Well, I have now completed three weeks of my raw challenge, and I’m still going! It’s been an interesting time. I’ve lost three pounds, which is not too precipitous and going in the right direction, so I’m quite pleased about that.
Weight loss wasn’t the only thing this was about though, as I have lost weight before on different kinds of diets. It usually creeps back on again, and this time I’m keen to understand how to keep it off for good.
The big issue for me has been ENERGY. Enough of it to keep up with my kids, my work and my various aspirations without the house descending into chaos and trails of unfinished projects lying forgotton in my wake.
Well, I don’t know that raw food is the magical panacea for needing to be five people at once, but I have to say this: for the most part I have felt AMAZING on this diet. I have had almost no cravings at all. I have felt alert and I have wanted to be active in a way that is slightly foreign to me. I have always tried to do exercise, but it has always felt like a bit of a chore. Now I actually want to move. I have been to Bikram hot yoga and 5 Rhythms dance and been running round the park.
Now you could argue that I feel better because of the exercise and weight loss rather than the diet per se, and you would be right that it is hard to separate these factors out in an objective manner. I am reminded of a study on rodents (I’ll have to dig out the reference) that demonstrated that as the animals lost weight they spontaneously began to exercise more (running on a wheel). This suggested to me that dietary change comes first, then weight loss, then exercise, in that order. And that feels true to my experience. Trying to lose weight by increasing exercise is difficult because our appetite control is so finely tuned that we simply eat the extra few hundred calories that we have burned without even noticing. And when we are carrying extra weight we don’t feel like exercising – it feels very hard, so people don’t manage to sustain it.
So what is the diet that results in human beings maintaining a normal weight without thought or effort? Recently I have been reading The 80/10/10 Diet by Dr Douglas Graham (a chiropractor by training – not a medical doctor or PhD). This has to be by some peoples’ reckoning one of the most extreme diets around: a raw vegan diet that consists of 80% of calories from carbohydrate, 10% of calories from fat and 10% of calories from protein. The diet excludes grains (even the soaked/sprouted variety) and root vegetables, as well as all condiments such as vinegar, all oils and hard fats and all refined sources of sugar (including so-called “natural” sweeteners).
Dr Graham notes that human beings and our pet animals (dogs and cats) are the only creatures on the planet to suffer from obesity. All other animals consume the natural diet for their species in their natural environment, and simply do not get fat. His contention is that the natural diet for human beings consists predominantly of fruits and green leafy vegetables, with a few nuts and seeds here and there. He advises eating large amounts of tropical fruit, as our equatorial ancestors would have done, noting that our hands, teeth and digestive systems are ideally suited to consuming these foods without the aid of any kitchen equipment at all.
Living in California may help – and he is addressing a primarily Californian audience. There are some practical problems with this diet-style in the North of England in February, and he also does not make any comment on the suitability of his recommendations for growing children. However the book is well argued and I am interested in his comment that: I must admit that in today’s world, it is a rare individual who lives this way. Yet almost every person I have ever met who eats great quantities of fruit has written a book extolling its virtues. There must be a reason these fruit eaters are so excited about the excellent health benefits that result from such a foodstyle. [p.90]
I have been eating a lot of fruit, as well as vegetables such as spinach, salad leaves, courgettes, carrots, beets, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers and celery, and sprouted seeds (alfalfa) and legumes (chickpeas and mung beans). I have had small amounts of non-raw foods like tofu and houmous, and I have had a couple of cooked currys and soups too. I experimented with blooming some wild rice to put on my salads, and on one occasion I had half a wholemeal pitta bread, but for the most part I have avoided grains entirely. It seems to be working and I am planning to continue for the time being at least. I am still learning, and today I am starting my certificate course in plant-based nutrition with eCornell university, so I am very excited about that!