A few weeks ago, a friend raved to me about the way it feels to be raw vegan.
"It's the BEST I've ever felt. Hands down. You feel happy all the time. I was never tired and had tons of energy. Giving your body exactly what it needs makes you feel amazing."
That made a lot of sense to me, so I decided to try it for a month.
It didn't quite last that long
Just so everyone is on the same page, being raw vegan means you eat no animal products and no cooked food. This pretty much limits you to fruits vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
The reasoning behind it is that when you give your body the most natural, unprocessed, wholesome foods, it extracts exactly what it needs and energizes you with the highest quality fuel concoction possible. It leaves you feeling clearer, happier, lighter, and stronger.
I have no doubt that this is true. The unforeseen challenge was the level of commitment it would take to actually make that happen.
In order to feel full after a raw vegan meal, you need to consume quantities of fruit that most people would consider astronomical. I was told to eat a watermelon for breakfast, 10 bananas and 15 oranges for lunch, and a massive salad for dinner, all the while snacking in between meals on small amounts of nuts and other fruit.
I found it difficult to eat that much fruit, not just because it's a lot, but because eventually you get bored with the taste of a banana.
It's also expensive. I estimated that in order for me to be properly nourished during my raw vegan experiment, I would have to spend over $200 a week on food just for myself.
And that's why I only made it a week. My month-long commitment soon seemed asinine after I began.
Raw veganism is a profound statement about our connection to nature, the human potential, and how powerful our bodies can perform if properly nourished. I discovered that it's also a bit harder to implement than I naively thought.
Think about it -- you either have to go to the grocery store every day or do one huge trip every several days. You have to spend more time eating. You get hungrier quicker. If you want to eat something fancier or tastier, it will take more time to prepare. You have less variety. You have less money. No beer.
Raw veganism is not for the faint of heart.
I decided to celebrate the end of my experiment with a delicious pasta dinner. I had gone a week being hungry basically all the time, so I devoured a hearty portion.
Then something unexpected happened. I started to miss the way I felt when eating raw vegan.
The pasta weighed in my stomach. It made me look more bloated. I felt slow and uncoordinated. I could feel it for hours, taking a while to digest. The next morning I couldn't help but eat a raw vegan breakfast. I considered a curious new vantage point on my week-long raw veganhood:
Sure, I was hungry a lot, but I did feel the entire time that my body was receiving excellent nutrition. The few times in the week when I had eaten enough, I felt full, but still just as alert and awake as before the big meal.
Then I remembered another advantage.
Raw veganism turned my number 2s into perfect 10s. Neither my poops or my farts smelled foul in the slightest.
Weird, right? On the "Standard American Diet" (aka SAD), our bodies take that food and produce something quite foul. It must say something about the quality of food in the SAD -- that most of it is crap.
I also remembered how clear I felt mentally. Imagine eating a dinner of steak, pasta, and buttered bread. I believe the technical term for the resulting feeling is... food baby? Yes, that's it, and it is highly comorbid with another condition known as "food coma." After such a meal you'll feel very full, a little sleepy, and less alert. Those acute effects linger only for an hour or so, but what if they also leave subtler, longer-lasting traces on our energy and awareness?
Because that's exactly what stops when you eat raw vegan. The food is quickly utilized by the body because it is the purest form of fuel for it. After a week of attempting raw veganism rather ineptly, I felt a higher level of mental clarity and focus.
That's something we all want, right? That's why people meditate, it's why we take pills, it's why we exercise. But looking at our diet is not common practice when considering how to heal and improve our minds. Maybe it should be.
Give it a try
There are a few important take-aways here. First, raw veganism, plain veganism, and vegetarianism, are not just diets but lifestyles. They can be extremely advantageous and experimenting with new ones can provide great benefits. But for something as restricting as raw veganism, don't expect it to be a cakewalk. Because you definitely can't eat cake.
Second, it doesn't have to be black and white. Many people who eat 80 percent raw call themselves raw vegans. For me, I'm not going to stay purely raw vegan for now, but I know for certain that the proportion of calories I get from raw and vegan foods are going to increase drastically. I've found that I crave the lightness of mind and body that came with raw veganism at least as much as I crave pizza.
My conclusion from the experiment (and none of this is professional medical advice, of course) is that our bodies really are efficient, powerful machines, even if we've been feeding them poorly for years. We have the potential to feel better than we thought possible in a completely organic way. It's a way to be kind to the earth and kind to ourselves. It is tough, but so is everything worth doing.