What I wish I had known when I started with raw food 25 years ago

A sampling of my early health book collection circa 1988 to 1990.

2015 is my 25 year raw food anniversary. Back in 1990, when I first learned of raw food, I could not have imagined the impact that it would have on my future life. In the beginning, I was naturally skeptical and thought that eating this way was a little extreme. Nonetheless, out of curiosity, I gave raw food a try and was surprised with the results. As my energy increased and my general health and well-being improved, my skepticism began to melt away. Looking back, I remember how I imagined the potential of raw plant food making a difference in people’s lives. I envisioned a time and place where raw food consciousness was more mainstream and that I would one day teach this valuable information to enthusiastic groups of students. Well, with a lot of work and dedication those dreams did come true and I am just as excited about raw food today as back then, with that early enthusiasm positively tempered by experience, research, and education.

The raw food world was a much smaller place back in 1990 as there weren’t nearly as many raw food resources as there are today. Back then there were a small number of raw food books and teachers, and I only knew a handful of raw food enthusiasts. This term is well-chosen since those that I knew were definitely enthused. The internet was not as we know it today and there was no social media. Finding information on raw food and plant-based diets was a bit of an adventure, and I was always happy to find books on the subject that most people would now consider classics. Given the few resources available, a lot of what I learned in those early days was through experience, and I ‘experienced’ many bumps and potholes along the way. There are so many things that I wish that someone had told me when I started with raw food back then. So here I will share with you the top five pieces of information that had I known, would have made my raw food journey smoother. I am hoping they can be of use to you:

#1: Move at your own pace. When I became interested in raw food, most of the literature I read and my social influences suggested that I had to be 100% raw right away. Transitioning was not really discussed, so I did not really see it as an option at first. Raw food seemed like an all or nothing proposition. But, I was honest with myself about what was achievable at that time. I found that I needed some time to become familiar with foods that were available in my area and how to prepare them. At the time, I was living in New England and it was winter. The fruits available were bananas, oranges, apples, pears, grapes, dried papaya spears, raisins, and a few other choices. Available leafy greens included three different types of lettuce, spinach, and other greens that I had never tried, like kale.  I had a low-power blender that I used to make “smoothies” that were more lumpy than smooth. A super-enthused raw friend of mine used to call my smoothies “chunkies”.

These and other day to day considerations that one needs to address when getting started with raw food became part of my own self-stylized transition that progressed as I became more educated. Another fellow raw food enthusiast from those days went 100% raw overnight, saying that she would never eat anything cooked ever again. This lasted three months, and shortly thereafter she lost interest in healthy eating because maintaining 100% raw was too restrictive for her. All too often I see people leave raw food discouraged for this same reason.

Where am I now? Currently, I am somewhere between 90 and 100% raw and this percentage has varied over the years, depending on my situation. Percentages differ per person and I encourage you to find the percentage that works best for you. The most successful long-term raw food enthusiasts understand this idea and tend to be flexible with their approach depending on their personal needs and situation. What dietary approach gives you the results you are looking for and is sustainable right now? What approach will be sustainable long term? I have found that research, experience, and education combined were the best training, and the approach that worked best for me revealed itself in time.

#2: Gather much information from multiple points of view and sources. It is important to consider information from other points of view than your own because you may learn information not acquired if you were only looking for information supporting your current paradigm. Searching for information that supports your current point of view is referred to as confirmation bias. I have been using this term and discussing this idea in our Science of Raw Food Nutrition series of classes for years, because I think that awareness of this tendency is so important. Countless times I have learned valuable information from people with a differing point of view, and that information has made a difference in my health, my thinking, and other aspects of my life.

While we are on the subject of information, when I began my raw food journey 25 years ago, I had so many questions, most of which were not answered in the raw food literature available at the time. I was looking for more concrete answers than these books provided, so I decided that I would one day write a book that answered these questions to make the raw food journey easier for people who came after me. This book is the Raw Food Nutrition Handbook: An Essential Guide to Understanding Raw Food Diets. In this book, Dr. Rick and I cover the “where do you get your” questions, like where do you get your protein, B12, vitamin D, omega 3 fats and more. We provide updated research-based information on classic raw food topics like enzymes, food combining, and raw plant sources of important vitamins and minerals. We also discuss the different approaches to raw food and how raw food diets compare nutritionally to other dietary approaches, and much more.

Front cover

#3: Know your source. Some raw food enthusiasts tend to follow one particular person’s point of view. I encourage you to educate yourself on a variety of points of view. One of the reasons why is because we all have different experiences and no one person can know everything about a subject. Very often, I have seen raw food educators change their approach as they learn more. The theme here is that we are all learning, even those of us who have been on this path for many years. The more that I learn about nutrition and how the body works, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn. Even after 25 years, I find myself asking questions and seeking answers. When the need arises, I encourage people to consult with a knowledgeable licensed healthcare provider to help with making important health-related decisions.

#4: Use critical thinking, be selectively open-minded, and enjoy the process. Critical thinking involves gathering as much information as possible about a subject, and making a decision based on that information while remaining open-minded to other information that may be learned in the future. As stated earlier, countless times I have discovered information that changed my point of view for the better. I think of researching as an ongoing and enjoyable opportunity to improve the quality of life for people in my life.

#5: Make changes if or when necessary. Here is my classic example: My introduction to raw food in 1990 was the natural hygiene approach. Nowadays, people commonly refer to this approach as various versions of LFRV, HCRV, etc. This approach worked very well for me for a while but as time went on, I refined my approach. The information I learned and the refinements and changes I made ultimately gave me the health results I was seeking.

Bonus #6: Surround yourself with a supportive community. As a long term raw food enthusiast, author, clinician, and educator, I have learned much on this path and sincerely hope this information can be of use to you. There is still much more that I have to share with you, which is why I have this blog, our YouTube channels, our book, and our classes, so I encourage you to check out these resources.

And if you are wondering, the super-enthused raw friend that used to call my smoothies “chunkies” is now my husband, Dr. Rick Dina. Back when we got started with healthy eating, our support system was our group of friends which made all the difference in that we helped each other to stay on track, shared our experiences and research, discussed changes and refinements, challenged raw food dogma, and had a lot of fun! We wish you the best in your journey and invite you to share in ours.

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