October 21, 2008

The Raw (food) Deal

Raw food is all the rage, according to Psychology Today.

(Note the use of the word 'rage' in that statement. Its significance will shortly become apparent.)

I know that this diet has the advantage of having been around for a long time. Since before humans discovered fire, if I'm not mistaken. And it does have the advantage of being the fastest fast food possible. Grab and chew is as good as it gets. But why is it such a big deal now?

I was curious, so I thought I would look into it.

I've been following the standard PGD, or Pretty Good Diet. You know the sort of thing -- making sure I've eating 5 daily servings of fruit and veggies -- well, 3 or 4 servings is still pretty good, and hey I'll eat more fruit on the weekends to make up. It's kind of like the Pretty Good exercise plan. Doesn't really hurt you, though it's not going to help you lose weight or get into good shape.

The trouble I've found with this diet is that it's too easy for it to degrade into the PAD, or Pretty Awful Diet. You find yourself rationalizing all kinds of bad food decisions "just this once." (No, Merry, carrot cake does not count as a daily veg serving.)

So I figured I'd give this raw deal a try. I went cold carrot: eating whole-grain stuff and green leafy things and some fruit thrown in for dessert.

The main problem at work was all the eyebrow-raising that went on. "You're going to eat all that?" was a typical comment. But if you've ever tried it you'll agree that even after eating a whole cup o' green leafy things, you can still be hungry.

Very hungry.
Every day, I dutifully chomped my way through several cups of salad, bell peppers, oatmeal-with-fruit-and-flaxseed, the works. And invariably, by 4 o'clock in the afternoon, I was so hungry I was ready to chew plastic. Felt like a junkie needing a fix. (Um... I'm assuming this is how a junkie would feel. Not talking from experience.) I was irritable enough to kick innocent little kittens. I was angry.

Really angry.

The 'fix' for this problem was a quick piece of chicken. Within 20 minutes I had resumed my placid, agreeable demeanor. Or as close as I get, anyway.

How the heck am I supposed to be good when eating right makes me want to tell the world to go screw itself?

It's been a long time since my ancestors lived in caves and had names like Ungh. My ancestors have been in America long enough for the intestinal flora to adapt to a diet of hamburgers and fries. After pretty faithfully following this raw diet for a month (i.e. 90% of my diet = raw vegetables), my innards let me know how they felt about it.

- I felt much lighter. Apart from some ground up flax seed, I ate almost no fats. (90% of my diet was fat free.) As a result, I never felt weighed down.

- Since I was eating food that my innards weren't prepared for, I was also generating enough gas to make me a subject of interest to Exxon Mobil. (TMI? What TMI? That's just another TLA, isn't it?)

- In the evening, I inevitably had a dinner with some lean beef, chicken or fish. Not a lot, percentage-wise, but a couple ounces. I couldn't go all day and night without 'food.' (Somehow vegetables do not equal food, at least not to my subconscious.)

- I'd never heard that raw vegetables were like Chinese food, but it's true. Even though I ate veggies almost every hour on the hour, I was always hungry 30 minutes later. (I totaled up the number of calories I was consuming on a daily basis, and by late afternoon I usually ended up consuming about 900 calories.)

I don't care what they say about roughage and fiber, you have to eat a lot to equal the amount of calorie-satiation found in one hamburger or one Krispy Kreme. The trouble is that now I can't go back: just the thought of a fast-food burger makes me feel greasy.

I would have thought my body would have become accustomed to this diet after a month, but noooo. I'm screwed either way: good food makes me ravenous and bad food makes me sick.

Has anyone out there, a fellow confirmed carnivore, ever tried going cold carrot? If so, how long did it take? Enquiring minds (and innards) want to know!

Note: These pictures have absolutely nothing to do with raw food. (Oregon aficionados might recognize Cape Perpetua and Cannon Beach.) I wanted to keep alive the spirit of the Cranky Fitness photo competition. (This week: east coast vs. west coast.)


  1. Wow! I guess there's an advantage to staying up til 2:30 am, but I didn't think it would be so I could hit the comment button first on CF! ;) (Unless someone sneaks one in whilst I am typing..).

    You are brave to try raw to such an extent. I am big on salads but that's it for raw. I like most veggies lightly steamed, but I will eat most veggies too.

    OK, now I understand why my hubby eats all day long, it's the fruit and veggie thing. He starts with a banana and cereal and coffee, and then in a couple hours eats a pound of mostly peas with some corn (frozen defrosted), which he calls "squish", and he needs to eat a lot of various squish all day long, because he is hungry all day long! He has a sandwich by 12 -1 pm. He's not a pure vegetarian but dang he eats a lot, yet is still hungry and still skinny. It's a good amount of raw, though the frozen veggies are blanched originally, and he does not cook them any further. He only eats meat protein at dinner. Then he's still hungry before bed.

    So I see a parallel there to all the veggies in a diet and being hungry. I think it's because protein is what satiates because of the density of the nutrition, which seems to be what you are needing. I know that if I don't get meat, I get weak and air headed. Maybe that explains why he is often air headed... ;) I have had people tell me they could tell vegans by how loosely attached they were mentally to what was going on around them, but I think that might be more a case of not having enough plant protein. We need it, and the more veggies in the diet at the expense of meat, it seems the more careful one has to balance the diet, or at least supplement with amino acids.

    Me on the other hand, I don't eat much til late morning early afternoon, and not well or healthy (coffee, maybe with a cookie!) unless there are veggies left over from last night's dinner, but I don't get hungry until close to dinner. On days where I eat a lot of veggies I am just hungry a lot. They don't stick. But I feel good. So I agree that it's difficult. I know I did better on Atkins when I could have plenty of greens with plenty of protein, that seems to work best for me, with little grain or starch. I could not do all raw. I need hot or at least warm food a lot.

    I believe everyone is different, and you may need to add in more meat or cheese, something to give your body what it's telling you it needs. Maybe also add in some probiotics and enzymes (even the pineapple/papaya chewables would help) to deal with digesting all the extra roughage.

    I'm really interested in how people manage on this kind of diet, what a great post!

  2. The raw food diet sounds like the detox my trainer put me on to get me off my plateau, (only more fruit). I had melon and nonfat probiotic yogurt for breakfast, milk thistle and lemon water. Lunch and dinner were chicken and mushrooms, and as much broccoli, peppers and onions as i wanted. if i was hungry in the afternoons I could have vege sticks. I felt so light by day 4. And now i don't snack as much. Of course I was so tired by the end of the day I went to bed at 10 and slept 9 hours. now I'm off caffine. Don't think I could do it forever. Food tastes too yummy. And who wants to be too tired to function?

  3. Yes, you are very brave. I think I would have given up before noon where I was ready to naw an arm. Good for you though! I admire that you stuck to it.

  4. Lasting a month is amazing! I've tried a few times and been back on PAD by the next day.

  5. One thing you did wrong; you need to add some high-fat, high-calorie items for satiety and to meet your calorie needs, like nuts, coconut and avocado.

  6. Great post! But yikes, if I'd known we were having a photo competition I would have posted better pictures! I'm totally letting down the "East Coast" team.

    Oh wait... I don't HAVE many better pictures because I'm a crappy photographer.

    Anyway, some random thoughts on why the raw foods thing would so not work for me:

    1. Gotta get enough protein and healthy fat; any eating plan that doesn't include reasonable amounts of these would never work for me.

    2. Except for salads I generally like cooked veggies more than raw and am not convinced that cooking destroys all nutrients. Sometimes it diminishes them; but sometimes it actually enhances how we absorb them.

    3. Cupcakes.

    4. Cupcakes.

    5. Cupcakes.

    I think it's great to try to down more veggies and it's something I work on all the time. But not at the expense of other nutritious or delicious food! For me, an omnivorous diet seems to work best and gives me more energy and peace of mind.

  7. Just curious, why so little in the way of nuts and seeds?

    I haven't tried a raw diet before, but I doubt it's something I could stick with for a few days, not to mention a full month!

    There's a difference, I think, between feeling full and feeling sated/satisfied. Both probably play into hunger, but fats and proteins help more with feeling sated. Plus, only 900 calories per day?!? No wonder you were hungry!

  8. I think I could do this were I energized by spending time in the kitchen.

    RAW FOOD FRIENDS who are make amazing meals...I imagine mine would be far less so...

  9. I've never wanted to try this, and now I want to even less. I <3 the discovery of fire!

    The pictures seemed to me to imply raw oysters....

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  10. Cupcakes! slaps forehead That's where I went wrong!

    These are great comments; I'm going to try to modify the diet a bit to take advantage of all this info.

    I was trying to cut out all the fat and refined foods that I could, and I'm not really crazy about most nuts anyway. I'll try to include more seeds in the diet.

  11. Um, I am very dubious of the raw foods movement. Were you following a specific plan? Because most that I have read include a substantial amount of fat through things like nuts and seeds - and that would help keep you full, longer. But even still, there has never been any peer-reviewed solid evidence that raw foods have a substantial benefit over cooked foods. Most of the benefit of the diet - I think - comese from exchanging cookies for rutabagas and since you already said you ate a pretty healthy diet then this wouldn't be the case for you. I'd be careful with this one Merry:)

  12. Ah if I tried something like this, I'd be messing up in no time flat. It seems entirely too rigid for me to successfully accomplish. Aside from hungry.. how do you feel? Any headaches? Are you feeling stronger/more energized? You sound uncertain about how you feel about following this diet. Or maybe that's my own inner voice.

  13. It's frustrating never to feel full! I get fed up -- alas not literally.

    My 'plan', such as it was, was to eat 90% vegetables. I went the raw food path because it was the quickest solution. The work schedule was such that I didn't have much time to cook, and at the height of harvest time, raw foods were convenient.

    I'm starting to roast vegetables, which involves drizzling the suckers in olive oil.

    Also, I forgot to mention that soup was part of the routine. (Crock pot cooking.) So I wasn't totally raw, though I was almost totally non-fat.

  14. I did have a hideous, four-day headache after the first couple weeks. Once I got past that, I felt fine apart from the hunger.

  15. Fat is good for you (except transfats). That's why you felt starving! If you're going to try to do the raw food thing for real & in the healthiest fashion, you have to include a LOT more nuts & coconuts etc. to replace the essential fats that you're not eating from meats. Also, a raw food diet generally doesn't/shouldn't include many grains (whole or otherwise) as they usually require processing/cooking (which defeats the definition and purpose of a raw food diet).

  16. I agree that you need protein & good fats with your veggies, which doesn't necessarily have to be meat.

    Aside from that - I eat a lot of raw vegetables because for the most part, I prefer them that way. Would not touch a cooked carrot with a ten foot pole, but am happy to munch on carrot sticks (ok, maybe that's an exaggeration...I will cook carrots for Husband if he wants 'em, but if I'm going to eat carrots, they are either raw or chopped up into tiny pieces and cooked in something so I can't taste them). I love salads, am quite happy to munch on raw veggies with hummus, etc.

    However, I do like hot food, particularly during the cold weather. No more soups? Curries? Stir-frys? What a sad life...Plus: tomato sauce & melted cheese is one of my very favorite things...Don't see myself giving that up.

    Lots of fruits & veggies in your diet is a good thing, but I really don't see why all of it has to be raw.

    Sounds like you are feeling pretty good though, so I say do what works for you. :)

  17. I eat a high percentage of my food raw. Ususlly include protein in the dish. It's interesting that with the addition of humans cooking food, the field of Orthodontics had it's imception.

  18. I'm with Charlotte: I'm not sure that the diet is all that healthy to begin with. Although it is great that you've lost your "taste" for unhealthy food, I feel like your internal flora know what's up.

    And they're hungry. I'd say add more nuts, etc. but also more meat.

  19. Two years ago I attempted to go 30-days straight eating only raw food. I only lasted three. I experienced the same constant hunger you describe and I never felt satisfied by my meals! By the end of it I felt so grumpy I caved in on toast, butter and marmite of all things!

    BUT, I felt incredible. Like my body started to WORK again. People talk about impacted waste matter... if I had any, the 3-days raw cleared me out. The experiment also made me appreciate how awesome raw fruit and veg is, and although this was several years ago, I still eat a 50-75% raw diet.

    I think if I were to do it again i'd have better success if I bought a food dehydrator and experimented with sprouted grains. I think the grains would help keep me more satisfied, AND provide me with good nutrients.

    I'm kind of surprised you were eating low fat. My raw food diet involved lots of nuts and avocado. Glorious. =)

  20. So cool that you did this!

    People are always shocked by how much I eat, until I point out that its all veggies or similar. And thats why I eat every couple hours. I is a hungry little monster:)

  21. Those cavemen ancestors ate their meat raw, too, Merry. *shudder*

    When they could catch it, that is....

    And they spent a good deal of their time running from the sabretooth tigers.

    Just a little food for thought.

  22. I've a freiend that did raw food, but she did a lot of research for it - not just veggies, but a lot of legumes and stuff too - with richer foods like avacados and nuts, coconut, dried fruit and things like homemade hummus or tahini or cheese to even out the protein nutrition cravings. For her it was because processed foods, processed sugars and most preservatives made her sick.
    The things is, a lot of veggies is not what we're designed to digest completely...you need to find other "raw" foods to balance it out. It's like being a vegetarian - you have to make sure it's balanced or eventually you'll crave/get defficient in something.

    And it's true...once you eat clean you can't eat crap anymore. Annoying isn't it?
    I've worked at incorporating more whole/raw foods into my diet. It's good for me...or so I've read somewhere :)

  23. Wow, you are braver than I am! I agree with everyone else. Add in more fat for satiety and also for it's healthiness.

    I could never follow a raw diet as I love peanut butter too much.

  24. I heard about someone (and yes, this is 2nd or 3rd hand) who was on a raw diet for a few years and then her digestive system revolted (I got details, and it was gross, but I don't remember them as it was a good 7 years ago). Her doc told her she couldn't eat raw food anymore.

    I don't think I could eat raw food all the time. I'd be eating constantly, and I don't like never feeling full. I definitely hit my limit with salads too. But I've considered going vegetarian for a week, to see how it is. I like steamed and cooked veggies too much, and whole grain carbs.

    Were you eating raw oatmeal? Wow!

  25. I soaked the oatmeal overnight. (Steel-cut oats.)

    I've had to give that part up. Did /not/ agree with me at all.

    One thing I've decided is that radically changing the diet stresses the digestion out. I'm introducing some cooked vegetables and cooked grains into the diet to see how that goes instead.

  26. You know, it's this weird thing but I have subscribed to something like half a dozen raw food blogs. And I'm not a raw foodist--perhaps not even an aspiring raw foodist. But some of the people involved in that community just seem so . . . cool. Dhrumil, Anthony the raw model, Philip McCluskey (who lost something like 200 lbs), and Deanne the hula hooper in Tokyo (to name a few). It seems for the most part to be a very positive community. Wish I liked vegetables more.

  27. Interesting stuff. I've found that I need beans and some fat to keep me satiated. And I love cooking. Like LOVE it. So only eating raw stuff would really be a bummer for my hobby.

  28. My husband did a raw food diet a few years ago until I wanted to kill him. Although, he was (and is) a vegetarian at the time, as am I. Still I had absolutely no idea what to make for supper for the whole time - "here honey, here's your julienned beet crunch and your celery stick". Also, he made these disgustingly smelly vegetable smoothie things every morning - smelly because one of the main ingredients was raw garlic.

    We've gone back to a RGD - a really good diet with the occasional not so good item. We're both happier.

  29. I love eating raw vegan, but a great blender is a must. Blended salads and green drinks make it possible, because I don't have all day to sit around chewing enough fruits and greens to get full.

    Meanwhile, I feel great and I'm not obese any more, so I'll stick with raw. (No, my family does not eat this way, I still cook for them.)


  30. Wait...There's a photo contest going on?? East vs West??

    Where do I sign up?? I have TONS that prove the west coast is MUCH better...

  31. Ooohh, the no-fat thing is a KILLER. Seriously, if you're going to eat raw (or nearly-raw), you HAVE to eat fat. Plus, many fats help your body absorb more nutrients from food. When you add olive oil to tomatoes, for instance, you absorb WAY more lycopene that if you just ate the tomato.

    I have to admit that although I've never been totally raw (too much work), I did follow an 80/20 diet for a while. Basically I had to eat 4 servings of fruits or vegetables before I could eat anything else. I did that for about 2 months before I rebelled. (But I have to admit that I felt GREAT.)

    I wouldn't recommend switching to raw cold-turkey, though (so to speak), for all the digestive reasons. If you're having trouble switching back, start steaming your veggies, and then adding fats.

    Or . . . no idea if this will work for you, but when I need to "reset" my system in a hurry, I drink nothing but juice and water for 3-5 days. After that, I can pretty much eat whatever I want again.

  32. In Santa Cruz is a raw food restaurant. I have eaten their "spring rolls" which are made of cucumber, sprouts, carrots and they come with some dipping sauce that really makes them palatable. Their food is pretty amazing. I could do a raw food diet if I had someone cook it for me. In fact, if I had a cook, I could do any diet.
    Restaurant is LaVie - Menu is online (pdf)
    They have some pretty interesting desserts listed too. And they offer cooking classes.

  33. Yeah, fats are so necessary. Mark's Daily Apple has a pretty good post slamming the raw food diet (warning, not vegan friendly!).

  34. I can never stick to doing all raw, all cooked, all meat or all veg is that healthy... It's always been easier for me to just eat healthy stuff. This is one of my favourite recipes and combines raw, cooked, meat and veg:

    Chinese pork chops and vegetables

  35. These comments are great! A lot of thoughtful peope making good points.

    I liked Mark's post too. I don't think he was against all raw vegetables so much as against "all raw all the time". (The best I could manage was 90%. I still think it a good idea to eat 90% vegetarian even if not all the 90% is raw veggies. Variety and all that stuff.)

  36. I can see the benefits of raw food......and hey if the power went out, you wouldn't freak out ;)

  37. Totally get it. I just did some research that had a lot to do with why at 4 every one gets tired cranky and hungry. Most of it has to do with serotonin release. Any who, it says if you eat a low fat carb snack (sweet if you want) an hour before you usually get hungry it keeps you from getting too crazy. All those leafy greens really don’t have very much calories, or carbs. I’m still trying to figure out how to get in shape with out messing up all of my relationships from being hungry and ticked off all the time. I’m trying the snack thing for now but at this point it’s more like two snacks.

  38. I have never tried before, although I really would like to. I like the suggestions to add more fatty items to keep yourself from feeling starved.

    My dad has slowly adapted to a mostly raw diet and he swears by it. He says that now he doesn't even miss any of the food he used to eat. I just don't know if I can give up my chocolate. (sigh)

  39. I looked into the whole-hog (sorry!) raw, vegan, non-dairy thing. There's a cafe at the gym I work at that is all vegan and raw, and the food is DELICIOUS. But they have professional chefs preparing it. They have state-of-the-art blenders, dehydrators,mixers, etc.
    There's plenty of protein in the from of beans and legumes, but it takes a lot of time and money to prepare.

  40. I eat a lot of veggies and beans. Not all the time raw, but I know I feel better when I get my fibre and don't eat too much fat. It might be psychological, but I could swear I just feel... better.

    The gas thing didn't happen to me, maybe because half the veggies I eat are cooked? Dunno.

  41. Now you know why cows spend all day grazing!

  42. i'm a little late to the party but wanted to put in my 2 cents:

    i am an aspiring 70% raw foodie which essentially means i'm raw except one meal of the day (usually dinner - and then i'm essentially vegan with the special occasion fish). i agree with some of the other posters that next time you go raw, you should try incorporating more fats into your raw food diet. this way, you will feel sated longer. i'm not a cold carrot kind of girl but if you try the experiment again, i recommend reading Natalia Rose's Raw Food Detox Diet as an inspiration to try some more satisfying raw food combos.

    personally, the idea i like behind raw is the claim you are getting the maximum benefit of the fruits and vegetables you are eating because none of the nutrients are getting killed by the heating process. thus, you are eating foods that are high on the nutrient rich index. i would more, however, base your food choices based on how they make you feel and as long as you are genuinely happy and not neurotic about what are you eating, that's the best mindset.

    if i'm not too lazy, one of my outstanding to-do's is to document what i eat on my website (http://saladdays.org). my personal way to pull back the curtain and expose what the diet looks like on a day to day basis which will, inevitably, look anticlimactic and less trendy than it first appears...

  43. i recognized that big Oregon pointy rock immediately.

    I need grainy carbs or else I turn murderous. I feel best when i eat healthy, and im rarely hungry, but eating healthy to me means either bread, rice, paste or oats with every meal. I've come to grips with that. other people appreciate it too, as i unleash my carbless wrath on everyone around me.

    Kelly Turner

  44. Yipes... somebody pass the porridge to Kelly... ;)

  45. OMG I cannot believe that I discovered your post tonight. I wasn't even googling "raw diet".

    Just tonight my husband and I talked about the raw diet. I have had interest in the past in pursuing it and have tried in short spurts. Not the entire "cold carrot" like your courageous self, but for a little bit at a time.

    I felt the same as you with the hunger and the "junkie needing a fix" feeling. OMG I laughed SO much in your post. You are hilarious and a great writer!

    Just tonight I was telling my husband how I could be ravenous all day and it was like my body was missing something and bam, I ate a little piece of chicken and my body would FINALLY SHUT UP telling me that it needed somoething (the "junkie" mentality).

    Also I went to the bathroom quite a bit and I would feel even more hungry after going to the bathroom, which was quite strange.

    I LOVED LOVED your post. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

  46. Very brave to stick with this to test it out - thanks for sharing. I think I'll give it a miss though - for me being hungry = being cranky!

  47. I've had great success transitioning to a diet of raw, living foods. Key word: transitioning.

    I know a lot of "raw foodists" who'd disagree with me here, but I don't think it's particularly safe nor healthy for someone (PGD like you, or SAD like me) to go cold carrot, 100% raw overnight.

    Hasn't quite been four months yet, but I'm holding steady at 85-90% raw and really trying to take my cues from my body.

    No more debilitating headaches, fire-breathing dragon heartburn, chronic depression, edema, joint pain. And, I've kicked 62 pounds to the curb. Good riddance!

    So happy to have stumbled upon your blog. Good stuff here!

  48. Hi-

    I typically don't comment on the blogs I read but this post really gave me something to respond to! Over the summer/early fall, my boyfriend and I decided to try out the raw food diet. We went cold turkey and lasted on completely solid raw foods for about two weeks (or at least I did, he was constantly hungry, fruits and veggies did not fill him up which seems to be a common issue for raw dieters). At that point we decided to incorporate some select non-raw foods back into our diet, but we kept it healthy.

    Now it is a few months later and I would not call myself a raw vegan but overall I have made such a huge change in my diet and it is credited a great deal to going raw. I typically have a green smoothie for breakfast, they are very filling! Lunch is a large salad, and dinner tends to be some type of vegetarian (often cooked) dish.

    We went from eating alot of junk and snack foods with some healthy meals incorporated...but little attention paid to nutritional value. Now, after having researched raw food, we learned so much about what to eat and what to avoid. We cut out all rpocessed foods and after a short time, really I don't miss it at all!

    There is nothing wrong with cooking your food but it is always great to incorporate more raw foods into your diet.

    We actually have a blog as well, if you're interested, several of our posts were about eating raw: www.newminifer.blogspot.com

  49. It's true: this diet did help me fit into my 'skinny' jeans :)

    Also made my skin break out; I should've included a bit more fat in the diet, as people suggested. Live and learn.


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