15 Tips To Transition To A Raw Foods Lifestyle

I've received an inordinate amount of email from readers seeking advice this month, who fall into two camps:
  • Total newbie, wanting to "make the switch to raw."
  • Self-proclaimed "cooked food addict,"  who's tried repeatedly to "go raw" and continues to "fall off the wagon" and struggle.
I have no magic pill or protocol for you to follow. In fact, if someone were to prescribe either and tell you it's the key to your success, I'd tell you to run (fast!) in the opposite direction.

What I can offer is my own experience, strength and hope. So, here's a bit of what I've learned as I've crossed the great divide and journeyed deep into the land of raw and living foods.

1. Get reeeeeeally clear about the answer to this question: Why are you doing this?

Want to lose weight? High school reunion coming up and you want to turn back the hands of time?

Those are nice goals, and very attainable ones. Now, why are you doing this? Until you get crystal clear about that, you'll just be spinning your wheels. Mind as well go sign up for Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. See ya. Bye.

2. Lose the labels. Lose the percentages. Who are you competing with? Seriously. Set your own bar. Neither a label nor a percentage ever made anyone healthy. And if attaining optimum health and well-being is not what's propelling you forward, then you best revisit #1.

3. Eliminate refined and processed foods from your life. Do that first, before you even think about transitioning to a living foods lifestyle. This is perhaps the single most beneficial thing you can do for your health and well-being.

Self proclaimed or not, you cannot be "addicted to cooked food." But you can, and probably are, addicted to the chemicals, preservatives, coloring agents and other additives in your processed foods. Steam some fresh organic broccoli and tell me how addicted you are to cooked food.

Look, I was the Fast Food Queen. It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that if something arrives through the window of my car, it's not food. Same goes for those packages you nuke in the microwave.

Want fast food? Try an orange. It even comes in its own wrapper.

4. Ingest nutrient-dense, whole foods – organic, local and seasonal when possible. Assimilation of vital nutrients is determined by its form. Freshly extracted juices and smoothies will be more easily assimilated by your body than eating solid foods. Plant-based foods will be more easily assimilated than meat-based foods.

5. Initially – particularly if you are transitioning from a meat-based, highly-processed diet as I was – you will consume a lot of food. A lot. I may have been morbidly obese, but I was also terribly malnourished. It's very likely that your body is starving for nutrients too.

Lifelong counter of points, calories, carbs, and fat grams? Fuhgeddaboudit. Not necessary. If you're hungry, eat. You'd be amazed at the amount of food I was eating each day, while the excess weight (read: toxic waste) was falling off my body.

6. Let go of the black-and-white, all-or-nothing mentality. I mean, really, take a look at where that's gotten you in life. And that wagon you keep "falling off"? Put it down by the curb for trash pick-up. Say goodbye.

Okay, there's no wagon. There's no right way vs. wrong way. There's no 100% perfect (remember, you already dropped the percentages in #2 above).

There are choices. Each and every day you will have an opportunity to make choices. Aim for healthy ones. Aim high.

You do not have to eat a 100% raw foods diet, 100% of the time in order to reap the benefits of consuming vital life-giving nutrient-dense food. Period.

7. Start where you are. I happened to be at one end of the spectrum. You may be in the middle, having already been consuming a diet of whole foods (plant-based or not). Or, perhaps you're at the opposite end of the continuum from where I began. Maybe you've been eating a vegan whole foods diet for awhile now.

The point being that everyone's transition is going to look different. A Day In The Life gives you a glimpse at my own progression over the first six months. Today, it looks different still. As your health continues to evolve, so will your diet.

8. Learn to listen to your body. It will never lie. It knows what it needs. Its needs may change over time or with the seasons.

In the summer months, local organic produce is plentiful here in the arctic tundra. I can enjoy mono-meals of fresh melon or berries and I'm happy as a clam. I go shopping in my own backyard and juice my garden each morning. I forage for wild edibles.

In the winter, it's an entirely different story. My garden is fast asleep under a heavy blanket of snow. It's a frigid 7 degrees outside. My produce travels a great distance and arrives on a truck at my local market. I never tire of warm blended soups. I delight in steamed root vegetables. After six months of lying dormant, my dehydrator is back in action.

9. Whether you weigh 300+ pounds like I did, or you've been trying to lose the same 20 pounds for years, you're going to have to change your relationship to food. It's inevitable.

Look, I didn't get to that point because of my great love for good food or my lack of will power. And neither did you. We like to tell ourselves that though.

When we remove what we used to sedate ourselves (read: refined and processed foods), all those emotions that we were trying to shove down with food are going to come to the surface. They're gonna be right in your face, vying for your attention. And you'll have a choice to make: stuff 'em down with a bag of chips and a box of cookies OR allow the emotion (ie. energy in motion) to move up, out and through you, no matter how uncomfortable that may feel.

10. Old habits die hard. Oh, it's so much easier to just open this meal-in-a-box and nuke it in the microwave. Gosh, I hate feeling this way. I'm so lonely. Think I'll just have a couple of Krispy Kremes. Yeah, it's gonna happen. So, knowing that, be ready.

One of the things I did early on in my journey was to write a letter to myself, reminding me why I was undertaking this grand adventure in the first place. I kept that letter folded up and on me at all times. There were days when I had to reach inside my pocket, pull it out and read it several times.

11. Good news! You're going to start feeling so much better in such a short period of time. You'll be blessed with a surge of new-found energy. Chronic health conditions will vanish, seemingly overnight. The level of mental clarity you experience will astound you.

And still...old habits die hard.

I remember about 7-8 weeks into my own transition, I went to the local Greek Festival with my family. And what do you do at a Greek Festival? You eat! I thoroughly enjoyed a gyro, fries, soft drink and baklava...for about 45 minutes. Less than an hour later, and I'm running through the crowd in a mad dash for the bathroom. In two months I had not consumed any meat, processed or refined foods. My body reacted as if I had just been poisoned and could not expel what I'd eaten fast enough.

So, don't deprive yourself. Want it? Eat it. How does it make you feel? Perhaps you won't have a violent reaction like I did, but know this: when you reach for the Kraft mac-n-cheese dinner, you are reintroducing highly addictive chemicals into your system and you will begin the addictive-food cycle all over again. How long you want to keep riding the merry-go-round is entirely up to you.

12. Keep it simple.

Wanna be the next Julie & Julia and work your way through the gourmet recipes in Entertaining In The Raw each night? Go right ahead. I give you two weeks tops till you've burned yourself out. Hey, even master chef Matthew Kenney doesn't eat that way every day.

Philip McCluskey just came out with a great book, Raw Food Fast Food. He lost over 200 pounds since transitioning to raw living foods, and shares his no-fuss-easy-to-prepare meals. Live and eat simply.

Have a sharp knife? Great, you're in business. You do not need to go out and buy yourself all new kitchen equipment. Likewise, telling yourself that "I can't do this" because you don't own a Vita-Mix, Blendtec or Excalibur is BS; capital B, capital S. News flash: I do not own any of those appliances.

13. Fail to plan. Plan to fail. It's true. Planning is key. If your meals are no longer going to arrive through your car window or come out of a box, you're going to have to prepare them. How complicated you want them to be is entirely up to you (see #12). The good news? Lots of fruits and vegetables come in their own wrappers. Wash. Peel. Eat. How simple is that?

I used to run a very large commercial kitchen, plus I'm an organized person by nature, so menu planning is a no-brainer for me. If it's something that seems daunting to you, check out The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose. She has a slew of menu plans, shopping lists and simple recipes to follow through the various stages of transitioning.

14. You do not need to break the bank in order to eat healthy food. Chances are, your empty calories before and that is just a waste of money, plain and simple.

Shop the farmers markets. You'll find fresh-picked produce with far less pesticides than commercial grown and I betchya it's at least 10% cheaper than what you'll pay in the grocery store. It's a shame the hoops the FDA makes farmers jump through in order to get Certified Organic, but you'll find that many are uncertified organic if you just ask.

Most grocery stores, particularly the smaller neighborhood markets, have a bargain shelf where they put the "over ripe" or bruised produce. Here's the thing: what most folks consider "over ripe" is actually perfect. Hello? Bananas are supposed to have brown spots on them before ready for consumption. Boy, when I see those for 10 cents a pound, I nab 'em. Take them home, peel and freeze, and you're all ready for smoothie making.

Buy in bulk and you'll save a bulk-load of cash. I have friends who have memberships to Costco that tell me they have a rather extensive selection of organic produce for far less than what they'd pay at Whole Foods. Might be worth looking into. I think you're allowed to get a guest pass the first time you go and check it out.

You'd be surprised at the deals you can find on Amazon (yes! and I'm talking food items, not books), and Matt Monarch over at The Raw Food World is always offering crazy "At Cost" specials and discounts. Plus, Matt stands behind everything he sells. He's been living a raw foods lifestyle for over 10 years.

15. Knowledge is power. Educate yourself. Look, it's your body, your health. Be an informed consumer. And rest assured, you are going to encounter folks along the way – perhaps members of your own family – who are going to think that you've either lost your mind or journeyed to the dark side. It's okay. People tend to get very frightened by what they do not understand.

So be a powerful example, a shining beacon who radiates health and vitality. And,  know your stuff. As you come under attack and they fire their questions at you, be prepared. Here's some excellent resources to begin your education:

Have you made a dramatic lifestyle change? What tips and tricks have you learned along the way?

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