February 26, 2011

Going Raw Day 5

I’ve found that raw foodies are an eclectic group.  There’s the 90-year-old Armenian who I found on the Internet who went from a malnourished prisoner of war to a yogi running health buff—all thanks, he says, to his Raw Food diet (people in the movement capitalize Raw Food to distinguish it as its own diet and lifestyle). There are Nissan and Meir, who both claim they cured their diabetes by cutting out cooked food. Stacie Cohen, who I spoke with over the phone from her Deerfield Beach, Florida home, says the diet cured her of lead poisoning and reversed her aging— she’s the first to say that she looks better now than she did twenty years ago. And then there’s me (for a week at least anyway).

I’ve never been a bad eater. I’ve always hated the way fast food made me feel and since I started running five years ago I have tried to avoid foods that I have to wait hours to digest before hitting the pavement—this cuts out a lot of bad food. But with a science buff of a mother, I have also been taught my entire life of the resilience of the human body. And more, as a nurse my mother has instilled in me a major prejudice against doctors. If a doctor scolded me for not having my five serving of fruits and veggies a day, the reaction from home was usually the same: that’s a load of bull the body is strong.

For years I watched my mother swim two miles a day, never take a sick day, and manage to stay thin and fit on a diet that always included and was often limited to cookies and Mike and Ikes. Even when my mom, sister, and I became vegans a year ago we left nutrition out of the decision. It was a question of ethics and we made sure we could still maintain some of our junk food habits—Oreos, for example, contain no animal products and neither do potato chips.  In my family, vitamins are overrated, the pharmaceutical industry is trying to poison us, and exercise is the key to a healthy mind and spirit— nutrition has nothing to do with it.

I am not the ideal candidate for a 100% Raw Food diet— for its followers, nutrition has everything to do with it.

The idea behind the diet, or lifestyle really, is simple. When you cook food you kill it.  It loses its enzymes and nutritional value and becomes hard to digest.

According to Stacie Cohen, internationally known Living Food chef and teacher and raw food follower since the 1980’s, the less we have to digest the more “life force” we have, meaning the energy our body uses to process food can be used elsewhere.

“I can work a lot of people under the table. I sleep less and I have much more energy than most people,” she says.

When food is heavily processed it produces toxins that are stored in the body’s fat. “Our body can’t use everything we’re giving it,” Cohen says and if you continue to bombard the body with indigestible, toxic food it will not get the chance to fight off the toxins already stored in it and will eventually your health will suffer. Switching to a diet of raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts, Cohen says, can reverse this and she says she’s experienced this first hand.

After working in a toxic factory Cohen got lead poisoning and was left paralyzed on the entire right side of her body. Doctors did not expect her to ever regain nerve damage.

“I wanted to die,” she says of the experience. When treatment proved ineffective, she says, she took matters into her own hands and started a series of fast and cleanses to heal her body.

“It felt like my body was flushing out the toxins with fruits and veggies,” she says, “It just felt right.”

Cohen made a complete recovery. She attributes all of it to her change in diet.

“I wouldn’t be here without it,” she says of Raw Food, which she also attributes to her youthful skin, lack of allergies, and overall “clarity of mind.”

As for missing hot food, she say, “Anything warmed by the sun is okay, you really don’t need more than that.”

And what if you’re in rainy Eugene, Oregon and attempting the diet in the one week a year that it’s actually cold enough to snow? “Eat foods that warm you from the inside out. Like hot peppers,” Cohen suggests.

For me, peppers haven’t really cut it. After five days of fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, very expensive dehydrated sunflower seed bread that tastes like dog food, homemade almond milk that tastes like dishwater, and raw granola that looks more like birdseed than human food, I want nothing more than a hot bowl of soup and a coffee. But this is normal apparently.

The first two weeks, Cohen says, are hard. You have to take it gradually, she says, “otherwise you hit your emotional body.” This, I can relate to.

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