Why Raw? Revisiting the Question.

by Gena on July 24, 2012

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Warning: epic post ahead. You may want to read this one over the course of a day or two!

Have any of you checked out the summer issue of VegNews? I hope so: it’s chock full of delicious recipes (including key lime vegan icebox cake—yum!), informative articles, and (if you happen to be a local reader) a fun D.C. vs. Philly vegan showdown.
On page, you’ll find an article entitled “Is Raw Always Right?” The article is an exploration of how raw foodism has become increasingly flexible; whereas most raw foods leaders five or six years ago publicly espoused a diet that was 90% raw or higher, many raw foods devotees nowadays openly advocate the consumption of a higher portion of cooked food, including grains, legumes, and root vegetables.

Why has this change happened? And how? To find that answer, the article takes a critical look at enzyme theory (the famous idea that cooking denatures enzymes, rendering foods more exhausting to digest), and examines which foods really are more nutrient dense in raw form, and which are not. Experts interviewed include Brenda Davis, Joel Fuhrman, and Douglas Graham. In the end, it discusses how flexibility and relaxation of dogma actually seems to be moving the raw foods movement forward. If you’re interested in raw foodism, it’s worth a read!

As you may have guessed by now, I wrote the article. It was a fun, informative experience for me, not only because I had a chance to connect with other raw foods lovers, but also because I had a chance to crystallize and give critical thought to my own relationship with raw foodism. Ironically, just after the article came out, one of my dearest readers responded to my recap of The Seed conference in NYC (where I gave a presentation entitled the “semi-raw” life) with a question about my raw foods lifestyle. She wanted to know whether, in the context of my having changed my views on things like enzyme theory and food combining, I had any revised feelings about raw foodism itself. She mentioned that her understanding is that there are few or no health benefits directly associated with raw foods, and that, in fact, most people she knows find them harder to digest. So is my love affair with raw perhaps a remnant of my ED mentality? To this point, she mentioned that she finds my raw food preparations to be laborious, and that she worries whether they (and the example they set) are obsessive.

It was a good question, and it–just like the VegNews article–got me thinking about why raw foods matter to me. In response to my reader, I clarified that I do know that raw foods are harder for some people to digest. This is usually true for people with ulcerative colitis, and it is sometimes true for people with Crohn’s, (though it’s worth mentioning that many people, my friend Lauren included, credit raw foods with helping them to manage Crohn’s, too). I also realize that most foods are not inherently more nutritious when they’re eaten raw (there are some exceptions, which I’ll get to in a second).

In response to my reader’s speculation about whether raw foods seemed to help me only because they coincided with my ED recovery in general, I think it’s a good question, but it’s worth saying that I found a cooked vegan diet before I found a raw one. I was mostly vegan, then fully vegan, for about two years in full before I got into raw. So I don’t think that overall caloric adequacy was the hidden cause for my own personal digestive improvement with raw foods; what is worth pointing out was that I was still gaining from my last relapse in all of my early vegan years, and that raw foods were challenging at first because I personally found it harder to get the right amount of calories in to facilitate my continuing recovery. This is one reason I never went “fully” raw; I knew how important many cooked foods were to the density of my diet.

But let’s get back to the real heart of the matter here. If raw foods aren’t really much healthier for me than cooked foods, why eat them? And why write a blog that is identified with raw food?

The main answer is surprisingly simple: I love to eat raw foods. I very often prefer them to cooked ones. And from a culinary vantage point, I find raw foods recipes and techniques to be fun and fascinating. This isn’t my only reason, but it’s my primary one. When I got into raw foods, I was genuinely persuaded by the health claims. Years after I’ve stopped identifying with (many of) those claims, I’ve continued to love the food.

Do I continue to feel that there are any health benefits to a raw diet? Sure I do! One of the things that my research for the VegNews article affirmed is that some nutrients are more potent in certain raw vegetables, while others are released by cooking. Sometimes, a single vegetable’s antioxidant value may differ based upon whether it is raw or cooked: there’s more Vitamin C in a raw tomato, for example, but far more lycopene (also a powerful antioxidant) in a cooked one. This is the reason why I continue to think there’s a lot of value in a diet that includes both raw and cooked dishes (and the ratio should and can vary with preference).

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So? you’re thinking. Don’t most of us eat both raw and cooked foods anyway? Well, we do in theory. But one thing I found early in my vegan journey was that it was remarkably easy for me to go days and days without eating any raw foods at all. My diet was certainly whole foods oriented and healthy, but–in spite of the fact that salads were and are pretty much my favorite kind of food–it didn’t really occur to me to eat other kinds of raw vegetable dishes. And I don’t think I was unique in this regard. My early experiments with raw foods felt revelatory, then, because they unveiled new culinary possibilities for me. I added crunch and freshness to my diet, and I quickly found that I prefer to eat a lot of popular vegetables–fennel, carrots, beets, zucchini, even parsnip–raw. Part of why I’m passionate about sharing raw food is that I think most of us could afford to eat more of it, and I want to show people how.

I also felt much, much better when I started eating high raw. You know the story: my IBS started to abate, my energy increased, and I felt more even-keeled. Is it possible that–as my reader suggested–raw foods just happened to coincide with my getting healthier in general? Definitely. But I still feel strongly that raw foods facilitated some of my healing from IBS, and gave me new stores of energy. Maybe it was the insoluble fiber and hydration of eating a lot of raw produce; maybe it’s that I started getting a lot more greens into my diet; maybe it’s that I started juicing; maybe it’s that I put more focus on vegetables in general. All of these things would have been possible without raw foodism, per se, but for me, raw foodism was the gateway.

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When I was researching the article, a lot of the folks I talked to (Kristen, Natalia KW, Sarma) said that there’s something real and undeniable about the energy and overall wellness they feel when they eat higher raw, as opposed to less raw. From personal experience, I have to agree, though I’m also highly skeptical of claims of mysterious “health transformation” in the absence of hard, scientific evidence. For this reason, I don’t sell raw foodism as a panacea, and most of my energy is spent promoting the plant-based, whole foods bit when it comes to health. I try hard to distinguish personal history from broad claims that “raw is better” (which I certainly don’t think it is, not for everyone).

But to say that I don’t think raw foods had anything to do with my improved health would be a disavowal of my own experience. And I know from coaching others that we need to listen to personal testimony, even when there’s no hard evidence to explain it. This is especially true in the realm of diet. For instance, I have friends who say that grains simply don’t work for their constitutions. As someone who adores whole grains, I find it hard to imagine, and I think the health evidence to support a diet that includes them is substantial. That said, I can hardly claim that my friends are wrong, and I’m right. Ditto for fats: some folks find that higher fat meals put them to sleep–even if the fat in question is plant-based. Having always thrived on higher fat dishes, I don’t identify, but I think it’s entirely possible that different bodies have different responses to all sorts of foods and macronutrients. It’s not the same thing as making a blanket statement about health, but it is something to pay attention to in a personal context.

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All the more reason that, when people ask “why raw,” I have to say “it’s just what fits my constitution.” There are certainly broad pieces of nutrition evidence we can’t ignore: that processed foods are lousy for us, that an abundance of varied vegetables is good for us, that excessive animal protein can raise the risk for multiple chronic diseases, or that vegetable centric diets can lower them. But beyond that, there are particular nuances that we don’t fully understand, and which shift from person to person.

But anyway, my food choices aren’t exclusively related to my understanding of what’s healthy: they’re a combination of health, ethics, personal preference, and–for me–a consideration of my ED history. To be frank, if I were eating exclusively with health in mind, there would be little reason for me to be a strict vegan. Vegan diets are certainly associated with proven health benefits, but there’s also relatively little evidence to suggest that very moderate consumption of animal foods is terrible for you, so long as your diet is whole foods oriented. For me, veganism is the “ideal diet” not because it’s the only healthy diet, but because it’s the only diet in which my interest in health, compassion for animals, the environment, and my desire to tie my food choices to a greater good to intersect harmoniously. High raw veganism is where all of those factors meet my personal taste.

There is a final reason raw foods are so personally meaningful to me, and this one is heavily tied to my eating disorder. In the years surrounding my last relapse, I realized sadly how totally distanced I was from food. It had been so many years since I’d been able to regard food as anything other than a vehicle by which I could be either thin or fat. And the food choices I made were always centered around the delivery of a certain, controlled number of calories and nutrients. For this reason, they were usually many steps removed from nature: sugar free yogurt, Tasti-D-Lite, Zone bars, little packs of tuna, lettuce sprinkled with nothing but vinegar. Learning how to cook and going vegan helped to introduce me to whole foods, but raw foods did something even more profound for me. It’s hard to explain, but it was as if I’d been given a bunch of raw materials (pun intended) and told: “Here, create something sublime using only what nature gave us. Look how beautiful food really is.” Put more simply, I’d say that raw foodism allowed me to make an intimate connection with the food on my plate. And the connection has lasted.

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So that, friends, is why I still love raw foods, even if I’m not writing about the enzymes preserved in a dehydrator machine, or telling you that your body releases a flood of white blood cells every time you eat a morsel of cooked food, or that raw foods will help you to “detox.” I love raw foods because they taste wonderful to me, because they’re creative and fun, because they help me to celebrate the beauty of food, and because they make me feel good. They’re not for everyone, and I certainly won’t put on my nutritionist’s hat and tell you that they’re inherently better for you than cooked food. But I will put on my food writer’s cap, and tell you all about how much I love them. In the end, the fact that I can make food choices that are directed solely by preference and pleasure–not by health standards or nutrition research–is actually the biggest statement about my own recovery I could possibly make. I eat for health, but I also eat for pleasure. And it feels great.

On that note, time for me to study. I’d love to know what you think. As usual.

xo

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{ 89 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali Seiter July 24, 2012 at 9:09 pm

“It’s hard to explain, but it was as if I’d been given a bunch of raw materials (pun intended) and told: ‘Here, create something sublime using only what nature gave us. Look how beautiful food really is.’ Put more simply, I’d say that raw foodism allowed me to make an intimate connection with the food on my plate.”

I wholeheartedly appreciate this quote in particular, and it certainly resonates with me. Adopting a vegan diet in the midst of an ED made me feel, for the first time in a while, truly good about what I put into my body, rather than obsessing over how many calories it contained. Everything I ate on a wholesome plant-based diet nourished my body, and thus I felt comfortable gaining weight to once again achieve a healthy body mass. If I had tried to recover physically by eating loads of processed cookies or pints of ice cream, I’m certain I would have relapsed easily from the guilt of eating these blatantly unhealthy foods.

I also love your discussion of finding a diet that works on an individual level. I’m often quite frustrated by the USDA’s dietary guidelines that set such strict standards on how we should eat, imparting the American mindset that there exists only one “correct” way to eat (one that also involves the needless suffering of billions of animals), instead of suggesting that we truly listen to our own bodies and eat with intuition, not to mention with compassion toward all beings.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Gena.
Best,
Ali.

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Genevieve July 24, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Ali, it’s funny, those same lines stuck out to me too. There was never any joy for me in the food I relied on during my disordered days—fake sweeteners, diet yogurt, highly-processed protein bars. It is amazing to be able to take joy in food, isn’t it? Food: It comes from the earth! It’s beautiful and amazing and it’s good for you!

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Deb July 24, 2012 at 9:41 pm

That’s the *exact* same quote that resonated with me too!

Before I discovered raw foods, food was more functional for me. I ate it, it did its job, it induced some occasional pangs of guilt, and that was that.

But, when I serendipitously transitioned into the raw food realm, my relationship with food was transformed. Creating beautiful meals with nature’s raw materials (to reuse your perfect pun, Gena!) suddenly made food an art form—and one that fed my creative, spiritual, and hungry soul. The more raw I ate, the more grounded I felt. Nature has always been my spiritual connection, and simplicity has always been my desired state. Raw foods brought that all to my plate, and literally into every cell of my being.

In her book Women, Food, and God, Geneen Roth conveys how our relationship with food is a reflection of our relationship with life. As an eating disorder therapist, I’ve seen that relationship is a bidirectional one as well. And, as a raw foodist, I’ve personally discovered how eating food that is congruent with my body, mind, and soul allows me to feed my hunger for life. And, I’ve never felt so nourished!

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b.alive! July 28, 2012 at 11:28 am

Great article and I couldn’t agree more. Being a raw chef myself, I constantly get this question “How raw are you? ” And people get confused that I drink coffee, and that I am also eating cooked food. “Is it not agains the raw…?” There is nothing against and it all about finding your balance. The bottom line is genuine food and best quality. If you prepare food for yourself, using only the best prime whole food ingredients, then you already have done the biggest step to be on a healthy diet. Then, if raw and how much, that’s so dependent on your life style, body type and many factors and needs to be developed on a personal level. I was drawn to raw because I am a foodie and LOVE to eat and want to do this in the most healthy way, getting the most energy without putting lots of stress on my body. Raw food works like that. And then there is culinary pleasures and raw food can be just so yummy!! It’s most of the time what I really want. But cooked food is delicious as well, and I want to stay balanced and social and be able to go out for dinners, get invited to friends and just relax, therefore, it’s best to find your balanced base, but don’t get hung up on it.
Great article!! b.balanced – b.healthy – b.alive! :-)

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sharon March 25, 2013 at 1:07 am

im not sp;d on this its not actually raw food as in ie meat raw, its uncooked vegetables that can be eaten either uncooked or cooked no such thing as a raw vegetable

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Marisa July 24, 2012 at 9:26 pm

“I love raw foods because they taste wonderful to me, because they’re creative and fun, because they help me to celebrate the beauty of food, and because they make me feel good.”
I loved this quote because it is all the reasons why I love raw foods as well! I have to also agree with what you said about everyone’s constitution being different. I love grain dishes and believe they can be a healthy part of one’s diet, but I have to be careful how much I have, along with the fats, because if I eat too much they both make me very lethargic. I really wish that wasn’t the case! Also my mom’s body healed from breast cancer after she went on a 100% living foods diet, so I do know that there is something to it. Whether she would have also healed just on a vegan plant based diet I don’t know, but I do know that that what she is doing is working for her. Although sometimes I wonder if she needs to add some other things into her diet. I feel that 100% raw isn’t good in the long term. Thanks for the post! I didn’t mind the length at all. :)

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Amanda July 24, 2012 at 9:27 pm

As someone who has known you for a few years and looked up to you the entire time, I’m actually a little irritated that someone would interpret your enthusiasm for raw foods as disordered. I don’t know who the person is or what your relationship to her is, but it leads me to think that person has never had an eating disorder. To have suffered – or to suffer – an eating disorder is to know how far you’ve come and how mature you are, both as a person and as an eater. A friend of mine (who suffered from severe anorexia years ago) asked me last night if I could recommend some of my recent dietary changes to her; my response was, of course, “it seems to be working for me, but I can’t promise what it will do for you.” To have put in the YEARS of effort, discovery, self-experimentation, study, and trial that you have into figuring out what works best for you and your personal health, all while helping others to recover from eating disorders or, at a minimum, discover healthier habits? THAT is dietary sacrifice and maturity. And I’m appreciative of it; your emailer should be, too.

PS: As you know, I heart raw foods. A little sad to hear that I can’t blindly recommend a high-raw diet to everyone now!

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Gena July 24, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Amanda,

I can’t tell me how much your admiration (however unworthy I feel of it) means to me.

I think you can still recommend them, with the qualification that 100% is probably not the way to go :) Why? Well, the aforementioned bit about needing a mix of raw and cooked for nutrient maximization. The fact that, when you focus on raw, you immediately cut a lot of crap out of your diet. And the fact that they’re exquisite, refreshing, and delicious :)

xo

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Ricki July 24, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I’d never purport to be a raw foodist, yet so much of what you say here resonates with me, too. I just feel drawn to raw foods, I love how they look/taste, and I feel good when I eat a lot of them. As always, thank you for your honesty and your thought provoking viewpoint. Looking forward to the VegNews piece!

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Simone July 24, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Great article! I agree with so much of what you have said- there is just something so fresh and vibrant and delicious and FUN about raw foods that it is worth eating them, despite whatever health benefits that raw food brings. I always tell my students in classes that they don’t need to be 100% or even 80% raw to really enjoy and get benefit from eating raw. I think these benefits come from crowding out the crap they have in their diet. Instead of eating a hamburger or something fried or loaded with gluten, they might try a raw burrito or zucchini noodles, thus they are making a healthier food choice by eating something raw. Raw food can bring helath benefits because it makes people make healthier choices. I think that a lot of vegans also eat far too much fatty foods, so incorporating raw vegan dishes into a vegan diet can balance things out a lot more. There ARE many beneficial things that can come from eating a predominantly raw diet or even just incorporating more raw dishes into the diet, and the rest of the time by eating plant based whole foods will mean having a very balanced and healthy diet (in my opinion).

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:45 am

Simone,

One of the points Kristen made was that raw foods have a lot to do with what they crowd out of your diet — not just enzymes or whatnot. So I think that’s similar to what you’re saying!

G

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Ali July 24, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I really like this post because it clarifies your relationship with raw foods, which has confused me over the years reading your blog. Interestingly, it also takes away my occasional feelings of guilt over high-raw not really working for my schedule or digestive system (or my marriage haha!). So thank you for that. I don’t think there can ever be too many reminders that different things work for different constitutions and we’re all a little different.

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:48 am

Ali,

So glad it was elucidating. It has taken me a long while, because (as you can tell from the post), I’ve been evolving on this matter for a while, and I didn’t want to speak up before I’d really sifted through my own feelings and convictions.

May you keep loving raw foods when they love you back — but not when they mess with your marriage :)

xo

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Averie @ Averie Cooks July 24, 2012 at 10:06 pm

what a post – must have taken you more than 3 minutes to toss together :)

thanks for your candid thoughts, observations, and sort of the “test of time” perspective on it all…i remember when I first came across your blog in early to mid 2009 and some of this all sort of feels like a flashback and it’s fun to reminisce and ponder.

All any of us can do, is just eat what feels right to us, and that makes us feel our best, on all levels. Good for you for doing that.

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Shira July 24, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Gorgeously written, thoughtful, and intelligent. Your perspective is so authentic Gena that each and every post you write from the heart is a pleasure to read! Raw food, cooked food, any food, learning to love it and understanding how it fits with your body and mind in a healthy way is such a gift :) Regardless of all the science, listening to our bodies could be the best advice going – thanks for sharing!

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Maya July 24, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Gena, this is such a great post! As other commenters pointed out, there are many great things you say that resonate with me. When I first started experimenting with raw, I too found that it gave me a strong appreciation for the bounty of foods on the planet that nourish us.
I’ve been eating less raw lately, and even though I know the point of this wasn’t to sway readers to eat more (or less) raw food, I am now inspired to start eating more raw again. Thank you!

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:49 am

Thank YOU, Maya, for the insightful remark. And also for saying hi — been way too long since we chatted.

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Sarah E. July 24, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Gena, I love this post. I loved this especially: “Put more simply, I’d say that raw foodism allowed me to make an intimate connection with the food on my plate. And the connection has lasted.”

Thank you for championing this lifestyle, and for the reminder that raw food is still delicious, still healthful, still wonderful, even if it may not live up to all of the health claims staked by the movement’s leaders.

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Sarah E. July 24, 2012 at 10:38 pm

*some of the movement’s leaders. You are one of the movement leaders!

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:39 am

Oh, sweet friend, I think “leader” is a big word. Let’s just say “enthusiast.” :)

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Caroline July 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm

“Vegan diets are certainly associated with proven health benefits, but there’s also relatively little evidence to suggest that very moderate consumption of animal foods is terrible for you, so long as your diet is whole foods oriented”

Thank you so much. I’ve had a very bad day discovering a blog which basically bashed all of The China Study/Forks Over Knives evidence of animal products being bad for you… and that had become a passionate part of my veganism. I realize now it doesn’t have to be. And hearing this from you, instead of just reading stories about people who ended up not thriving on a vegan diet and bash it… is inspiring. This is such a great post, thank you :)

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:55 am

Caroline,

It’s tough to talk about the China Study/FOK school of thought because I know how powerfully it motivates people to go vegan. And I agree with a lot of the research; I just think some of it is over-simplified and overstated. And beyond that, even if it were all foolproof, there’s still relatively more evidence on hand to say that some (very moderate, very careful) animal food consumption in an otherwise vegetable centric diet is OK.

So the question for me becomes, how else do we motivate people to see the value in veganism? For me, I think I see tremendous value in the health benefits, but I think they are rendered more meaningful in concert with a lot of other pieces: the environment, animals, and one’s feeling of purpose.

G

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Amanda July 24, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I think it’s interesting to note that we are the only species that eats cooked food. And I do find that uncomfortable at times. But from an anthropological standpoint the reason we have advanced so much as a species may be due to our ability to cook foods. What I think is most important is to eat whole foods. And, despite all of the information out there, I also think it’s important to listen to your body. I feel best when I eat high raw with cooked legumes, quinoa, rice, etc. Listening to your intuition is often the best person to listen to. But reading your blog and my consultations with you have helped hone my intuitive eating and I thank you for that!

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Janae @ Bring-Joy July 24, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Gena, I always enjoy reading what you have to say. Thanks for being open & honest about your ED. Something that I haven’t shared w/ my readers (I hope to at some point), is that I struggled w/ a mild ED when I was 12, & remnants of it sometimes surface. When I finally went 100% vegan, I tried a 100% raw diet for about 6 weeks, but I after awhile, 100% was too much. I found out about the McDougall & Furhman approach, & have done some form of one or the other (or both) for the last 6 years. I felt like a low fat vegan diet w/ a lot of raw foods has helped me to maintain a healthy weight (even while having 4 kids), but I found I was getting obsessive about restricting oils, nuts, higher calorie foods, or any “junk” foods whatsoever. Since I’ve had to lose weight after all of my pregnancies, I’ve been in weight loss mode many times during the past 7 years. I finally am at the point where I’m not worrying about fat grams, calories, my weight. I’m learning how to truly eat intuitively. It’s a process. I think I finally am able to do this because I’m no longer teaching 2-3 hours of exercise classes a day (which, ironically made it hard to eat intuitively because my appetite was so out of whack). Anyway, lovely thoughts, Gena!

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 6:03 am

Janae,

Thank you for speaking freely about your own ED here at CR. We all celebrate your recovery with you!

Intuitive eating does not come easily (oh the irony…), and while I’m far along in that direction, I still have my own quirks (I feel dissapointed if a meal isn’t delicious, I dislike eating on the go, when I can’t enjoy it, and I don’t feel comfortable skipping or having light meals, even when I’m not very hungry). But I’m much closer to it than ever before. So glad you’re getting there, too.

Interestingly, on the topic of constitutions, the Fuhrman/Barnard style was my original entry into veganism. I can’t rightly explain why it didn’t feel harmonious, but it didn’t: I craved fats, I was often hungry, and I wanted freedom to use a little flax oil on salads :) I know it’s miraculous for others, though, which is all just continued proof of the variety of bodies and temperaments out there.

G

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Amanda July 25, 2012 at 7:45 am

Wow, tiny permitted dietary fat levels would be the death of me! I find that such a method would be popular among ED-recovering folks surprising. I’ve read that we’re the folks who need higher ratios of dietary fat to function, not lower ratios.

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 7:56 am

Yes, that’s my feeling, too. I can’t deny the tremendous amount of anecdotal evidence in favor of the low fat approach; it works for many folks I know, and beyond that, I think it has shown great promise for those at risk for heart disease. That said, it simply isn’t for me. I thrive off of healthy fats; they’ve been a cornerstone of my diet since I recovered, and I find them immensely calming, grounding, satiating, and delicious. I was definitely a no fat/low fat/fat phobe for nearly a decade, and in a more spiritual way, the fat content I got from my early days of raw food felt almost redemptive: nourishment to make up for time lost.

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wendy (healthy girl's kitchen) July 25, 2012 at 8:26 am

“I don’t feel comfortable skipping or having light meals, even when I’m not very hungry.”

Gena-i struggle with this also. Would love to learn how to eat more intuitively . . . maybe a post on that from you? xoxo

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 8:37 am

Wendy,

Writing that post would, at the moment, mean writing about why intuitive eating (in the sense of always allowing my body’s cravings to dictate how I eat) isn’t really for me :) I think it’s a fantastic concept and that it works for others; for me, personally, consistent, steady meals that are mindful of all macronutrient groups has been a saving grace in my sustained, successful recovery. They keep my metabolism high and very active; they keep me feeling balanced and grounded; the consistency supports me and prevents me from giving into a natural urge to eat less when I’m stressed out (which, for me, is not a healthy impulse). I can certainly imagine a time when I’m more intuitive (life is long), but for now, steady, complete meals at consistent intervals is definitely the way to go.

When I was coaching, I saw intuitive eating do wonders for some. For others, obeying the impulse to skip meals or eat less at times could ultimately reinforce restrictive tendencies, or they could leave one feeling famished, and prone to overeating/emotional eating later on. It’s tricky. I support the idea of intuitive eating, listening to the body, and so on, but I also think that our cravings can actually be a little misleading (monthly hormones, for example, can certainly enhance or decrease appetite in ways that don’t reflect deeper nutritional needs), and that there is something to be said for mindfulness and consistency, as well as intuition. Food for thought–I’m sure I’ll expand at some point!
:)

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wendy (healthy girl's kitchen) July 25, 2012 at 10:27 am

I have always shyed away from intuitive eating because my intuition would tell me to eat birtday cake for dinner every day. But I recognize that I could stand to understand what my body needs a heck of a lot differently than I currently am able to do. I eat too much. It’s that simple. It’s food my body doesn’t need. I wish I could make that connection that allows me to stop eating when my body doesn’t need the calories or nutrients anymore. Most of the time, i just eat until the amount of food on my plate is finished–and it could be a very large volume of food–like I am a bottomless pit.

Janae @ Bring-Joy July 25, 2012 at 9:07 am

Funny, I too just crave a bit more fat. For the longest time I *craved* nut butters, avocados, etc. & would feel guilt if I indulged. I think the Furhman/Barnard approach, as you point out works beautifully for some, but for me, I felt like while it did liberate me in certain ways (no longer was my weight a concern) in others, I felt very restricted. When I don’t have any fats in my diet, I feel like I have to eat a ton more of food & I’m never quite satisfied. I’ve been a part of discussion boards/forums on the topic, & these movement leaders seem to preach that if this happens to you “it’s all in your head” or you’re doing it wrong, &/or your damaging your health.

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Not so. I got a really poignant email from a woman whose health was actually starting to falter from the Esselstyn approach, and I have a post planned in response, which incorporates some of the research on why it’s NOT all in your head.

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Janae @ Bring-Joy July 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Yes! Thank you, I look forward to seeing your response. Women have different needs then men, especially women of childbearing age (breastfeeding, pregnant, also a different set of needs). You rock, Gena! ox

Jacqui July 25, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Hi Gena and group-

Luker but don’t comment much, My restrictive eating was triggered by Furhman and approach, I followed his guidelines to get “healthier” from an already healthy weight and went down the rabbit hole of ED all the way to BMI 15 and I’m still crawling out. It is hard for me to even be objective re the approach advocated there-to me its borderline irresponsible-especially the weight guidelines Dr Furhman promotes. Thoughts???

Sarah July 25, 2012 at 12:35 am

This was really interesting for me to read because not only is it well written, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the years. Since I went veg at the age of 12, my reasons for eschewing animal products have evolved and are now substantially different from their origins. More recently, I have even come around to the idea that eating meat is not unhealthy, which is a pretty dramatic shift from where I was when I recovered from my ED. Still, I have no desire to eat meat, even though I no longer believe it’s inherently unhealthy, and I’ve thought a lot about why that is. There is, of course, the fact that I have many other (stronger) motivators to eat this way. But there’s also something that’s a bit more difficult to place my finger on, and this is where my thoughts coincide with yours: it suits my constitution. I thrive on this diet, and I see no reason to compromise on my deeper values just because my more superficial (and I am speaking for me here, not you) values for eating this way have changed. I no longer believe that the way I eat is the healthiest, as I naively felt at one time, but I do feel like it’s the right way for me. I am now more uncomfortable with the often overblown health and environmental claims of the vegan movement than I once was, and this has made me shy away from it in name. However, I am still very much there in practice, and it’s nice to read this lengthy, insightful post that reminds me of the spirit of that commitment.

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:43 am

Sarah,

Having known you for quite some time, I have sensed that we both were making similar transformations of purpose with veganism at the same time. It’s not that veganism doesn’t continue to strike me as one extremely healthful choice. It’s just that it’s one of a couple healthful choices; what make it lasting for me is that it marries so much of what is important and nourishing to me together. I am glad you’ve had similar revelations.

I agree that the health claims are sometimes exaggerated. It’s tough, because I know they also plant a seed of interest (which can later grow into a more nuanced appreciation of the diet, as I know from experience). So, rock and a hard place on how to talk about that one. I start with simple honesty :)

xo

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The clean eating mama July 25, 2012 at 1:16 am

I have been a huge fan of yours for years… And this is why. These posts. You open your heart and dump your thoughts in a way we feel connected and centered. Eating is about fueling your body and mind. You hit the nail on the head with this post.
Love… Always

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:44 am

I am so happy you feel that way. Sending hugs.

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity July 25, 2012 at 2:20 am

Great post!
I am an all or nothing kind of person. But the one thing in my life that has a middle ground is raw foodism.
I remember one of your posts a while back when you wanted to have a cook meal but then said ” I should really eat raw”. You snapped yourself out of that mindset and checked back in with yourself so you didn’t get obsessive,

I become vegan thanks to you and It has helped me more than all the years of therapy and pills I’ve had, to try to recover from my ED.

I could see that a raw food only diet would just be an obsession for me personally rather than getting back to why I went vegan in the first place; to heal my body and mind, help the environment and stand up for animal rights.

I’m glad to hear that others find it easier to eat cooked foods, because I find it a lot easier on my digestive system but I balance out my raw and cooked raw with every meal.

Gena, I appreciate how you don’t try and sell something and that you are real about the fact that everyones body is different.

I cant thank you enough xx

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:51 am

Lisa,

What’s fascinating to me is that the two realms of my life in which I really don’t obsess or chase after perfection is raw food, and yoga. I’m lucky, because both could be a doorway to overthinking things. So glad that you, with a similar history, can find a gray area with raw food.

G

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Liz July 25, 2012 at 2:30 am

I’ve been a reader since June 2010 and can honestly credit you with turning me toward whole, plant-based foods (and therefore changing my life). I cannot thank you enough for that.

As wonderful as I’ve always found you and your blog to be — fellow Columbia grad! Thoughtful! Literate! Makes great food! — I must admit I’ve been wanting a more honest post about your obvious move away from raw food (dogma). A long time coming, and well worth the wait.

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:40 am

That means so much to me, Liz. Both the response to this (overdue, I agree) post, but more importantly, that I have helped to inspire your interest in plant based whole foods. Go Lions, eh?

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Alexia @ NamasteYoga July 25, 2012 at 4:55 am

Hurray for this wonderful article. I absolutely agree with this quote too: “I love raw foods because they taste wonderful to me, because they’re creative and fun, because they help me to celebrate the beauty of food, and because they make me feel good.”

There are so many different ways of eating raw already, it means a different thing to everyone and therefore should not be judgemental at all. we are all different and there is no reason to judge someone by their eating behaviour and to classify the ultimate raw diet only as right if it is 100% vegan& plant based. you make some great points in your posts and i would love to show it to all my friends and clients to then understand what is behind this lifestyle. that it is no obsession with food but a mere pleasure, enjoyment, love for something so simple. just like someone enjoys reading a book i enjoy giving my body lots of delicious nutrients that make me feel good. if the other person thinks that reading books is going to make them feel good- go ahead. nobody would ever put that in question though!

thank u gena, you are a little genious! ;)

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Gena July 25, 2012 at 5:49 am

I am hardly a genius, but thank you! (And I think we have success on the spam front!)

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wendy (healthy girls kitchen) July 25, 2012 at 6:18 am

Gena-I come from the other end of the ED spectrum. Overeating is my issue, not undereating. Raw foods (without oil/nuts) are invaluable to me. Ideally, I would eat a raw vegetable dish (the least calorie dense) as the start to any meal, followed by a cooked vegetable dish (about double the calorie density of raw), followed by starches and grains. This way, I can achieve a feeling of fullness from the volume of low calorie food that I consume. So, hooray for raw!!!!! But I am glad that all of this fuss seems to be ending about raw foods being the end all be all. Your feeling of loving the food that you eat really resonates with me, and feeling bad about eating a cooked vegan dish is something I don’t want to be doing. Thanks for this beautiful article!

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Marlena Torres August 1, 2012 at 5:53 am

Wendy, I feel you! I agree that I am glad that viewing all raw as the end all be all seems to be coming to an end in the health food world, but I agree with you that I absolutely need lots of raw foods in my life in order to feel satisfied due to my struggles in the past.

Gena, I love your epic posts!

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Cassandra July 25, 2012 at 6:31 am

Thanks for sharing, Gena! As I passed my 1 year of veganism mark, I started getting more into raw foods because I also enjoy the creative culinary aspect of it and was starting to buy into the health claims more. However, I’ve cut back on focusing on it because I saw myself starting to get a little obsessive and show remnants of disordered behaviors. I definitely shouldn’t feel bad for eating steamed kale as opposed to raw! Your recipes and insight help me stay balanced so thank you! :)

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Veggie V @ Veggie V's Vegan Adventure July 25, 2012 at 7:36 am

I’m getting ready to write a post about my diet evolution to high raw in the past few months, and your sentiments are practically a mirror of my own. I eat what I like and what makes my body happy. I think that’s all that needs to be said. By anyone.

Thanks for sharing :-) Definitely need to check out your article. (I swear I renewed my subscription to VegNews, but apparently I didn’t because I stopped receiving issues in the mail. Boo!)

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Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie July 25, 2012 at 7:52 am

Thank you so much for sharing this, I love to hear from people who are truly passionate about the way that they feed themselves. Such a pleasant 180 from the masses who just stick food in their mouths without thinking, Thank you!

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Lauren July 25, 2012 at 7:54 am

Thank you for being such an honest, beautiful, smart person. This post is one of the many reasons I read your blog. I agree, I eat raw food because I feel better (as you mentioned, thanks for the shout out). but I do understand that a lot of people can’t digest it well. I get the emails all the time. Lol! Anyway, keep doing what you are doing, you are such a bright light. :)

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Evita July 25, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hi Gena

Excellent article and my thoughts echo so much of what many of the other commentators mentioned. I truly believe and *feel* that there is so much more going on when it comes to our food choices today. It is not just about health, even though we realized how much our body thrives on the most natural, whole plant foods. It is not just about environmental sustainability or ethics. It is something so much bigger in the course of human evolution where we are shifting our consciousness to a new way of living with ourselves, each other and all life.

This is why I do not necessarily see the vegan or raw food ways of eating as “diets” or anything close to obsessive, or restrictive….they are simply lifestyles that are most in alignment with who we have become – who we are based on our current level of conscious awareness. As quantum physicist Tom Campbell shares “a highly evolved consciousness is love”. To me this does not mean anyone being better or worse than another, but simply acting with the highest level of love towards the self and all other life forms on this planet. This means nourishing ourselves in the most loving ways….whatever that may mean for any of us at any given moment of our personal evolutionary journey.

As for myself, I thank you as being one of my sources of inspiration for piquing my interest in raw foods a few years ago and I continue to enjoy the amazing overall feeling that comes with this way of eating of feeling so zestfully and vibrantly alive! It never was or will be for me about numbers, just about enjoying the best that nature has to offer :)

p.s. I heard in a David Wolfe talk that tomatoes don’t actually have to be cooked to release the lycopene, but simply blending them raw is enough (?) not sure if you came across this in your experience.

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L. July 25, 2012 at 8:57 am

Really really enjoyed this blog. It answered a lot of unanswered questions that I had about you!!

I can’t believe who you interviewed!!! Doug Graham AND Joel Fuhrman?? Dang girl. I’m seriously considering buying my first issue of Vegnews.

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Marta July 25, 2012 at 9:20 am

elucidate! word of the day :D great post

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Deja July 25, 2012 at 9:30 am

I don’t think I’ve ever commented, but thank you for this really honest and level-headed post. I think what you’re talking about here–finding the intersection of all that’s important to us when it comes to food and eating–is really important and really powerful. You give me hope I can find it for myself.

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Alex @ fightcancerwithfood July 25, 2012 at 10:09 am

I have to admit, I don’t have anything particularly ground-breaking or interesting to add to the debate, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post. You did a really great job of explaining both sides – that it’s not necessarily the best way of eating for everyone and that it does have its flaws (as every option does, and some far more than high raw), but it was the best choice for you. It’s refreshing to read such a detailed explanation of your reasons; I get the feeling that so many people are jumping on various different bandwagons without thinking about how it applies to them and the way they currently/want to live their life. Thank you for taking the time to put it all into words!

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Lorena July 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

In my quest to reduce waste in my house, I gave up my VegNews subscription some time ago and never did get around to subscribing to the tree-free edition. Looks like I need to either find VegNews at the library or purchase a copy post-haste so I can read your article, Gena! As a writer surrounded by a medically minded family who balked at my turn towards vegetarianism in my teens, I’m sure it’ll be thought-provoking and well informative. I, too, noticed the energy boost a high-raw diet gave me when I experimented with it a few summers ago; I may need to try it out again since I’m a mom to an exuberant toddler!

To another one of your points, I’ve been involved in a workplace health/fitness team challenge this summer (nothing like those horrible juice fasts you blogged about — thank goodness!), and I also noticed that a lot of those so-called “health” foods are nothing but engineered flavors, stabilizers and sweeteners. It’s alarming in some ways, as I’ve always leaned more towards whole foods. With summer, it just seems so much more natural to eat more fruits and vegetables anyway, whether it’s raw or cooked. I guess “health” foods just have better marketing than whole foods…

Anyway, thanks for the great post and I’ll be sure to check out your article soon!

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Audrey July 25, 2012 at 11:13 am

Wonderful post, Gena. You said it all and beautifully articulated many of the feelings I’ve been sifting through on these topics.

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Cammila July 25, 2012 at 11:34 am

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I identify with your sentiments very strongly, and you’ve very effectively crystallized many points that I’ve tried (sometimes clumsily) to articulate myself. I’ve always loved your “no magic, no bullshit” perspective as a nutritionist, and as a blogger myself, I’m ashamed I haven’t commented more to show my admiration and support. Keep it up, Gena, your readers appreciate it!

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The Delicate Place (@misathemeb) July 25, 2012 at 11:46 am

this. “Here, create something sublime using only what nature gave us. Look how beautiful food really is.” i really wish that everyone would recognize this fact…the health of our country would be greatly improved!

thank you gena once again for such thoughtful and non judgemental prose!

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Maggie July 25, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Gena this is a fabulously honest and refreshing piece of writing. I’ve always loved your blog, but now I love it (and you) even more! I feel the same about raw foods – they’re fabulous. Nothing like pulling some romaine from your garden that is still WARM from the sun. Tell me that isn’t good for you? Holy moly :) I like your balance and I appreciate that you bring that balance to your blog. I feel fabulous (right now) on a vegan diet, but hesitate to label myself or my blog vegan. I realize veganism is just part of my food journey, as was meat-eating and vegetarianism. Anyway, I’m rambling now. Just know that this post really resonated with me!
I’ve pinned this under Nutritional info. Thanks for sharing Gena.

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Maggie July 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm

PS. I could never go high raw – how could I live without sweet potato fries? Hehe.

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Laura C July 25, 2012 at 12:07 pm

This is wonderful, Gena. I think we’ve grown in similar ways away from the fear-based and dogma-based raw food doctrine, and your leadership was in part what led me to allow myself to do that. My ED voice silenced my own intuition and intellect- “if I’m not thin then I can’t trust my mind and body, and I need to follow someone else’s advice.” Unfortunately I think that’s rather common. Thank you for leading people trapped by their own self-doubt towards greater freedom. I was waiting for someone to do that- it’s just sad that I was waiting at all. Like most everyone else I love your comment that effectively speaks to a spiritual connection with raw foods. I share that connection, though I also get a similar feeling from really natural cooked foods- sweet potatoes, kale soup, etc. I identify currently as “mostly vegan” but I don’t label my degree of raw, which fluctuates a lot. I simply add “and I love raw foods.” That sums up the feeling of connection to nature and the energy and pleasure I derive from preparing meals from whole raw foods. At the public scale I think advocacy of raw foods is of great importance because eating raw just about guarantees minimal processing at most- it ensures delivery of all the compounds in a raw food and their known and unknown synergistic properties, without synthetic chemicals and fillers and so on. I’d love to see advocacy for “raw and whole foods”- not a raw food diet, but a diet of raw and (cooked) whole foods. When I don’t focus on raw foods, it’s easy for me to slip into a much more compromised diet- cooked food is simply much more varied in health value than raw food. For me it’s as simple as that- raw food has guaranteed health value, and makes me feel good. I also value cooked food and have shrugged of any fear or judgment about that- I don’t think about cooked vs raw anymore- I only think about “have I packed in some good raw food today?”
I have one final thought, which is that I’d like to challenge you to embrace the notion of yourself as a leader. You often shrug that label off when it’s suggested, and I’d love for you to rethink that. You diminish yourself and your demonstrated influence, as well as the influence and work of this whole community, when you deny yourself credit. We see you as a leader, because we have followed you, and I think you know very well all the lives you’ve changed, and all the lives you are working and planning to change as a blogger, nutritionist, speaker, columnist, vegan advocate, med student etc. :)

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sonja@vesenmork July 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I’m just like you: raw foods just seem to fit my palate one way or another. When I was little I detested vegetables: my mother cooked them till they were like mush: carrots, cauliflower, peas, brocoli… and I always thought that veggies were just plain and bland and yuckie. It wasn’t untill me and boyfriend moved in together and I started cooking for ourselves, I discovered how wonderfull veggies actually could be, retaining their natural crunch when cooking times were cut down. My own quest towards health has led me to the blogworld, veganism (although not always 100%) and most recently raw food and I discovered just like you I enjoy most vegetables the best in their raw, pure state, even brocoli. Only exeptions are probably winter squash and sweet potatoes. But for some reason or another the flavours of raw food is so pure, so beautiful, so uplifint, so full of live.
Although I must admit, that for me, my journey into health foods isn’t tied to recovery from but a relapse into a disordered eating pattern. I notice I try to be the “perfect” healthy eater, till I crack and just give up. Into the extreme, repeating a restriction/binge cycle.
But since I tried to go as raw as I can be (98%??) I broke the cycle. I don’t want to credit raw foods with any mysterious properties neither, but I do feel like they have given me a renewed energy to fight my battle. And I’m so thankful for that. Being thankful for beautiful food means a lot for me at this point, so I know I will alway want to be high raw, but I do feel like I have to steer away from black and white thinking in order to reach a truly healthy mindset. No need for 100% anything (for me personally, I don’t even think 100% veganism), but just lots of daily salads, juices, smoothies and so on and than the occasional stepping outside the box if I feel like it.
thank you for your clarity

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Kate (Peacocks & Moonshine) July 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Beautiful post Gena.
I love the honesty in this post. You aren’t trying to convence us of anything or shove dogmatic regurgitations in our face, you are simply saying you eat mostly raw because you like it. Incredibly refreshing :)

Thank you for this post-

xo

Kate

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purelymichelle July 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm

oh where to begin. there is so much I agree with you on…wait just about everything. when I was first introduced to raw foods, I was immediately intrigued by everything…the preparation, the colors, the taste, the health benefits. I do believe raw foods helped me with my ED, as it taught me to love food again, to enjoy food, to really taste it. Even though I am not 100% raw foods, never really was, because I found I do best with a balance. There are days when I eat very little raw, and others when I eat more. I do my best to listen to my body and just go with it, no matter if is raw or cooked. Everyone is different, and it takes time to find what works for you.
And I also just really really love making raw desserts!!! I love they way they taste, even if it might require more steps.

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shelley July 25, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Brilliant as usual!

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Kenneth July 25, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I agree, I have meet many raw foodists who insist their diet is the best, but they really have no evidence of that. I have personally found out that I feel better when I include cooked food in my diet. Some people are obsessed about raw foods and that is not healthy, especially the medical claims they make. It can be dangerous to follow their advice.

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Debby Sunshine July 25, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I really admire your flexibility and open mind to the views of others. Sometimes it’s hard to change (even a little) your beliefs about nutrition. Great post!

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charlie July 26, 2012 at 1:57 am

Gena, summer mango sundrop
Grateful am I for your naked honesty, so exploited by the plethora of raw preachers in this lifetime. I only have this one, and I very nearly lost it twenty years ago with annorexia and given 3 weeks to live. At the time I was vegan, very depressed and also bordering into body dysmorphia as the weight came off…something residual remains. And now I am living with the after ripples of osteoporosis, leading,me to seek alternatives to a vegan diet emphasising alkaline green foods and seaweeds. It was too easy to bulk my stomach up with steamed veg and maintain low weights, scared- yes, of fats and fat. Just the word was an obsession and aversion (so I think of it as lubrication!)
Eventually I stumbled on raw, i found i simply wanted to eat more and the mental shift was huge, body lapping up the minerals, i have regained body vigor and zest for life. At first I thought I had substituted one compulsive disorder for another and maybe from the outside that appears so, but I know that is only shallow waters and the oceanic depth is largely hidden. Yet, my fiercest critics have to concede that I am strong, motivational, positive and vibrant (words I cringe at because I would never have believed it) and so the meat and cake crowd are curious and mystified by my raw lunches…to the point of sampling and complementing.
I read far too many raw preacher scriptures, admiring the spirit path of Drs Cousens and Clements but being drawn to fruit that helped build me up, sighing with relief at 811 yet worrying about turning down so much green alkaline calcium rich veg, focusing on high fat bad, experimenting and loving gourmet and cacao (something freakily scarey for me after 27 years no choc, bland simple diet) yet being influenced that fat lead to candida and heart probs (by the way I am a cardiac physiologist, so I undetstand the body so much more wisely now) or too much fruit leads to candida and demineralisation…ye gods, I don’t need any more restrictions on my eating please, I just want to continue eating as my bodyheartmind needs, bringing lack of disease, arthritis now abated, mirrors and scales put away.
If I fancy cooking some greens because raw Brocc gives me gassy bloated tum and it retains calcium then please do not judge me (and I am saying this to you, inner Charlie). As it is, raw is a reflex choice now…but everything changes with no exception and if we eat raw today and cooked tomorrow, I am still 100% authentic Charlie.
Thank you, darling Gena, you wordsmith poetry of the heart is applauded. I am new to your site but thank kale I found it, goodbye youtube extremists xxx

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Hannah July 26, 2012 at 5:23 am

Beautiful, beautiful post, Gena. I’m too swamped in preparations to write a response that does your words justice, but wanted to spare a moment to chime in with a big “woot!” of support. So: WOOT indeed.

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Ally July 26, 2012 at 6:07 am

Wow, what a great article Gena! I identified with so much of what you wrote – making the transition from vegetarian to vegan to high raw over a number of years. And you have hit the nail on the head in that IT JUST FEELS RIGHT to eat mainly raw. That’s the answer why! Sure there are times when I feel the need to pack in some brown rice, some roasted veggies, or a vegan baked nom nom but I unknowingly always end up back with a salad and a juice a few days later and always feel I have come home when I do so. Maybe that is because I have created those foods as familiar but I also can’t deny the zing my body feels after eating a high raw meal, and I crave leafy greens and the crunch factor when I find myself without them for a few days while travelling.
Also, coming from an ED background, I think what you mention about being high raw showing you a new way to appreciate and view food is also so true. I now want to feed my body as opposed to deprive it as all the colours, textures, flavours, and amazing things you can create are so inspiring!

Thankyou for just nailing it with this post =)

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Christa @ Edible Balance July 26, 2012 at 7:22 am

‘Look how beautiful food really is…’

What a lovely statement, Gena! I was just discussing with my co-worker yesterday about why I eat the way I do. I’m not even close to being a raw foodist, but he is increasingly fascinated by the way I eat. His last question to me was, ‘do you find yourself eating things you just don’t like, simply because you know it’s good for you?’. My response, shockingly even to me, was no. Regardless of what I eat, I have come to understand (but obviously still learning) how incredibly amazing nature’s food is. We were not meant to eat these highly processed foods or Adam and Eve would be eating it! Silly notion, but there it is. Realizing the benefits of clean, whole foods and how they affect our bodies is incredibly freeing.

Thank you, as always, for putting into words what so many of us feel about raw food, veganism, food in general, but can’t always speak so eloquently about! You are an incredible voice <3

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Stephanie July 26, 2012 at 7:27 am

Great post Gena. Has anyone experienced extreme tiredness switching to a raw/vegan diet? I was eating mostly raw for a couple of weeks and it was strange, I had more energy in general but at the same time I felt like I got hit by a truck….so tired. sleeping 10 hrs a night, late for work everyday, I really liked eating this way but something had to change. Anyone else experience this?

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Kasandra Bracken July 26, 2012 at 9:15 am

Gena, how brave and beautiful of you to share this with us! I think each one of us who embarks to change their health is on a journey, and it is only natural that our thoughts, tendencies, and opinions shall shift as we learn, grow, and change. However it is only some who are brave enough to share this with everyone, especially when so much rests on their former declarations. Thank you so much for sharing!

I appreciate the influx of new knowledge, and I completely agree – coming from a place where food was as far from “food” as it could have possibly been, eating raw, local, organic foods, preferably bought directly from farmers, have really helped to connect with the idea of nourishment, appreciation, and yes, even taste! :)

Thank you so much Gena, you are truly an inspiration.

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Colleen July 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Great post, and great comments (still reading them all, because they’re very helpful and insightful).

I like the idea that raw foods serve as a “gateway.” For me, I was introduced to veganism via the idea that I not only needed eliminate animal products from my diet but also that I need some more live enzymes in my life. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue quite a bit, but what I’ve learned in the process is similar (with the help of this blog): that I love raw foods and that it fits my constitution. So, I try to never go a day without some raw food, if not a meal without raw food.

Moreover, it has made me appreciate food in a way that my eating disorder has not allowed me to do. From there, I’ve done a lot of research on agriculture, and just generally educating myself about what’s IN SEASON at any given time because I realized that Americans in particular are divorced from this very basic information and way of living. So, in many ways, raw foodism has been my gateway to a greater understand of food, and of course, great food.

I love that you are able to say “well, I eat this way because I enjoy it.” Not because you’re afraid not to. I love being a vegan, so that hasn’t been an issue for me, but I find myself becoming reliant on what I eat when, or if I run out of hemp seeds, then all hell breaks loose (in my mind). And there was a comment about intuitive eating and your reply and in a way I feel that this IS intuitive eating: this makes me feel good and I love what I can create with it. It’s extremely hard to be an intuitive eater when eating has become so distorted for a number of reasons, but I think emphasis on raw foods (assuming you don’t have problems digesting them, as you said), can be a great way to start to reconnect with food in a healthy way (to echo your sentiment).

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Lolita @ Peace, Love and Greens July 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Firstly, thank you so much for this intelligent and insightful post Gena.
Like many others have commented, that raw is a way through which we can establish a positive relationship with food again is a sentiment which resonates strongly with me. In my personal experience, following years of digestive problems and health issues (Coeliac disease related), I found myself extremely anxious around food and phobic of eating many foods for fear that it would cause my crippling symptoms to return. Much like someone with an eating disorder, I stuck to my “safe foods,” those which I thought would not cause digestive problems. In hindsight, I enjoyed nothing and held a lot of pent up anger. When I discovered raw foods, a new world opened to me. I have been a vegetarian my whole life, but going vegan was also amazing for me. Suddenly I was able to be creative with my foods and feel great about my choices for ethical reasons and the planet at large. Like you say, I was able to ENJOY food again.
However I did find myself at one point heading for the dogmatic side of raw. I think this is a problem many who come to love raw foods will have to face. Thankfully, I was self aware enough to realise this was not the path for me. I now whole heartedly believe in the power of raw foods in combination with nourishing cooked vegan components like beans, quinoa, sweet potatoes and more. I think everyone is different and you spelled out my thoughts on this in discussing that we need to find out what works for our individual constitutions. I feel best on a high raw vegan diet that includes cooked foods too. My body feels most nourished, satiated and energised when I eat this way and it is also best for my mind. It allows for more in touch decisions for what I consume, rather than eating becoming a stressful process of following rules, like keeping everything raw.

I am so inspired to see that you have arrived at such a grounded place after your eating disorder Gena and love CR. I wanted you to knew it has had an extremely positive influence on my relationship to food and nutrition over the past year.

xx Lolita

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Heather July 26, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Great article Gena! Thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on “why raw” – even more I loved your answer that you just like raw food, plain and simple. I certainly fall into that category and I too, am also fascinated with the amazing things that can be done with raw food. It sure has been a fun journey for me, and even though I am no longer raw or vegan, it continues to be an integral part of my life.

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Heather July 26, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Thank you so much for this post Gena. I’ve been a fan of yours for three years now, after going raw in 2009, overcoming a 15 year battle with an eating disorder, and almost dying at 78 pounds at age 26. Now, 2 years after that, I have found that high raw works best for me, and keeps me from thinking about “diet” mentalities such as low-carb, high fat, etc. I find that when I eat raw, my body thrives on nutrient satisfaction, and a vegan diet is ethical to me, therefore the only choice to make when it comes to eating plants vs. animals. As a nutritionist, I too, had a hard time with deciding if animal sources should be included in my nutritional plan, but when I listened to my heart, I knew they weren’t for me. I choose to eat about 90% raw because all raw causes major weight loss in me, and is not healthy for my eating disorder. However, eating high raw provides the same pleasure for me with food that makes me appreciate what nature gave us, and many times, I find that cooked foods don’t satisfy me like raw ones do anymore. I can maintain my weight with a high raw diet, and exist without any ED related food issues, therefore it gives me more peace than any other form. Living without ED thoughts is one of the best places to be after 15 years of absolute hell. I also love that my high raw menu nourishes my mind, body, and soul, and it has done wonders for my IBS, anxiety, and depression. All of these things combined are why I choose to eat this way. The hardest part is helping others to see that.

I truly love your work, and Veg News, so I can’t WAIT to read the article! Congrats:) Thank you for what you do- you’re a true inspiration<3

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Kristen P. July 27, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Thanks for sharing! I hope I can get my hands on that issue of VegNews. The article sounds like a fascinating read.

I really respect everything you wrote in this post and I’m glad I subscribe to your blog. It’s rare to find a blogger you can count on for reasonable, evidence-based nutritional information and a flexible, open-minded, and non-dogmatic approach to food.

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Danielle July 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

I loved this! So well thought out, organized, honest, and beautiful! I, too, believe that direct experience should be the deciding factor for each individual body. I have played around with various foods and learned so much about my body scientifically and emotionally that I could never have learned otherwise. My body dislikes wheat, is addicted to white flour and sugar, thrives on natural fats, and strongly prefers simple and whole foods ingested in small amounts one at a time. It’s taken me nearly 39 years to figure this out. I went through periods of eating disorders, drug addictions, depression, discovery, and now, clarity and I feel so much better when I listen to the direct experience rather than any studies. Bravo, Gina! A great read!

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Jade July 28, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Looking forward to reading that VegNews article…and you bring up a good point. Everyone’s got their own reasoning for what they eat, and in the end, I think what works for each person optimally as an individual will vary a bit from person to person.

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Elaine- August 22, 2012 at 3:54 am

thank you for this lovely post!! i don’t know how you did it, but you settled my mind, with how i feel about raw veganism… I keep getting drawn back, rather mysteriously, to the the raw way, i keep getting discouraged because i get sooo cold, i love my smoothies, but dang!! so today i ate all my raw food stuff, and drank alot of hot hot herbal teas, and i felt sooooo much better, i’m not sure what’s wrong with me on the cold front, but i want to go mostly raw to get rid of fybromyalgia, but still want to have a bowl of my husband’s yummy soup sometimes too… thank you, i feel better now, i’m not sure what you did, but you did it :) and i feel the same luscious way you do about raw food, there’s no smell better than the produce section in a supermarket, so fresh, so alive, so beautiful !! :) thanks girl… xoxoxoxox

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shelley January 28, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Thanks for the article. I have been raw for a year after stumbling across the book “Beautiful on Raw” that basically claims that by going raw, you can de-age by as many as 15-20 years. I tackled raw by myself and even learned how not to lose too much weight — a problem for me as weight loss was not a goal. Recently I read 80-10-10 and it made so much sense. I started down that road of 15-20 bananas a day…lots of fruit and the LOW FAT! I had been eating lots of nuts and seeds, avocado etc, before– but now barely anything compared to the past year. I am so confused. I worry about my low fat and protein consumption but Graham insists we don’t need it. I hate to keep jumping around between these different leaders. Not an eating disorder for weight, I eat this way for the youthing aspect…which might be just as bad. I wonder if I will be more successful on 80-10-10 (eating more calories that I need)…and thus will de-age better. OR if I go back to eating raw with the fats that I will look worse or have the health problems Graham says many raw foodists have from the fats. Eating the very low amount he advocates is really hard and I don’t know if its necessary. I read the books, eat this way and feel empowered and knowledgeable, but I really have no idea of this strictness is necessary. I would love to eat a little more fat and protein. I would love to eat beets and carrots and beans that he says are bad as we are made to only eat fruit and leafy greens mostly. Anybody’s comments, advice or stories about eating almost only fruit is greatly appreciated. I do know that being raw has made me feel strangely more confident, even keeled and I words come to me easier (expressing myself)…that was always a problem for me.

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Gena January 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Shelley,

I don’t personally put much stock in any of the rhetoric of 80-10-10 — I don’t think it’s balanced enough in terms of macronutrients. Hope this helps!

G

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eliza May 3, 2013 at 5:50 am

Hello Gena , thank-you that article was brilliant so wonderfully said. You share the joys of eating foods directly from nature and not a science lab. This is the message which we need to embrace. I am studying Natural Hysiene in Australia with Dr John Fielder, a man who has consumed raw food for over 30 years. The experience he has in aiding people from ill health to rejuvination is remarkable. My journey has just started and I admit the raw food has without a doubt helped me with my ED and the renewal of my health. In three months I have felt my bones reshape themselves wondering if this was a sign of early arthritis leaving my body, my eyes clearing with no more yellow blotches, a parasite leave my body wich was fiercly painful and the list goes on, all in the name of eating raw food. It is profound, one aspect I am still in debate about it the B12 factor and I am struggeling to understand what the answer is. As after the three months of pure raw food on veg,fruit,avo,nuts and seeds I have added a little bit of grass fed beef and small amount of macral fish. I have been under the impression on all my readings that without B12 you can become severly depleted in the nervous system furthermore memory etc. If you have the time are you able to help me with this answer. John includes the smallest amount one tablesppon of goats cheese three times a week in his diet suggesting that from his experience with people a tiny bit of animal product is what makes the entire difference. He has mention clients her were unable to concieve on a raw vegan diet not only this has observed babies being born with brain damage. I am not out to scare people as I am totally for the preservation of animals however i am seeking health answers as depleting your own body is not the resolution anyone wants. I would be so interested to hear from you and your article was excellent, your journey is one to cherish, thank-you Eliza.

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Gena May 3, 2013 at 11:03 am

Eliza,

I’m so happy this blog has inspired you. I wish you all the best as you continue to recover.

As for B-12, it is absolutely essential, yes, but no need to get it from animal foods. A simple B-12 supplement will provide you with adequate intake; this is how vegans can obtain it without having to worry. I like the Deva brand of Vitamins myself, but many vegan friendly options exist for the supplement. I recommend reading this post by Dr. Stuart Seale: http://www.choosingraw.com/the-dr-is-in-taking-the-mystery-out-of-vitamin-b-12/

G

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Sarah November 10, 2013 at 1:00 am

As someone who struggles a lot with labels and going to the extreme and being the “perfect” vegan or raw foodist or whatever, I so appreciated your honesty in this post. I feel like it gave me permission to eat for my body, not according to anyone else’s rules. Thank you!!

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Gena July 26, 2012 at 8:52 am

Jacqui,

I’m so sorry to hear about your struggle.

The problem is that those “guidelines” are not founded upon scientific evidence that you cannot be a higher weight and totally healthy, nor are they founded on evidence that one can only be healthy in that range. They’re founded upon statistical correlations (i.e., most people with BMIs in his recommended range do not high as high a risk of heart disease, diabetes, and blood clots). It a way of trying to ensure that people remain safe from chronic disease, but it’s misleading and damaging to the many people who do not have such slight BMI.

To put this in an interesting and different context, when I was recovering, BMI of the 19-20 range was still considered low for regaining and sustaining healthy menstruation and hormone function.

It’s complicated stuff, and I certainly understand a physician’s effort to eliminate chronic illness by simply pushing everyone into the statistical BMI range of low risk, but this (in my opinion) is an example of where clinical statistics are simply not the humane, nuanced, and realistic approach to helping people live healthy. Generalizations get made, realities get ignored (that you can, for example, be perfectly healthy at a higher BMI), and people’s relationships with food can be damaged. I think there has to be a better way, though I admire the intentions for sure.

G

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