Monday, April 16, 2012

Raw Revelations

Well, I've done it. I honestly thought that I might not be able to finish this goal by June, so for me it's a sense of accomplishment above and beyond what I've felt for any of my other goals. So it is with great pleasure that I am able to finally cross off: GOAL # 15! I've eaten a raw diet for an entire week! Starting April 9th I embarked on somewhat of a last-minute and unplanned journey into the land of uncooking. For seven days I used nothing more than a knife, a food processor, a stick blender and a juicer (which is totally optional) to prepare every morsel that has passed through my lips. The real challenge was over in the first 72 hours. After that, it was smooth sailing!

Days 1-3 were difficult primarily because of the habit changes and cravings. It was sheer determination that got me through these days. I felt hungry, sluggish and foggy, particularly on day three. I researched nonstop and realized that I just wasn't eating enough. I upped my fruit and veggie intake, added a few nuts and the rest of the week was a breeze. I learned in those first three days how much of my typical eating habits are based on psychological desire, and was surprised to find out how quickly cravings go away if you just keep your belly full of really good food.


The volume was difficult to get used to, because I really do have to eat a LOT. I purposely did not include much overt fat (minimal oils, one avocado over the course of the week and the occasional 8-10 raw walnuts or pecans in the afternoon) and I did not eat any prepared calorie-dense raw food (such as LaraBars - which I know from previous encounters are totally yummy but the raw equivalent of a candy bar) so in order to get enough calories to sustain me, I really had to eat a ton. That part is AWESOME.

Other awesome things about eating raw:

1. It is so little work!
There are no pans to heat up (or scrub clean), no paying attention to things bubbling on the stove, and meal prep can be as simple as washing a pear. The most work is the juicer, because I have to take it apart after each use and rinse all of the components, but even that takes less than 2 minutes so as far as cleanup goes, it's no comparison to the scrubbing I have to do when I cook something. Most of the time this week cleanup was just a matter of wiping off the knife and cutting board. It also has saved a lot of time in the grocery store. I only have to go to one section - produce. There is nothing else I need to buy, so I cut the other 75% of the store right out of the shopping equation!

2. I learned that I really like celery!
I never used to eat celery. Well, maybe once a year when my mom made stuffed celery at Christmas, but never on a daily basis.

In the past week I have eaten 3 heads of it. I like it juiced, I like it sliced and tossed with green apples and a dash of sesame oil and lemon juice - I LOVE celery. I put celery into almost every juice I made this week! It is so refreshing, and it is naturally higher in sodium than most other raw foods, so it helped to ease the transition to a salt-free diet.


3. Never feeling guilty or worrying what's going into me.
When every single thing I put in my body is good for me, I don’t have to stop and think about a single bite of it. Ever! No mental energy is wasted on feeling bad about my food choices. That is so incredibly liberating - for someone who has had food issues since she was a zygote, it is truly nothing short of revolutionary.


4. Not being hungry, never feeling weighed down.
I really thought this was going to be a miserable week, and at the beginning I had to focus a lot of energy on encouraging myself to make it through the Whole. Seven. Days. It was easier after one hard day, because I decided that day had to be the worst one, and I didn't want to have to re-live it if I failed and had to re-start the challenge! But once I changed my eating patterns, I began to realize the benefit of no hunger. It took a huge mentality shift - because everything going into my body was incredibly healthy and because I ate whole foods (vs. dehydrated or re-amalgamated raw foods) I realized I could eat as much of it as I needed to feel satisfied. After the first 2-3 days I never felt like I needed to stay hungry. I ate whenever I wanted, as much as I needed to feel satisfied. Best of all, unlike eating a typical heavier dinner entree, even when stuffed on raw foods I did not feel heavy, sluggish or tired. And because the whole foods are processed so quickly (30-60mins) that fullness feeling passes very quickly, instead of lingering for hours like richer food would.

5. Better Sleep
There is no question my quality of sleep has improved significantly! I've been waking up only once (to go to the bathroom usually, because of all of the water in my food!) and have been able to go right back to sleep. Amazingly, I have been awake before the alarm clock for the past 4 days, and I wake earlier and earlier without feeling tired. This morning was a full hour earlier than usual, and I literally hopped out of bed and got going. Not bad for someone who consistently used to whack SNOOZE precisely four times each morning.

6. Scads more energy!
It took a little bit longer to notice the energy benefits. I think this may be due to the fact that the first few days I was not eating enough. But for days 5-7 I found myself going all day long without sugar or caffeine, and when I did stop it was because of physical fatigue, not because of mental lack of desire or sluggishness. I accomplished more in this past weekend than in the last month of weekends combined! I even got down to the picky little tiny to-do things that have been nagging me on the list for weeks, and that feels incredible!

7. I am much, much happier.
I wasn't expecting this benefit, but it is very clear that over the past 3-4 days I have felt very calm, peaceful and happy. I do not feel stress in the same way that I typically do. My shoulders aren't tight, my mind isn't racing. Without intending to, I seem to have just fallen into a calmer rhythm. It is likely a result of less work for meal preparation, better sleep and more energy for staying moving and getting exercise, and getting so much crossed off on my to-do list. Whatever the reasons, I am very thankful for them!

8. Weight loss.
Wow is it incredible how much water weight I’ve been carrying around as a result of my high-sodium convenience food lifestyle! In 7 days of no-salt and whole foods I flushed 9.4lbs down the drain. My rings fit better and I feel much lighter, overall.

9. Having a better sense of what - and how much - my body needs.
This is the best one of all. For the first time in my life I feel like I am able to trust the signals my body is giving me. When I'm hungry I eat. It's all good food, so I can eat 10 times a day, if I'm hungry 10 times a day. I have become much more of a grazer - an apple here, a couple of carrots there. I don't think it is much different than my typical pattern, but I'm eating pears and bananas and kale salads with lemon instead of pizza or sandwiches or salty popcorn, so there is no negative consequence to eating more often. And I'm finding that I seem to have more 'normal' satiation signals.

I am typically constantly very hungry until I am very full. I have always believed that I don't have a 'shut off' switch to stop me before I've gone too far. And I eat even when I’m not hungry – because I feel like my body wants *something*. This week, for the first time in my adult memory, that has not been the case. I learned while doing some research yesterday that there are some very good reasons for that. It turns out there are multiple things that go into feel satisfied; one of which is blood sugar. When eating complex carbohydrates, it takes the body time to turn the carbs into easily burned simple sugars that enter the blood stream. Until that happens, my blood sugar receptors are yelling to be fed and I feel hungry so I keep eating, and I get very full before my brain has gotten the signal that my blood sugar is increasing.

But this week, by eating more often and more simple sugars, I am not reaching the point of feeling famished, and when I eat the simple fruit sugars my body can very quickly process the available energy and get the signal to my brain to hit that shut-off button much sooner than usual. Another key to feeling satisfied is how full the stomach is. The bulk from eating so much fibrous food signals the stretch receptors in my stomach to trigger much sooner than with more calorie-dense food. I can use this to my advantage, even when re-introducing non-raw foods by including fruit as a meal precursor.

I am really glad that I undertook this challenge when I did. I chose the week last-minute because I realized there were no holidays or social engagements to be concerned with and I didn't have many obligations on the calendar so I was really able to make sure I had enough time and mental energy to focus on doing something totally outside of my box. I had a lot of great revelations about myself and my relationship with food, and I am beginning to discover how different foods affect me in different ways. I am much more in tune with my body's needs and have more energy than I've had in as long as I can remember. There is still a lot to learn, but I can't un-realize all these wonderful benefits! I enjoyed this process very much, and despite this being my first day officially off the challenge, I am easily recognizing what my body really wants - and day 8 has been as un-cooked as the previous seven. The results of this challenge are, for me, life-altering.

Go on, now - eat something good, for me!

Interested in learning more?
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