It starts like a good relationship.
You meet someone new. Sparks are flying. You both like Hitchcock films and that obscure reggae band from Norway; clearly, it’s meant to be. After a string of perfect dates, all-night phone calls, and butterfly-inducing smooches, you’re sure that they’re “the one.”
Then a month later, you wake up and realize the other person has some pretty freaky nose hairs. And they burp without apologizing. And they snore. Oh, do they snore!
So it is with raw. Almost without fail, the beginning of the diet yields a brilliant honeymoon phase—filled with surging energy, renewed vigor, and zest for your lively cuisine.
But somewhere down the line—months for some people, years for others—the wonder starts to wane. Maybe you start feeling like something is inexplicably missing. Maybe your energy takes a dive and noontime naps become the norm. Maybe your weight loss plateaus. Maybe your last dentist visit wasn’t so pretty. Maybe those niggly health problems you had prior to raw—aches and pains, lethargy, allergies, arthritis, skin conditions—start resurfacing out of nowhere. Whatever the reason, raw just doesn’t seem to be working as well as it did in the beginning. Your enthusiasm diminishes, and in its place comes doubt, discontentment, and a plethora of questions.
In other words, you start seeing raw foods’ freaky nose hairs and you begin to wonder: what did I get myself into?
My own raw honeymoon ended around the one-year mark. Intermittent fatigue, dental woes, hair loss, concentration problems, and some not-so-happy blood test results forced me to rethink the dietary regimen I was so tightly clutching. During this time, I started scouting out the counsel and wisdom of other disgruntled rawbies. What I discovered was this “honeymoon end” was a common phenomenon among raw foodists, and that its occurrence usually led to two things:
1. an expulsion from the raw community for being a dissenter or pot-stirrer for doubting the diet, and
2. a foray into other dietary regimens, such as paleo, low-carb, cooked vegan, macrobiotic, or ayurvedic.
Contrary to what the testimonial section in books and websites may indicate, raw doesn’t always end with Happily Ever After. What worked in the beginning may not work forever, and sometimes you need to tweak things to regain a sense of vitality and health. If you’re in the troubling situation of having been raw for a while but feeling that something’s off, don’t worry—you’re in good company.
Although a number of the people I spoke to had experimented with going back to cooked food, I found that most of them ended up gravitating back to a raw or mostly-raw diet after finding a cooked diet exacerbated their problems even more. Indeed, I don’t think dumping raw altogether is the solution when you hit a rocky patch in your journey. But waiting around and hoping it’s just detox doesn’t usually work, either.
So how do you proceed? How do you regain that wonderful raw “oomph”?
Test for deficiencies
If you haven’t done so already, this is the perfect time to get a blood test done. There’s a lot of hoo-ha out there about how healthy ranges for results are based on “cooked” standards and don’t apply to raw foodists. In my opinion, this is a dangerous and illogical myth. We claim to be eating the most nutrient-rich diet out there—so why would it be acceptable to clock in with lower levels of vitamins and minerals than cooked foodists exhibit? Baloney.
The raw honeymoon often ends right around the time deficiencies manifest. It’s not a coincidence. B-12 deficiency, iron deficiency anemia, zinc deficiency, and vitamin D deficiency are the biggies to look out for. If you’re low in any of these, you’ll be feeling it—especially with plummeting energy in the case of b-12 and iron. So get some blood work done and correct any deficiencies you find, either through supplementation or through dietary adjustments. This alone is often enough to restore tremendous vitality.
Track your food intake with a nutrient calculator
Using a nutrient tracker like Cron-O-Meter or Fitday.com can help you see trends in your diet, including areas that need improvement. Are you only averaging 1300 calories a day? Then you can bet you’re not getting enough protein or energy to thrive. Is your diet 40% fat? That’s enough to make anyone feel sluggish. Are you regularly low in certain minerals? You’re setting yourself up for a deficiency in the future. Analyzing your food intake can help you pinpoint where your raw diet has gone wrong and show you what to improve.
KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid)
Don’t worry, you’re not actually stupid; it’s just a saying. If you’re eating a “gourmet” raw diet—lots of recipes, oils, spices, condiments, and multi-ingredient dishes—it may be time to simplify your cuisine. All those recipes designed to mimic cooked food might sit fine when you first go raw, but over time, it becomes obvious that they’re dehydrating and harder to digest than simple meals with fewer ingredients. Avoid raw condiments for a while (most of which have questionable raw-ness to begin with), cut back on salt, try mono-meals made of one type of food at a time, focus on fresh and whole foods instead of dried/dehydrated fare, and go easy on the nuts. You’ll save plenty of energy usually expended on digestion, and may find the initial energy surges you had with raw start returning.
Look for intolerances or allergies
If you consistently eat the same foods day in and day out, there’s a risk of developing an intolerance to certain items. This is especially true for nightshades (such as tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant), which trigger arthritis-like symptoms in some people. Try rotating your diet or finding new dietary staples, and see if you feel better as a result.
Mind, body, spirit
If you’re struggling after a period of eating raw, it’s also time to look at other lifestyle factors that might be mucking things up. Exercise is a huge one. If you’re not regularly moving your body on raw, you will have problems. No ifs, ands, or buts; raw food and sedentary living simply don’t mix. Make sure you’re setting aside time for exercise in your daily schedule, and that you’re doing a variety of movement types—cardiovascular exercise, stretching and flexibility exercises, and resistance training.
I’ve noticed that raw makes me more sensitive to environmental toxins (pollution, smog, and so forth), which seems to be a common experience. If you live in a big city, look for ways to minimize your exposure to pollution; if possible, consider relocating to somewhere cleaner. In some cases, switching to a higher percentage of organic foods helps as well, if it’s financially feasible.
Health is about more than just your physical body, too. Make sure you have emotional balance and stability in your life, whether it’s through meditation, engaging in a hobby you’re passionate about, volunteering, and doing whatever else it is that makes you feel good. Get your mind off of food. Spending all hours of the day thinking about your diet is enough to drive anyone crazy.
Consider adding different items to your diet
When the raw doldrums hit, some people benefit from adding items into their cuisine that they previously avoided or neglected. For instance, scout out wild greens or sea vegetables for their high mineral content.
If you feel you would benefit from reintroducing cooked items—perhaps for social reasons or to stave off constant hunger—experiment with adding one food at a time, such as steamed vegetables with your evening meal for a week, then cooked quinoa for a week, then a baked potato for a week, and so on. Closely monitor how your body reacts. Avoid adding highly spiced, sauced, or salted cooked items to your cuisine; these can trigger wild cravings based on the desire for flavor rather than nutrition.
If you aren’t vegan for ethical reasons, animal products such as raw dairy, raw or soft-boiled eggs, and raw or steamed fish are options to try. Do a little at a time, and gauge what happens in the hours and days following the consumption of these foods.
When it comes to reintroducing non-raw-vegan fare into your diet, results are highly individual and require conscious experimenting to figure out what does and does not work. There’s no single answer here. Listen to your body—and remember it sometimes whispers instead of shouts.