up being a lovely bonus, as I am still a vegan to this day, and know that I will be for life.

Overall, when I was eating high-raw I felt utterly amazing . . . with a few exceptions.

1) I gained weight, despite the fact that I was training for a marathon at the time.  I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that I was adding more nuts and oils into my diet or the fact that I got addicted to “un” baking and was constantly in the kitchen creating tasty raw desserts?

2) Occasionally I would get very bad stomach cramps that were sometimes debilitating.  I think that this may have been due to the fact that I was too quick to add too many raw foods into my diet which may have been a shock to my system?

3) When I began the raw food journey, I was a school social worker with an entire summer off – a.k.a., I had time to kill.  However, when work resumed in the fall I found that my time was limited and I no longer had the energy to prepare delicious salads and other raw lunches to take to work – it was simply easier to make a large pot of something (soup, quinoa and veggies, etc.) every Sunday to package up for my work lunches.  I also found that pre-made salads are just not as crisp after sitting in a lunch bag for a few hours and that after a stressful morning at work, I never craved cold veggies but instead wanted hot comfort food.

4) Which leads me to my fourth concern – as my time waned and I began making less and less raw food, unfortunately that had the inverse effect and I desired it less and less! Now that it’s December, I find that I am eating far less raw food than I would like but my taste buds have changed so that I now long for conventional warm foods and I’m unsure how to make the transition back to the high-raw lifestyle  in the dead of winter!

Thanks for any advice you may have for me, Gena!

* * *

Thanks, Val, for your honesty! I should preface my response by saying that I am so, so, so proud of your choice to go vegan, and honored beyond belief that I had something to do with it! I always tell blog readers and clients that I am a vegan first, a raw foodist second: veganism is the core of my nutritional perspective, and it’s more meaningful to me that I persuade my readers to consider veganism than that I inspire them to eat raw. Keep it up, Val! (For those of you who are interested, Val made a gaggle of incredible Christmas treats, all vegan! Here is an example of only one of my favorites.)

Now, I’d like to address Val’s pitfalls one by one.

Val: I gained weight, despite the fact that I was training for a marathon at the time.  I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that I was adding more nuts and oils into my diet or the fact that I got addicted to “un” baking and was constantly in the kitchen creating tasty raw desserts?

Gena: Without knowing more about exactly what Val was eating, day in and day out, it’s a little hard for me to identify the culprit. Many, many women gain weight while marathon training, so over-compensating for training with food could have been a contributor. It could have been nuts and oils, too: I’m a huge proponent of healthy fats, and a fan of nuts on the whole, but it’s not hard to overdo it with nuts accidentally. I suggest no more than 3 oz nuts daily (that’s generous!) and about 1-2 tbsp (max) oils within a single meal. These are very, very loose guidelines: each body will react differently to nuts, oils, and fats in general. But 3 oz. within a day is a decent starting point.

It’s rarely oils or nuts, though, that are the singular culprit behind raw weight gain. Val hit the nail on the head when she said that getting addicted to un-cooking might have been the issue! Rule of thumb: if you’re not supposed to be eating a ton of a certain kind of food in a cooked diet, you shouldn’t be eating a ton of that same food on a raw diet! So if you’re not supposed to be eating a ton of cookies (and most of us are not), then you shouldn’t be eating a ton of raw chocolate chip cookies, or fudge babies, donut holes, oatmeal raisin bites, or the like.

I could throttle raw foodists who claim that you can eat “as much of whatever you want, as long as it’s raw”; this is madness! Of course you shouldn’t, and can’t. While raw vegan desserts and raw dishes are generally much cleaner and healthier than their cooked, non-vegan counterparts (and therefore more appropriate to eat), you have to evaluate them by the same criteria you would evaluate everyday food: a dessert is a dessert (i.e., something to enjoy once in a while, and in moderation), a sweet treat is just that — a treat–and rich dishes are best reserved for special occasions. Period.

90% of the time, newbie raw weight gain results from people scouring cookbooks and getting entranced with super sweet desserts, shakes, smoothies, nut sauces, and the like. Don’t forget, this lifestyle is about the fundamentals: juice, greens, and vegetables. Juice, greens, and vegetables. Juice, greens, and vegetables. Yes, of course, fats, starches, nuts, and desserts have an important place in the diet, and they’re worthy of your love! They keep us sated, nourished, and energized. But they shouldn’t be eaten in excess, nor are they the main event of the raw, vegan diet: it’s veggies, veggies, and veggies that should take center stage.

Val: Occasionally I would get very bad stomach cramps that were sometimes debilitating.  I think that this may have been due to the fact that I was too quick to add too many raw foods into my diet which may have been a shock to my system?

Gena: Yes! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: do NOT attempt to go raw overnight unless you are highly accustomed to a vegan and semi-raw diet already. This is not only unwise, but dangerous! If you’ve been eating a mainstream diet, the abundance of cleansing foods (especially if you’re juicing) can be a serious shock to the system. Eat mostly raw, but not all raw: make sure to cook some of your vegetables (eating cooked at night is a good way to go, but you can incorporate some cooked vegetables into your lunch if you wish

This is an excellent way to avoid tummy distress. Also check out my post on transitional belly aches for guidance!

Val: When I began the raw food journey, I was a school social worker with an entire summer off – a.k.a., I had time to kill.  However, when work resumed in the fall I found that my time was limited and I no longer had the energy to prepare delicious salads and other raw lunches to take to work – it was simply easier to make a large pot of something (soup, quinoa and veggies, etc.) every Sunday to package up for my work lunches.  I also found that pre-made salads are just not as crisp after sitting in a lunch bag for a few hours and that after a stressful morning at work, I never craved cold veggies but instead wanted hot comfort food.

Gena: This is a toughie, Val! Certainly, eating raw vegan means being willing to spend a lot of time on preparation and packing (if you bring lunch to the office or school, which many of us do). All I can say is that the effort of prepping your food will pay off again and again, as you start to feel and look incredible.

But to make life easy, wash and prep veggies over the weekend (yes, this can mean chopping or slicing them) and then store them in tupperware, glass, or plastic bags. It’ll be so much easier to prep salads if you have them chopped and ready the night before work. Also, use weekends to prep a nut pate or two, a salad dressing or two, and a raw entrée: you’ll be grateful throughout the week!

Remember: effort pays off in the form of vibrant health and feeling. And some cooked food is fine, too: just alternate! Quinoa and veggies or soup is fine for lunch several days throughout the week. Just include raw dishes in the rotation, too. Find a balance that works.

Val: Which leads me to my fourth concern – as my time waned and I began making less and less raw food, unfortunately that had the inverse effect and I desired it less and less! Now that it’s December, I find that I am eating far less raw food than I would like but my taste buds have changed so that I now long for conventional warm foods and I’m unsure how to make the transition back to the high-raw lifestyle  in the dead of winter!

Gena: Fear not, Val! This is a very common concern—even for raw veterans!! I have a few pieces of advice for you. The first may surprise you: eat some cooked food! Living a high raw lifestyle does not preclude eating cooked food when it comes naturally. So go ahead and enjoy a baked yam, or a piping hot vegan supper, or a stew. You can balance it with a nice raw meal at some other point in the day, or by eating more raw when the temperatures rise again. It’s about the big pictures, guys—not daily perfection!

It’s also possible to warm foods without cooking them. Put soups in a pot over a low flame, stirring until they’re heated, but not too hot to touch. Steam or blanch vegetables. Warm up sprouted bread in a dehydrator or oven set to 150 with the door ajar. Easy!

Most of all, rely on spice! Cinnamon, cloves, anise, curry allspice and ginger are very warming, and they add tremendous flavor and character to your dishes without adding fat or density.  Adding fresh ginger to juices and soups will lend plenty of heat—and it’s likely to help ease digestive distress, too! And pepper, of course (peppercorns, cayenne, or raw peppers) is also helpful in warming up your frozen appendages.

I hope this helps, dear Val. And I hope it gives you a sense of the flexibility and relaxed attitude that you should take when transitioning! Always keep your eyes on the big picture—the macrocosm, as my friend Gil likes to call it. Whether or not you go raw overnight or eat 100% every day or week is not the point: the point is to eat lots of raw, lots of the time, and doing your best to adhere to a clean, vegan routine.

Was this helpful, guys? If so, I’d like to make Val’s excellent testimonial and questions a Choosing Raw tradition! From now, I’ll have a monthly feature called raw food rehab. I invite you to write in and, as Val did, express one or two (no more than three, please) difficulties with the raw diet that you’ve encountered, and would like me to address.

Note: I can’t comment on extensive health histories, litanies of problems, or raw difficulties that demand my analyzing years of dietary back story. And my responses will be based only on informed guesswork, since I won’t be working with each rehab writer on a counselor/client basis. So the ideal sorts of questions to submit are those that you suspect might be relatively common and easy to cope with.

If you’d like to be featured, please shoot me an email at [email protected] with the subject line “Raw Food Rehab.” I look forward to the conversations that ensue!

On that note, I hope you all had a great raw Wednesday! I’ll have some new raw Wednesday photos to share later this week!

xo

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    42 Comments
  1. This post couldn’t come at a better time!! I have a marathon on Monday and since I’ve been eating more raw I have gained some weight – not a ton, but enough to make my jeans fit too tightly for my liking which is a drag. I have noticed that I have definitely been hitting the avocados, nuts, dried fruits and chocolate way harder than I normally would have though. I have a feeling, like the above commentor and Val, if I stay away from thinking raw foods are magical and will never make you gain weight and eat sensibly I’ll go back to normal. Plus I think my leg muscles have grown!!

  2. Thank you for this! I too was training for a marathon when I went raw and I also gained weight. I’m pretty sure I know why. I have always been into sweets so I went too heavy on the raw desserts, nuts and dried fruits. It was frustrating because people talk about all the weight loss on raw foods, but there is a right way to do it. I have learned that you can not eat whatever raw food you want and not gain weight. I have since cut back on the sweets and nuts and know this will help.

  3. Thanks for a very informative post! I have been trying to incorporate more raw foods into my diet, and have been getting back into a totally vegan diet. I do get a bit confused though when trying to understand what counts as “treats” and how often they are acceptable. If all that is in banana soft serve is bananas, then is it ok to eat anytime? Or is that still considered an indulgence? Or what about more easily defined treats, such as fudge babies? I keep reading that these things should be eaten “occasionally,” but I have a hard time quantifying “occasional.” Is this once a week? Once a month? It’s hard to understand how to get portion sizes and frequencies under control without some quantifiable guidelines at the start. Thanks for any insight on this issue! And thanks for all the useful information that you always provide on this blog — it has become a really handy resource!

  4. This is such a great post Gena! I love the idea of you doing a permanent series like this. One thing I worry about is getting enough nutrients while being high raw, ie. making sure I’m getting my daily requirements of vitamins and minerals, especially things like Vitamin B12 and Calcium. I’m not worried I can’t get all this from Raw Food, but I want to know that I’m eating enough of the right raw food to do so.

    PS congrats again on winning Blog and Website of the year, you truly, truly deserve it.

  5. Lovely post Gena. I appreciate all your posts so much! I have been raw 6 months now and am still trying to figure out what the best way of eating is for me. I too was extrememly bloated and had stomach pains, and gas. 🙁 I dont think my body can handle fruit very well. I just bought Victoria’s book ‘Green for Life’ and I’m hoping this gives me the clarity I need for a raw lifestyle. It seems some raw foodists turn almost 100% fruitarian. This is something I would love to see discussed here and hear your opinion on! I too started taking enzymes and probiotics and feel immensely better. Thanks again – Kat

  6. Such a fabulous post, Gena! I didn’t gain weight when I tried all-raw (back in my nutrition school days!) for about a month, but I remember being disappointed that I didn’t LOSE weight, either! I’m sure, now, it was my focus on all those amazing raw desserts–so many dates, raisins, and other sweet things, not to mention coconut oil! Your answers make so much sense and I love that you encourage people to continue with raw even if they do eat cooked foods. What works for one may not be ideal for another, and I really appreciate your open-mindedness.

    Have a great New Year’s! 🙂

  7. Great blog, I think many people become attracted to raw foods when they see the gourmet raw foods. It is a real misconception that you can eat as much as you want. I don’t think we can hurt ourselves with fruits and vegetables but when we add the treats we can easily over indulge. As well I think it’s comforting while cleansing to eat those things because at first you do feel tired and its hard to give up coffee and other addictions. You also feel like you’re not really giving up you’re favorite foods. I experienced the same problem.

    I was first way excited about going raw just as easily as I was so turned off. I did not want to quit but after spending so much energy trying to learn all gourmet recipes my head was spinning and my money just kept going. I did what most people do, I dived in way to quickly buying all new machines and kitchen gadgets, stocking my kitchen with all new supplies for my recipes and as well eating them and than gaining weight! On top of this I would have horrible pains. My stomach felt like a balloon waiting to pop. I had always dealt with bloating but it did get worse and I experienced gas as well. At one point i felt my stomach turn upside down..not fun.

    Until I took a new approach. Raw foods should be simple. As you said Fruit, juice and vegetables. I believe my stomach issue’s where do to a little bit of switching to uncooked foods to quickly, as well I had suffered from Irritable bowl syndrome. Either way though with both raw and mostly uncooked foods I was ALWAYS bloated. The only time my stomach laid flat was in the morning. I knew this was an issue, my stomach should not feel like its going to pop all day long. It hurt i felt like i just wanted to push all the air out and I couldn’t. It would also cause a lot of stress on my back. I’m only 20 years old!!! Luckily I learned to clean up my diet and started taking ENZYMES. Not only can you get them from the raw food but you can take digestive enzymes.I also started taking peppermint capsules. Now I can eat even to the point of being stuffed and you would have no idea looking at my stomach. It’s made digestion so much easier! My stomach is flat and I feel lighter and free.

    Also very beneficial for stomach issues for me has been drinking kombucha tea. I like the GT kombucha. That brand carries a ton of good flavors. They are quit expensive so I typically drink 2-4 bottles a week. It is full with probiotics and lots of anti bacterials. It’s a little strong at first but you get used to the taste. The Kombucha really cleans me out and restores my energy as well helps with digestion. The guy at whole foods told me a lot of previous alcholics come in and by them by the case becuase it helps with all that and it kinda gives you a little buzz..a natural buzz.

    As of lately I eat about 75 % Raw organic. I eat mostly fruit and juice in the morning, on occasion I will have nut butter or a smoothie. Than for lunch I will make veggie wraps with quinoa, hummus or avocados and dinner is usually a lightly heated soup, raw spaghetti or a salad with various veggies, light agave and oil and beneficial greens like kale and spinach. During the day if I get hungry in between meals I will have a few nuts, and by a few I mean less than a handful, Kombucha, or fruit and on SPECIAL OCCASIONS I treat myself to a raw gourmet treat! I make what comes easy and what I crave mostly. I know what to buy each week and it’s much simpler. On top of this I take my enzymes and peppermint capsules and I feel amazing!

    Best of Luck

    Erika

  8. great post and answers! it’s so interesting to me because everyone has different experiences. i kind of did go by the “eat what you want as long as it’s raw” philosophy and ate a lot of raw desserts at first. but i found i still got in a lot of greens and it balanced out. now i try to get in a salad, a green juice, and a smoothie each day and the rest can be more flexible.

    i love your balanced and intelligent approach.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing, this was very motivating! I hope to include even more raw food in my diet for the new year to come and this post has inspired me a lot!

    I wish you all the best for 2010! Keep up your great work and take care!

    Melissa

  10. Gena, thank you so much for this post. The discouragement from my own raw-vegan transitional pitfalls has certainly lessened… xo

  11. I think it would be great to have a regular feature on Raw Food Rehab. I’m positive that Val’s concerns are common because they are similar to my own! I never embraced raw to the extent she did, but her point about motivation to eat raw with increasing cold weather and work demands definitely resonates with me. I find myself nuking a bowl of leftovers (albeit healthy leftovers, most often vegan) most days during work lately. It’s alright, but that pattern combined with the indulgence of the holidays has left me MAJORLY wanting to do a raw blast in the new year. I guess that means I’ve done just enough raw to know how awesome it is and to want that feeling back! I’ll take that as a positive. 🙂

  12. Wow, awesome post! I’ve been raw since the summer, and have had similar experiences, especially with wanting warm food. This post dealt with many issues I’ve had (bad cramps was one). Gena, you gave such good advice! I agree about so many people being misguided. Oh, and I’ve been one of the raw foodies who eats meat. My end goal is 100% vegan, mostly raw. But in starting out the raw diet as such a meat lover, I didn’t want to deprive myself. I went easy on me and had cooked beef, shrimp, and fish when I wanted (a few times per week). It was enough to satisfy me on a mostly raw vegan diet. The cool thing is that over time, I naturally found meat less and less appealing. Now I’m ready to cut out meat 100%.
    Hope to see more posts like this!

  13. This post was great! I like that you don’t put any pressure on people to be all raw, Gena. I also liked hearing that other people have trouble going all-raw like I do! Thank you and Happy New Year!

  14. I would really love to have this feature more often on your blog! While I know many people experiment with a raw diet and wind up really embracing it, it’s comforting to know that it’s normal not to feel like you’ve just flipped a switch and won’t ever go back. Also, I think you’ve just come up with my new mantra – It’s about the big picture, not daily perfection – this is so true and so succinct. If I take a week off from exercise, or eat a few heavy meals, I should focus on appreciating the GOOD changes I’ve made in the past 6 months, rather than the few road bumps I’ve encountered. I know you’ve made points like this before, but, as usual, your writing really hits home. Thanks and have a wonderful new year!!

  15. This post could not have come at a better time! I, too, made the transition to high-raw over the summer, enthusiastically embracing the lifestyle without any problems. As temps cooled and I got busy looking for a new job, though, I began eating less and less raw. What adds further difficulty to things is the fact that I am cooking for two: while my husband and I are both vegan, he eats more “traditional” items like veggie burgers, baked potatoes, pastas, etc. I do all the cooking, and sometimes I am just too tired to make something good for myself! It would be great if you could include some “express raw meals” or something of that sort on this site:)

    Lately I have not been feeling as good, and really want to get back into eating raw, and I think this post is just what I needed to inspire me to get back into it! Thanks, Gena!

  16. This was unbelievably useful! I startred adding in more raw food about two weeks ago and had my first raw until dinner day yesterday! Thanks so much! I love your blog and have been recommending it to friends and family right and left! Thanks!

  17. Wow Gena, this post is excellent…not that that’s a new thing for you or anything 🙂

    I love the nuts/oils talk. And the eating as much of whatever you want, as long as it’s raw. Oh boy. People have such misguided info and I am glad you’re setting the record straight!

    I personally can do alot of carbs. But my body does not seem to like or require the fat amounts that i see other bloggers discuss. Nuts and oils are too gloppy for my tummy to digest well AND I dont really need them that much. I like the energy I have from carbs better. We all need fat, yes, but to each her own in terms of quantity and the 3 oz a day of nuts would be pllllentyyyy for me, too.

    Anyway, love all the tips, great stuff, Gena. And thanks Val for writing Gena with all these questions cuz we all benefited from your ?’s!

    🙂

  18. I really needed to read this post, I’m so glad you chose to post it tonight. I’m really struggling with dietary perception at the moment and I’m trying very hard to fix my horribly unhealthy habits but it’s so easy to slip back into it. Thanks for the firm reminder.

  19. I loved reading all this info – thanks for being so honest about the raw lifestyle, it is so much easier to approach when you have all the information…good and bad. I also gained weight training for both marathons I have run…can’t wait to read more!

  20. This is a FANTASTIC post. I loved hearing Val’s honesty and your responses, Gena! I’m trying new raw foods and loved hearing about her journey.

    And by the way, I totally gained weight (or maybe didn’t LOSE any weight) while training for my full marathon. It happens.

    Thanks again for a great post!!!

  21. I really like the idea of having a Raw Food Rehab series ! I think it’s particularly important for those looking to delve into the raw food world to be privy of certain “unusual” phenomena , as well as for current newbies to know that they’re not alone in their struggles! 🙂 Thanks Gena for always being on the lookout for ways to enhance the transition into the high raw vegan experience!

  22. Really interesting…there are so many things I didn’t know about eating raw. I am really amazed to hear that one could gain weight on a raw diet!!

  23. Great post – I loved it! I’ve only dabbled with raw food, but I have the same problem with wanting something warm in witner – especially in wisconsin with a foot of snow on the ground and temps below zero 🙂

  24. Great post!

    But I am confused – how can a raw food person eat meat as well? Granted, I love my steaks rare, but is that the only meat ? Or are we speaking of sushi? I guess I am picturing things like chicken or pork.