Many people are attracted to the idea of following a raw food diet, but don't know where or how to begin. One may read a lot of books and study a lot of teachings but hesitate to take the next step of putting ideas into action because the ideals feel so extreme. This is why I am a big proponent of taking small steps when changing your diet. Go slowly and honor your personal needs and transition level by applying Practically Raw principles.
Plunging into a 100% raw lifestyle is not something I generally recommend, though there are some who experience success with this approach, at least for the short term. For most of us, a gentle transition to a high raw diet is a better idea for several reasons.
First of all, what is the purpose of eating raw foods? Is the goal to follow a rigid dogma, to live up to someone else's belief system about what you "should" eat or to be able to label yourself a raw foodist? Or is the goal to be healthy and happy?
For me, the goal of eating raw foods is simply to feel great - awake, alive, confident and productive! I don't want to be slowed down on a daily basis by dense food that takes hours to digest or, worse, knocks me out into a food coma. I want my body to be naturally lean and healthy, my mind to be clear and my energy to be bright – every day! I also want to feel connected to all beings, the natural world around me and the energy of life that permeates the universe – every day! A diet based on raw and living foods helps me to feel this way.
Please note, the words "based on" are very key in that last sentence. Personally, at my transition level I find it useful to eat non-raw foods on a regular basis, usually at dinner time. I am partial, for instance, to such cooked delicacies as velvety baked sweet potatoes with raw butter, and spicy-creamy Thai coconut curry (loaded with colorful chunks of just-tender vegetables and mounds of chopped fresh cilantro). Eating cooked foods like these helps me to feel grounded, connected and satisfied in ways that I deeply value. At other times, those needs are less and I prefer lighter fare. This entry, for example, is being blogged on my final day of a three-day juice fast, making me 100% raw presently, and feeling incredible. Meanwhile, I know at some point I will enjoy Thai coconut curry again.
So it’s all in a flow. In time and season, and depending on your life situation, the percentage of raw/cooked food in your diet may change in either direction. What matters most is finding the balance that works for you.
Physically, raw foods are very light and cleansing - fruits in particular. This is a fantastic thing, but too much cleansing all at once can overwhelm the body's ability to detoxify and eliminate the waste matter that is released. Cooked food helps slow down the cleansing process, protecting and respecting your body's reality in the moment.
Mentally, raw foods help to open and clear the mind, as they are packed with very high energy, solar vibrations that sharpen our thought and vivify our nervous system. But in the extreme, too much raw food can cause us to feel "spaced out" and ungrounded. It's wonderful and amazing to feel high on life, but we don’t want our thoughts to be merging with the cosmos while we are operating a car on the freeway with two kids in the back, right?
It's important to eat grounding foods while transitioning into a Practically Raw diet to help us function effectively on this earthly plane. My top picks for grounding foods are earthy root vegetables (foods that literally grow IN the ground - think baked sweet potatoes, grated parsnips or steamed turnips), squashes (which grow LOW TO the ground), and lightly cooked low-starch vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, etc). Smaller amounts of cooked/sprouted whole grains (millet, quinoa, brown rice) and beans (if tolerated), and some animal foods (preferably the least dense animal foods, such as raw goat cheese, organic eggs or wild fish) may also be used to help us ground our energy.
Emotionally, we need to be honest with the fact that many of us are literally hooked on processed carbs, processed dairy and dense cooked foods, and going off them cold turkey without any bridging foods (such as sprouted grain bread to replace regular white bread, or raw goat cheese to replace pasteurized cow milk cheese) may backfire.
Socially, we may have systems in our lives that involve shared eating experiences. If we forego cooked food entirely or too suddenly, our inability to participate in these occasions may end up causing personal sorrow or interpersonal tension. It is important to take a stand for your beliefs and be true to yourself, but go easy. As Natalia Rose encourages, let "progress, not perfection," be your guide. Sometimes it is wisest to weigh the trade-offs and just do your best in a given situation.
Many devoted raw fooders guilt trip themselves for eating or craving cooked food, feel shame for caving in to craving, and in some cases even develop eating disorders such as orthorexia or binge-purge disorders all because they are trying to stick to a raw program that doesn't suit the truth of their actual situation, capabilities and needs. The stress this creates is not conducive to health and happiness, and isn’t that our primary goal?
Contrary to what some may preach, cooked food is not necessarily poison! Yes, raw foods are our original foods - there's no doubt about it. Raw foods provide optimum nourishment, life force energy, enzymes and nutrients. But the evidence is strong that humans have spent about 1.9 million years eating cooked foods, too. We are adapted to eating both. (What we are not, and will never be adapted to eating is junk food, processed food, white flour and sugar, artificial colors, synthetic fats, etc.) Furthermore, if we are used to eating lots of cooked food, its sudden absence can turn even the highest quality raw food into "poison" by virtue of its causing too many stored toxins to be liberated from our cells and tissues at once.
So let's be practical! Let's sensibly make it our goal to eat lots of living, raw foods every day, and to honor our own transition level by balancing these foods as required with healthy cooked foods. In this way, the Practically Raw lifestyle can help us meet our physical, mental, social and emotional needs around diet and nutrition with savor, joy and fulfillment.
Yours in the light of radiant health,