Note: The following is an article I wrote for the fabulous One Green Planet site. Also, the image above was compiled by them from images I submitted.
Flexibility and The Power of the Raw Food Spectrum
Amazing benefits await when you start eating a raw vegan diet. Common experiences include effortless weight loss, increased energy, softer skin, clear and bright eyes, silky hair, better sleep, mental clarity, major health improvements, and peaceful frame of mind. Sounds great, huh!? However, one common question I’m asked is, “I see a lot of different raw food diets out there, which one is right?” As with many things in life, there are different schools of thought regarding which is the best plan when following a diet of raw vegan food.
The raw food diet has a nice wide spectrum as to the different styles of raw food options that are available. After years of fielding questions on my blog, it’s clear that the wide range of options can seem confusing or overwhelming at first. But fear not! Once you realize that the options are nothing more than a continuum ranging from “a little bit” to “all” raw, most of the various ways to “do” raw fall neatly into place. The spectrum of options actually becomes a powerful tool that allows you to precisely tune your degree of raw based on where you are in your life, health situation, and day-to-day circumstances.
At the least-raw end of the spectrum are people who merely try to incorporate more salads and smoothies into their vegan diet (for our purposes, we’ll assume the beginner is already vegan). By simply eating 1-2 salads or smoothies a day, this will automatically start replacing non-raw foods, most notably, cooked and processed foods made from refined wheat/flour, corn, and sugar. Score an immediate win for increased nutrition as you replace nutrient-starved crap with healthy raw veggies!
Next on the spectrum are those who try to incorporate raw into an increased portion of their diet, such as by:
- Making sure that at least half of every meal is raw
- Eating one meal a day that’s 100% raw
- Eating 100% raw two days per week
As you can imagine, by tweaking these variables (1, 2, 3, 4, days per week, etc.), you can fine-tune your commitment to raw food, from “dabbling” to “hardcore,” adjust it over time and as needed, and still operate within the confines imposed by our generally terrible Western food production system and cultural norms. By remaining flexible, the wiggle room allows you to continue eating with family/friends, eat in restaurants, and so on. If you’re the kind of person who sometimes finds categories and labels to be helpful rather than restrictive, then at the point you’re eating about 80% of your food raw, you could comfortably call yourself what raw fooders call “high raw.”
Next on the spectrum are people who are “all raw.” These people will eat anything raw vegan including raw superfoods, gourmet raw foods like lasagna, burgers, and cheesecake, and use ingredients like raw agave nectar, raw cacao, raw nuts and seeds, spices, algae, etc. It can seem restrictive to some, but others can thrive with such behavioral guardrails in place because anything cooked is literally taken off the table, making food choices very clear. If you’re interested in an all-raw diet, I advise trying it for two weeks or a month and seeing how you feel. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s like a magic bullet for many people. So you might do it until you hit your target weight and then ease off to high raw once you’re in maintenance mode.
At the most extreme end of the spectrum (off the chart, really) are more exotic sub-species of raw fooders such as Natural Hygienists (they eat as close to nature as possible with lots of ripe fruit, and without oils, fermented foods, and seasonings like garlic, salt, ginger), Fruitarians (who eat mostly ripe fruit that can be picked without harm to the plant. I’d say these people are close in style to Natural Hygienists but without some of the restrictions mentioned above), Sproutarian (eats mostly sprouts), etc. I’ve never been attracted to such extreme diets for the long term because I question the ability to follow them as intended (i.e., it’s not easy to get truly ripe fruit unless you’re growing it yourself), and I find value in some of the foods they eschew, but as short term fasts (with proper supplementation and planning), they can offer diverse and fascinating options with which to experiment.
Personally, I have been all raw at times, and enjoyed fantastic health benefits, but for the past few years (with pregnancy and then breastfeeding) I also found it a bit difficult to avoid losing too much weight. These days, I’m likely to call myself “high raw” although, even I, at times, can find this restrictive. For instance, sometimes, I’ll go a week or two without a lot of raw food, and then I’ll go an entire month all raw. Sometimes I throw in a few days of just drinking green juice and another few days I might eat low fat, whole raw foods. Sometimes I go through periods where I chug down green smoothies for days on end (so, um, a Green Smoothiearian?). It’s always changing, depending on how my body feels, and what’s going on in my life (such as holidays, traveling, or breastfeeding my baby).
Flexibility Is Key
For the most part, I think labels can be difficult unless you know with some certainty exactly what you’ll eat, and that you’ll stay that way for a meaningful duration. When it comes to raw food, for both beginners and veterans alike, I encourage flexibility. Your body changes, your outlook and mood changes, seasons change, circumstances change… and adapting can make your world a better place. I find that the most successful raw fooders continuously experiment and evolve until they find what works best for themselves and their family, and even then, they never stop experimenting, or mixing things up just for the fun of it.
And this brings me to the underlying beauty of this. There are so many options and one size does not have to fit all. This is exciting because it means lots of variety and no boredom. I love the idea that during one season I can follow some low fat raw vegan principles and in another season I can nourish my body with avocados, nuts, seeds, and divine raw vegan desserts.
The bottom line is that you must listen to your own body. Pay attention to the inner god or goddess inside of you. Follow your intuition. Feel excited! Congratulate yourself for taking your health into your own hands and trying this incredible diet and lifestyle, no matter which path you pursue on the journey with raw food. And, feel confident you’re feeding your body wonderfully nutrient-dense raw vegan foods. There is no need to stress about it or feel pressed to subscribe to one plan.