My Raw Story &
By Nora Lenz
My exposure to the world of health and nutrition began in 1987 when I read “Fit for Life” by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. It made an impression on me, but coming from the standard American way of eating I felt that the recommendations were too radical of a change. I chose instead to adopt a cooked, starch-based vegan “McDougall-style” diet, which I followed for the next 13 years.
A few years later, I came across a very old, tattered book called “Toxemia Explained” by John Tilden. In it, the author contradicted everything I had been taught about healing and disease. It claimed that there are no “cures”, and that medicine and remedies of any sort only make sickness worse. Further, it also identified one single, mostly self-inflicted cause for all disease: “toxemia”. This astounded me. In my work as an academics assistant at a naturopathic college, I was surrounded everyday by very educated people who believed otherwise. I couldn’t see how they could all be wrong, so I didn’t abandon my keen interest in “alternative medicine” or my cooked vegan diet. But I was fascinated and I never forgot the lessons that book attempted to teach me.
Over the next decade, I occasionally heard stories about people who were using a raw diet to “heal” disease. I also had long-term vegan friends who were being diagnosed with diseases that I believed my animal-product-free diet would protect me from. This worried me; I began to wonder if a cooked vegan diet could keep me healthy over the long term. All of this culminated in October of 2000 with my decision to adopt a living foods diet after reading “Nature’s First Law”. Although some of the claims in the book seemed exaggerated, I just knew somehow that they were based on truth. It all made so much sense to me.
My own “transition” was very short – within two weeks of reading Nature’s First Law, I had gone from a cooked vegan diet to 100% raw. During those first two weeks, I decided that I would eat all raw except for two foods — baked potatoes and popcorn. I wanted to keep these foods in reserve in case I needed them, and I did need them in the first two weeks. By the beginning of the third week I had found enough satisfying raw options that I was able to stop eating all cooked food. During the first few months of being raw, I gave myself permission to eat as much as I wanted, as long as it was RAW and vegan. After dieting for weight management my entire adult life, it was liberating to be able to eat with abandon. I experimented with different raw recipes until I found 7 or 8 that I really loved. I rotated these, adding new ones along the way. I bought tons of food, which was tough on my budget. But, I reasoned, this was money I wouldn’t have to spend on doctors, health insurance, prescriptions, herbs or supplements. I also ate staples that had been in my vegan diet for a long time, like sweet, frozen banana smoothies with almond milk base and big salads. When I ate these things, I felt satisfied and “normal,” and I could forget about the radical change I was making to my life.
I discovered things like macadamia/strawberry “yogurt” that I dipped apple slices in. I made spicy sunflower seed dip for celery and carrot sticks. I made thick, delicious salad dressings with seeds and nuts. I always had dates, raisins and nuts with me, and snacked almost continually. In the beginning, no matter how much food I ate, I still felt “hungry”. Although the fattier, denser, more concentrated foods and complex recipes helped a bit, nothing really took away that gnawing feeling of hunger and I felt an almost constant desire to eat. I was later to learn that these feelings weren’t hunger at all, but the symptoms of cleansing that my diet change had initiated. When your stomach aches, I found out, it’s like a sprained ankle that only needs rest. Real hunger is quite a different sensation, not an unpleasant one, like mild thirst or the subtle desire to go outside for a breath of fresh air. When one first adopts a raw food diet, however, the feelings of weakness, irritation, lightheadedness and growly stomach are very powerful and so is the habit we’ve formed of eating to suppress them. Intuitively, I knew if I tried to ignore these feelings, or not eat in response to them, it would be difficult for me to stay raw.
When my body began to regain its vitality and lose its tolerance for dietary mistakes, I began to learn a bit more about food combining principles and applied them to my diet. I had to start eating fruit and nuts separately, which meant I couldn’t make my beloved smoothies with almond milk anymore. I just started making them with the water of young coconuts instead. Eventually I didn’t even like the way this combination made me feel either, so I stopped having smoothies altogether. I was amazed that when I made this decision, I didn’t feel deprived. I just went without one day, then two, and then the next time I wanted one I thought about how they made me feel, and had something else instead. I went through a phase of continuing to drink smoothies, but limited the ingredients to whole, raw, unfrozen fruit. Now, after nearly 12 years, I rarely mix fruits, and this feels right to me.
Initially when I experimented with eating one food at a time, I didn’t like it. I’d have trouble deciding which ONE food I wanted to eat and no matter what I chose, I’d end up wanting the other thing, and was usually unable to resist having both in the end. I now realize that the desire to mix foods together in complex combinations has nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with an inappropriate and unnatural need to stimulate or entertain ourselves with food. These very strong emotional connections we have with food are one reason why it takes time to become comfortable with eating one food at a time. The more I did this, the more natural it felt. It wasn’t until my third year of being raw that I started eating mostly “mono”. I purposely made these changes slowly, so they weren’t difficult or painful.
Everyone has a different experience when transitioning to a living foods diet. That’s because each of our bodies has its own way of healing, adjusting and regaining balance, and each of us starts out in a different condition. It is helpful for people wanting to make changes to their diet to know what others have experienced, in order to prepare themselves for the possibilities. I felt pretty sick during the first few weeks. I was lethargic, weak, lightheaded, drowsy (especially in the evening), mildly depressed and irritable. I had many ups and downs during this period but by the end of the second month I was having many days when I felt good. After 5 months of being 100% raw, I had my first of 3 major cleansing events, which felt like the “flu”. I was nauseous, had diarrhea and was extremely weak and faint if I attempted to stand up for more than a couple minutes. The worst of it lasted about a week. I understood enough about what was happening to know that I should not attempt to stop the symptoms with remedies of any sort, but I didn’t realize that I should not have continued eating. I had no appetite, so I ate very little, but I was still laboring under the idea that food gives us “strength” and was afraid that doing without it would make me feel even weaker. I realized later that if I had fasted on water only, the “crisis” would have been over in much less time.
Two weeks after that cleansing episode ended, I was happy to start noticing weight loss. Up until that point, I hadn’t lost an ounce of weight. Although it was a source of bitter disappointment for me, I had been forced to accept that weight loss might not happen at all because I had noted a few other female raw fooders who carried extra weight (which I now feel is attributable to mistakes they are making with their diets). I wanted to be slim, but it was more important to me to be healthy, so I resolved to stay raw even if I didn’t lose weight. By month 8, I had lost all of the extra 30 pounds I had gained since my teens. I got down to 126 pounds (I’m 5’8″) and stayed there for about a year.
Since then I’ve experienced steady and gradual weight loss. I’m now down to 110, and it feels very good. When I was carrying around all that extra weight, I didn’t realize how much more difficult it made working, moving, getting up from a sitting position, and exercising. When I lost that initial 30 pounds, I couldn’t believe how lithe and agile I felt. I now know that the rounded, puffy look that we see even in people who are considered “normal” weight is unnatural and unhealthy. The musculature should be visible through the skin not only in people who deliberately “sculpt” or build their muscles, but in all healthy humans. Raw fooders typically take a lot of flak about their relative skinniness, but the fact is that this is how humans are supposed to look. That they appear skinny to the rest of the world is only a testament to how universal it is in our culture for people to carry excess weight.
I had some very difficult and trying times during my first year of being raw. I learned that our bodies use the same habituated mechanisms to heal and find balance when we are getting healthier as they do when we are sick and getting sicker. That is, if you’ve had menstrual cramps your whole life, or headaches, acne or cold sores, etc., you’ll most likely experience more of the same while you are healing as old stored wastes re-enter the bloodstream on their way out of your body. These symptoms we experience are sometimes called “retracing”. Even beyond my first year, I had painful menstrual cramps, recurring ‘yeast infections’, and a constant crop of cold sores appearing on my lips and nose. It wasn’t until late in my second year of being raw that my periods got easier and I stopped getting cold sores altogether. For about a year, my periods continued but were light and cramps were mild or nonexistent. Eventually my period went away completely, but since I’m now in my mid-50s, I don’t know if this is because I got healthy or if it would have happened anyway.
I had the second of my “healing crises” at about 18 months. This one wasn’t as severe as the first, and brought different symptoms. I had the sorest, rawest throat I’ve ever experienced, and felt too weak to even get out of bed. It only lasted a few days, because while I didn’t fast completely I only had citrus and juices. Six months later, just a month before my 2-year raw anniversary, I had the most acute cleansing event to date: High fever, body aches, chills, cough, weakness, sinus and chest congestion. I ate very lightly, again only citrus and juices, and it took two weeks to pass. About 3 weeks after the beginning of my symptoms, however, I felt the best I’ve ever felt in my life! To me, this was evidence that my body had been doing some serious housecleaning. For a full six weeks after that point, I continued to feel like I was walking on air. Words can’t describe the joy I felt just from being alive.
Realizing that our bodies heal in cycles or plateaus, I knew that with the last cleansing event I had moved to a new level of health. Inevitably, when we get to the end of a healing cycle, the body sometimes takes the opportunity to do some deeper cleansing with the vitality it as regained, which means we might not feel very well. Sometimes this means acute symptoms, and sometimes just mild discomfort or low energy. These low periods should be celebrated, embraced and cooperated with, because it means wonderful healing processes are taking place in our bodies.
Through the law of vital adjustment, our bodies can tolerate a great deal of abuse. Most people don’t realize how they’ve made their own bodies tolerant of their lifestyle mistakes — mistakes that ultimately make them sick and threaten their lives. I wanted to do the opposite – to increase my body’s sensitivity. I wanted my body to tell me when I had done something that was harmful to it. In this way, I could learn to cooperate with my body. If I listen to my body and continue to refine and simplify my diet and improve my lifestyle practices, I can be assured of moving to the next level of health. Eventually, I will reach a place of optimal health where I will feel great all the time and cleansing will not occasion symptoms. I’m still learning how to listen to my body and respond appropriately. It is a long, slow process which requires great patience and trust in nature.
Now, after 11 years of being 100% raw, I have experienced such radical changes in my physical and emotional health that I’m beginning to understand what it must be like to have the level of health that all beings on earth are supposed to enjoy, but that few humans can even conceive of. What I’m experiencing right now is not perfect health. It is almost as far from perfection as it is from “normal” health. But I’ve seen enough to know what perfection IS, and to know that it is worth striving for, no matter how much I have to segregate myself from a culture that seeks false comfort and entertainment from eating. I have to smile when someone tells me that the sacrifices I’m making for my health are too great. It’s true that being raw and vegan is socially challenging, and I’d be lying if I said there’s nothing about the cooked life that I’ll miss. But when I think about that, and compare it to what I’d have to give up if I went back to my old way of life, it only deepens my resolve to stay raw forever.
The symptoms I previously experienced that I had come to believe were a natural part of aging — like back ache, PMS, indigestion, angina, joint pain and middle-age spread — are gone. And although I wasn’t afflicted with any diseases before I went raw, I now realize the fear of it pervaded my life on a daily basis. I thought about breast cancer especially, fearing that it would take me as it had my grandmother when she was the age I’m at now. Now when I think about cancer, it’s to lament all the ignorance and unnecessary fear that surrounds it. It is not mysterious, nor is it the vicious and vile killer we are brainwashed to believe it is. Its causes are simple and can be understood by anyone. This knowledge alone has brought me a freedom I hadn’t expected. No more breast self-exams, nor the guilt I felt for not performing them with the recommended frequency, not to mention uncomfortable pap smears and other so-called “preventative” medical procedures
The notion that disease is an unavoidable part of life is so universally accepted in our culture that people don’t even realize what THEY are sacrificing in order to eat “normally”. As a result, all of the physical and emotional dysfunction that we experience individually and as a culture has come to be thought of as normal and natural. There are many, many health issues that would signal distress to any human living a truly natural life, but that we accept as “normal”: Monthly female bleeding, painful childbirth, baldness, tooth decay, depression, deteriorating vision/hearing, death being preceded by 10 years of “assisted living”, and many more. Learning about natural life can lead to some truly amazing revelations about the unnatural and mutated nature of modern civilized life.
Finding raw food and Natural Hygiene can signal the end of your health troubles and the beginning of a glorious new joy-filled life. However, there is a great need for health-seekers to think critically and independently as they approach new ideas. Just because a book advocates raw food, doesn’t mean everything the author has to say should be taken to heart. The raw food movement, like the rest of the world, is awash in confusion and misconception regarding health. When one decides to seek REAL health, there is as much to UN-learn as there is to learn. Deeply-held myths die hard, even among raw foodists. What has helped me the most in being able to discern truth from nonsense is learning the unchanging, nature-based principles of Natural Hygiene. Natural Hygiene is the idea that all living things are self-regenerating, self-repairing, self-sustaining, and are designed through millions of years of infinite wisdom that resides in their every cell to attain and maintain optimum health. All we need to do is avoid the habits that destroy health and provide the requisites that build it. Natural Hygiene also teaches us what’s going on in our bodies when we might otherwise be confused and confounded by ongoing symptoms. It is a lot easier to be patient with your body if you understand what’s happening inside it.
Regaining the vitality and vigor you once knew as a young person is not only possible, it is inevitable with the right conditions. But, healing and recovery from a lifetime of abusive living is a process of experimentation, listening to your body, learning from others and abandoning old habits and ideas. The patience and trust that will be required of you will eventually be rewarded with optimal health.