Four Final Conclusions From My Raw Foods Trial

I learned so much and drew so many lessons from my 100% raw foods trial that writing this post turned out to be far more difficult than I expected. However, instead of writing an exhaustive (and endless) post covering every takeaway from the week, I decided simply to share what I thought were the four most crucial lessons.

[For readers tuning in for the first time, here's the archive page for my entire raw foods trial.]

1) You don't have to go 100% raw to capture most of the benefits of raw foods.
I'm convinced that it would be nearly as effective, and far easier, to apply an 80/20 approach to raw foods rather than going 100% raw. In fact, I'd suggest a trial of eating a raw breakfast and a raw lunch, then perhaps at dinnertime starting with a platter of raw veggies followed by a modest serving of cooked food.

You'll capture most of the benefits of a 100% raw diet (better mental clarity, better nutrition, and a healthy, satisfying diet on a fraction of the calories), with none of the food cravings and detox symptoms that are fixtures of a strict, absolutist raw diet. Moreover, a diet structured this way would save you from becoming a culinary outcast in your own home.

2) Weight loss.
I clearly lost weight and looked noticeably thinner after just one week of eating raw, even though I was already quite thin to begin with. Weight loss is an almost universal result experienced by new raw foodists (for one of the most highly compelling examples, see Angela Stokes' experience). I didn't weigh myself before and after my trial, but I'd guess I lost 3-4 pounds, despite the fact that I literally ate as much as I wanted to all week.

Therefore, if you are above your optimal weight, I strongly encourage you to explore raw foods. The bottom line is this: it takes so much effort to overeat on a raw food diet that it becomes easy to lose weight. If you can stick to a fully- or mostly-raw diet for a meaningful length of time, I'm convinced you will achieve powerful results.

3) Own your food cravings.
This week of raw foods helped me completely reframe how I think about food cravings, and it was by far the most significant (and unexpected) benefit of my raw trial. Normally when I have a food craving, I simply react to it. If I want chocolate, I go into the kitchen and eat some. If I want ice cream or chips and we have them around, I'll just dig in. It goes without saying that responding to food cravings in this way is a deeply unconscious act.

I had all sorts of cravings during my week of raw foods, but I obviously couldn't act on them without ruining the trial. As a result, I essentially spent the week having no choice but to observe these cravings and think about them more consciously and more objectively.

This was an enormous blessing, because it turns out that under conscious and thoughtful observation even the most powerful food cravings shrivel up and become easy to resist. Whenever I took a few moments to think instead of react to my food cravings, I had a far greater ability to consider the nature of the craving and then decide whether to act on it or say no to it. And being forced to do this repeatedly over the course of my week of raw foods helped me deeply grasp that I have much more power over my feelings and food cravings than I ever imagined.

I believe there are important implications here for anyone who wants to control their relationship with food, and I encourage any reader who struggles with unhealthy food cravings to try their own raw foods trial--not just for the opportunity for weight loss, but for the opportunity to experience food cravings on a deeply objective and intellectual level. I believe you will prove to yourself once and for all that your cravings don't own you--you own them.

4) Gratitude.
A final thought: if you really want to appreciate the things in life that make you truly happy, try giving them up for a while. Seriously. This raw trial helped teach me true gratitude for many daily food habits I took entirely for granted--things like my morning coffee, an afternoon snack of dark chocolate, or an evening glass of red wine. I never would have guessed that one of the most powerful lessons of a one week raw foods trial would be to teach me a deep appreciation for a simple life that grants us these seemingly minor things.

Readers, for those of you who have experimented with raw foods, what did you learn? And those of you who are new to raw, are you thinking of doing your own raw trial? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

For any readers who want to go beyond the context of food and pursue further reading on the issues of emotions and cravings, let me recommend four books that helped me significantly:

How To Want What You Have by Timothy Ray Miller
The Sedona Method by Hale Dwoskin
The Power of Now and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

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Fiona Russell said...

Thanks for sharing the whole experience, Dan!

About the cravings -- your observations are interesting, although I'm not sure one week of raw is enough for a conclusion on this topic. My own experience was that I had cravings throughout the first 2.5 weeks of going all raw, and then they vanished, completely. My big weakness was cheese, especially cheese and bread in any combination, and after years and years of craving these foods, I suddenly and completely stopped. I couldn't believe it, but it was real!! Unfortunately, when I started adding cooked foods back into my diet, even a small taste of cheese was enough to restart the cravings.

Victoria Boutenko feels strongly that cravings can be vanquished with enough nutrition from greens. I find my cravings are definitely much more subdued when I have green smoothies regularly.

Mindfulness about food desires is a big piece of the puzzle; thanks for bringing this up!

Fern said...

Thoughtful post.

One thing I was wondering about the diet as I followed your experiment - what would it do to a person's blood sugar in the long run to be eating so much fruit?

Joanne said...

I found it so interesting to follow along with your raw foods trial. I don't know that it's something that I could ever do but I could definitely see how it would be useful for someone who was trying to lose weight or at least trying to get control over their cravings. It's definitely true that if I go a long time without eating refined sugar, I stop craving it entirely and then the second I have some again, it's like a domino effect.

I really like your idea of having a partial raw diet. It would definitely force people to think about what they were eating a lot more and there is no such thing (at least in my mind) as having too many fruits and veggies!

JS said...

I think any diet is better than the typical American "see-food" diet. The problem with all of the "this diet is better than that" arguments is that the standard American diet is so poor, almost any deviation is an improvement. Also, I doubt there is enough protein in many of the "virtuous" diets for those of us who
a) have desk jobs
b) want to maintain/gain muscle mass.
c) have a nut ban in place because of family food allergies.
Each person has to figure out on their own what their body needs for their lifestyle, whatever that may be. Examples like this, however, provide great inspiration for alternatives that we can all learn from. (That's the flattery you encouraged)

Daniel said...

Great ideas so far!

Fiona, interesting to hear your thoughts on cravings over a longer period. At some point in the future I'll try going raw for a longer timeframe, so I'll be interested to see to what extent I share those craving-related experiences.

Fern: you ask an interesting question, and with the enormous caveat that I am not a dietician, let me take a stab at it. I don't think you need to worry about blood sugar from eating a lot of fruit. It's the processed and refined sugars like sucrose and HFCS that drive our blood sugar and insulin levels haywire. Hopefully a some other readers of this blog who know more about this subject can weigh in on this too.

Joanne: thanks for the kind words and for your comment. I'm also curious--do you have any thoughts on Fern's question, given that a big part of your successful weight loss was due to rethinking your consumption of processed sugars?

JS: not eating nuts would certainly make it difficult to execute a raw diet. But the Standard American Diet has so much more protein (and fat) than necessary, you could simply cut your meat consumption in half and you'd be easily able to meet your goals. I'd suggest that as an idea for you to consider.


JS said...

No way! Standard protein for those trying to gain muscle mass is 2 grams per lb. Cutting protein would put me well under that. Few Americans are close to that. The problem is the fat that people get with that meat. That's why eggs (white) and lean dairy are highly acclaimed for muscle gain.

You don't find a lot of very strong vegetarians. It's all about personal goals. One's diet must meet those. I did skinny for long enough.

Auntie M said...

Raw foods should only be tried by the very healthy. After having pancreatitis 15 years ago, I still have to limit my intake of raw veggies and salads, and recently I discovered that my wonderful morning meusili was what was causing lower distress.

Laura said...

Great recap! That bit about cravings really resonates with me. Since I started reading your blog, I have become more aware of my snacking, and sometimes when I feel like I really want something, I'll drink a glass of water first and wait for 15 minutes to see if I still feel that way. More often than not, the cause of my craving was boredom, and in the 15 minutes I give myself to see how I feel, I find something else to do and forget about wanting a snack.

Love the 80/20 suggestion. Sounds much more doable to me than going strictly raw.

Daniel said...

Auntie M: Thanks for sharing. There's no doubt that this diet is difficult to maintain on an all-or-nothing basis, but as I suggest here, it doesn't have to be all or nothing in my view.

I'm so happy to hear you've become a more aware eater since reading me! I'm always happy to find that Casual Kitchen adds value to readers' lives. Thank you for the feedback.


Joanne said...

Disclaimer - I'm not a dietitian in any capacity but I am a doctor-in-training who has spent way more time than I care to admit reading about health and nutrition.

In response to Fern's question about what a diet high in fruits will do to a person's blood sugar, I am inclined to say - not much. The main sugar in fruits is fructose, which is a simple sugar. However, fruits also have a TON of fiber in them which slows the absorption of fructose from the small intestine and into the bloodstream. Thus, unlike refined sugars, sugars from fruits don't cause a spike in blood sugar. Instead, after eating fruits you will see blood sugar rise slowly and steadily. This gives the body plenty of time to respond with insulin and prevents problems such as insulin resistance that inevitably lead to diabetes. It is also important to consider the fact that also sugar in fruit is high, it is only a fraction of the sugar that is found is processed foods. The two are not even really comparable.

Problems only occur when diabetic or prediabetic individuals consume a lot of fruit. These people's response to blood sugar has gone haywire and so they can't tolerate eating major amounts of any kind of sugar. Such individuals should stick to vegetables.

Moral of the story - we can all rest assured that going onto a raw food diet will not send us into a prediabetic or diabetic state. So go have an apple! Or two!

Daniel said...

Thanks for weighing in Joanne!


Charity said...

I don't have anything to add here that hasn't been said, but I did want to tell you that I've really enjoyed this series. Though I'm not interested in trying a raw foods diet (even in an 80/20 way), I appreciate the insights you gained from your experiment. Thanks for sharing!

Daniel said...

Charity, thanks so much for your feedback! Really glad you enjoyed it.


FIONA said...

Along with everyone else, thanks for sharing your experience.

I have been thinking about trying a raw week. It sounds like to first of my New Year's resolutions!

I have cut out processed foods. We're eating so many more fresh fruits and steamed veggies.

Giving up my morning coffee, my afternoon tea, and bread will be the hard part.

Daniel said...

Thanks for your comment Fiona. I look forward to hearing about your experience. Good luck!

Kim said...

I'm an insulin-dependent diabetic. Several other members of my family are diabetic, some Type 1 and some Type 2. In general, I agree with Joanne's comments about the effects of fruit on blood sugar but I wouldn't take it so far as to say that people with diabetes should not eat fruit. That's a very common myth.

Most dietitians will advise their adult diabetic clients to eat 2 or 3 servings of fruit per day. A serving of fruit will have about the same effect on a diabetic as a serving of any other type of starch or a serving of milk or a serving of any other type of carbohydrate. Being diabetic doesn't mean you can't eat sugar or other carbohydrates. It just means that you have to restrict the amount to what your body can handle. If you're insulin-dependent, you have to coordinate carbohydrate intake and insulin intake.

That said, I personally have noticed that some fruits do make my blood sugar go higher than I'd like even when I stick to the serving sizes recommended by the American Dietetic Ass'n, the American Diabetes Ass'n, the CDC, and so on. Grapes and pineapple are the biggest culprits for me and to a lesser degree, mangoes (which I absolutely love). I don't often eat grapes or pineapple and when I do, I only eat a bite or two. Mango is a sometimes treat.

I definitely need to eat 2 or 3 pieces of fruit every single day without fail in order to prevent cravings for sweets. It really makes all the difference in the world for me.

Dan, your raw diet experiment really fascinates me. I eat a large raw salad (frequently in addition to cooked veg) made entirely of non-starchy veg, at both lunch and dinner, as a way to control my weight. It also helps keep my cravings for savory food, especially starchy items, in check.

If I don't consume my customary raw fruits and vegetables every day, it really affects the way I feel. I just spent 4 days in the hospital where they were feeding me junk like artificially sweetened pudding and canned peaches in heavy syrup. I had to beg and plead for fresh fruit and vegetables. I can't emphasize enough how much a diet heavy in raw fruits and veg helps me control my blood sugar and my cravings, and improves the way I feel in general.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Dan. In the beginning, I wasn't expecting to read about you having cravings, although I don't know why. It makes perfect sense to me now that you'd have them.

Daniel said...

Thanks Kim for sharing some exceptional insights. I'm grateful to have readers who can share experience and expertise like this.