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Veg and the City: The Life Changing Effects of a Raw Food Diet

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I didn't know it was possible to feel this good.

I woke up not long ago thinking, "This is the craziest thing: I'm well past 50 and I feel sensational." I knew it was what the eccentric health advocate, Arnold Ehret, 100 years ago called "Paradise Health." I had it: physically and emotionally.

I've been on a pretty good path for a long time. Although I spent the first 30 years of my life bingeing and dieting -- always gaining or losing weight, and conversely losing and gaining my flimsy self-esteem -- I finally got so tired of that un-merry merry-go-round that I gave up the fight and was open to recovery from the inside out. I chronicle that experience, and how others can do it, too, in my book "The Love-Powered Diet: Eating for Freedom, Health, and Joy."

Once I wasn't eating for a fix anymore, I was able to move toward a plant-based diet, ending up at profound, committed veganism. Even though I did it, as Gandhi once said, "for the health of the chickens," it was a pretty decent diet for my health, too. It was easy to stay thin and avoid the heart disease and diabetes that plague both sides of my family of origin.

But about four years ago, I felt the nudge to go raw. Not 100 percent. Not slavishly or fanatically (as a compulsive overeater with a daily reprieve, I don't do well with fads and tangents). But my soul or my cells or something deep inside me pressed me to take this turn. I experimented with it for several months and enjoyed it. A cold snap that first spring sent me back to the comfort of hot soup and soy chai lattes. But later, the urge to return to raw came again. I woke up one morning and didn't want cooked food. I didn't want it the next day either. And it's gone on like that for quite some time.

I'm still not 100 percent and I'm not signing any pledges. I like being able to go with my daughter to her favorite Chinese and place have steamed veggies and brown rice, black bean sauce on the side. There will be hot soup in my life this winter. And since I do my best writing in an ever-accommodating Starbucks, I'm not even swearing off those soy chai teas; I'm just having them a lot less often. For days at a time I'm all raw, and on the days that I have something cooked, it's usually just that: something, one thing---a baked potato, garbanzos in a salad. This isn't a marriage or a religion; it's an experiment in incredible vitality.

The first thing I noticed after making the switch was how happy I felt. My default for contentment had gone up a few notches. People used to say, "How are you?" and I'd say, "Okay." That was accurate. I was perfectly okay. Now I'm more apt to say "Fabulous!" and mean that. The fog has lifted. Happiness came even before energy and strength and clarity, but those have come, too.

I drink juices and eat fruits and salads and smoothies. I have some treats: dried fruit, raw desserts, "bread" and crackers and kale chips made in a dehydrator, but mostly lots and lots (and lots) of greens: green juices, green salads, green smoothies, marinated greens. I use nuts and seeds in recipes and occasionally for eating; I have avocado a couple of times a week; and I often use salad dressing that has some flax or hemp oil in it. I know I'm not overdoing, because I feel balanced and nourished and never have that stuffed, too-much-fat feeling. Besides, after going raw, five pounds left me that I never intended to lose. If some of it comes back, that's okay.

I also don't worry about sugar. I eat fresh fruit, put bananas in smoothies and make desserts with dates and a touch here and there of maple syrup. I know I'm not getting too much of that either. Only one time, when I made grape-and-celery juice but the ratio was too much grape to too little celery, did I get the telltale sugar headache. Now I know. It's all good.

Someone told me when I was first recovering from binge-eating: "You can't do this with fear." I feel the same way about raw. It needs to be a joy and an adventure.

Strangers comment on my skin, my "glow." Although I know we're talking vegetables, not miracles, I do look quite a bit younger than I am (and younger than I did four years ago). I realize that I'm a mature woman and one of these days, incredible diet or not, I'll be a little old lady. But that state is being delayed. I don't know for how long, but today it's a whole lot of fun when I (occasionally) share my chronological age and see the person do a double-take. Ditto for watching gym people try to figure me out: I'm not young, I eat no animal protein, and yet I'm building muscle. It's a hoot to defy a worldview.

Although I'm not one to live my life counting on the New Ager's favorite, "Law of Attraction," I'm certainly "attracting" fascinating men and women of all ages who want what I have. They're showing up all over the place, as clients in my holistic life and health coaching practice, as business contacts and as friends. I have no vested interest in converting anybody, but when people want information, I'm thrilled to share it. I mean, why keep anybody out of paradise?

If they're interested, I take them shopping. And to raw restaurants (we're lucky in New York to have a delicious handful of them). And into my kitchen to whip up delicacies that surprise the heck out of a novice. And I pass along the advice that helped me:

• Don't lose too much weight. I realize this can sound like a luxury problem, but on a high-raw diet, you have to eat enough.

• Learn to love those nutrient-packed greens. Eat embarrassingly large salads. Make green lemonade -- romaine, kale, apple, lemon-- in your juicer. Whiz up green smoothies; put your fruity ingredients in the blender and then fill it with mild greens -- romaine, leaf lettuce, spinach, kale -- they'll change the color but not the taste of your shake, and if you put in enough blueberries, your "green smoothie" will be temptingly purple.

• Get a user-friendly raw recipe book that doesn't intimidate you with exotic ingredients and unfamiliar appliances. I use Jennifer Cornbleet's "Raw Food Made Easy" for one or two People more than any other cook(less) book.

• Take vitamin B12 regularly. All vegans need to do this. Taking B12 is the price of getting to be vegan, the way wearing a helmet is the price of getting to ride a motorcycle and giving up alcohol for nine months is the price of getting to have a baby. It's so easy to take a sublingual (under-the-tongue) tablet three or four times a week; you don't even have to swallow a pill.

• Consider taking vitamin D, especially if you avoid the sun (your doctor can check your levels), and perhaps an algae-based Omega 3 supplement (I use one called V-Pure; it doesn't have an oceanic aftertaste).

• Eat pumpkins seeds for zinc, Brazil nuts for selennium, seaweed for iodine.

• Read Becoming Raw, by experienced dieticians Brenda Davis, RD, and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD, to learn the solid science extant to date on being a vibrantly healthy high-raw vegan.

• Brush your teeth after eating, especially if you've been enjoying sweet or acidic fruits.

• Be nice to everybody. Some people will think you've taken leave of your senses. Others will think your "rabbit food" diet makes for a great joke. Love them anyway.

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