The mere thought of veganism is something I usually laugh at, let alone being a “raw-food vegan,” but last week I decided to give it a try. With the help of Cyrus Khambatta, Phd (www.mangomannutrition.com), I set out to accomplish being a raw foodie for 21 days. Having a eating style myself which is more in-line with the “Paleo” diet, I have to admit, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. My main goal was to try a different way of eating and to experiment with my own body to move from “understanding” a theory to experiencing one through direct knowledge.
Let me briefly summarize the difference between the two diets. The Paleo diet is based on clean-eating; heavy vegetable consumption, limited-low sugar fruits, organic animal meats, healthy fats and no dairy or grains. The majority of calories are derived from fats and proteins (80%), while carbohydrates are limited (20%) to allow the body to run off of stored energy (aka fat). A raw-food diet is also based on clean-eating; heavy vegetable and even higher fruit consumption, the diet also allows for limited natural fat consumption and similar to Paleo, eliminates dairy and grains. A raw-foodie derives around 70% of their calories from carbohydrates with 20% coming from fats and 10% from protein. When on a raw-food diet the body has a surplus of glycogen energy from sugar to allow the body to run efficiently.
I lasted six days as a raw-foodie, end article. Just kidding, I want to share some of my experiences. I knew it was going to be a shift but wasn’t prepared for the effects I was about to experience. The first shift was the shear amount of vegetables and fruits I began to consume, I ate platefuls, including up to 10 bananas a day! I made sure to eat the same amount of calories I always eat (around 3,000 per day) to prevent weight loss and sustain energy, eating took around 30-45 minutes per meal due to the amount of fruits and veggies it takes to keep calorie intake up. My stomach had an extremely hard time handling the amount of food in my stomach- cramps, bloating and gas (just ask my roommate) dominated my mornings, noons and nights. Apparently, raw-food consumption can be difficult for some, as the cooking process actually aids in the break down of vegetables, meaning raw foods can be difficult to digest. Secondly, I noticed my energy levels start to drop almost immediately. I expected this to happen as the body does naturally needs time to adjust to a new way of eating, but the lethargy I experienced was far outside of what was expected. By day three I found myself sleeping throughout the midday and began to experience some slight depression. As a person who fasts regularly, I’m used to being lethargic from not eating, but this was far worse. The most abnormal occurrence was that I actually began to feel worse and more tired after eating, one would expect that eating a large amount of fruit would at the least create an initial boost in energy, I experienced the opposite. This reaction is actually what called off the experiment, hinting that I was experiencing malnutrition and suggesting my body was not able to process the large amount of carbohydrates and raw food entering my system. I was actually shocked by how bad I felt physically, mentally and emotionally- I was set on powering through until Cyrus called of the whole thing- I’ve got to admit, I’m glad he did. The worst side effect I experienced was the decrease in my strength in the gym, in my yoga practice and in my muscle recovery. Due to my normal Paleo diet and physical activity levels, I rarely experience muscle soreness. My muscle soreness was so bad that it actually prevented me from sleeping after doing bench presses at the gym 10 hours before. The lack of protein in my system seemed to prevent my muscles from recovering and left me unbearably sore for DAYS!
So, here is my ultimate take away; what works for one body or for one person, will not necessarily work for another. There is no one way to eat, there is no magic bullet. There is way to much information out there on nutrition and things can be confusing, The best way to find out what works for you and allows you to thrive is to experiment. Try going Paleo, or try going raw food, then adjust your diet accordingly. I have personally found that my body and mental clarity respond well to healthy fats and rather adversely to high amounts of carbohydrates (whether they be refined or natural), others may find the exact opposite to be true. At the end of the day, a healthy diet with balanced nutrition is the most important aspect of looking and feeling well, the hard part is just figuring out what works for you.