Raw Food Diet and Energy Gains

My last post regarding my raw food diet update spawned some questions about the energy gains. How can I tell that I’m really feeling more physically, mentally, and emotionally energetic and clear? What does that even mean? How do I know it isn’t just my imagination? Am I exaggerating the benefits?

These are good questions. I believe I have a good way of answering them.

Trial and error

First, the mental and emotional differences I experienced when going from cooked vegan food to 100% raw are very pronounced. I’ve done multiple 30-day raw trials over a period of several years, so I’ve had plenty of chance to go back and forth and see the changing effects. These changes weren’t subtle at all. To miss them would be like not noticing a smack across your face — way too big to miss.

I could feel the mental fog returning each time I went back to cooked food. I could see the improvements fade. Within a few hours after my first cooked meal, I could feel the difference in my mind. My thoughts began to feel cloudier and less focused. It was a contracting experience. I didn’t feel like I was the same “me” anymore. It was sad to see this happen, but until this year, I just didn’t have the knowledge, experience, and discipline to make the raw diet stick. I knew I was sacrificing a lot each time I went back, but it was too hard for me to keep going.

There were other dietary changes I tested that produced minimal or nonexistent results. For example, about five years ago, I did a 30-day trial of a vegan macrobiotic diet. I just didn’t notice any difference from my previous way of eating. None whatsoever. I detected no adverse effects, but there were no gains either. Before conducting this test, I’d read several inspiring books on the topic, including Dirk Benedict’s amazing biography about how the macrobiotic diet literally saved his life, Kamikaze Cowboy. I had high expectations going into it, but the reality was that the macrobiotic diet did absolutely nothing for me, at least nothing I could discern. But other people absolutely swore by it.

When I did my first 30-day trial of going 100% raw several years ago, the changes were impossible to miss. First, I experienced major detox symptoms during the first week, like I was suffering from drug withdrawal. But for the remaining weeks, the gains were very powerful. My mind was just so clear and crisp, like nothing I’d experienced before. It was a totally new sensation. Plus there was this wonderful feeling of euphoria. I felt incredible both emotionally and physically. That feeling wasn’t constant, but when it was there, it was a wonderful blessing.

The reason I wanted to eat raw is because of the incredible gains I experienced during my previous trials. This year I’ve noticed that the improvements are best when I eat mostly low-fat raw foods (fruits and veggies) as opposed to lots of nuts, seeds, avocados, coconuts, etc. But I figured the first hurdle was just getting my diet to be 100% raw, even if it was initially high in fat.

If I’d experienced no gains during my earlier raw trials, I’d have dropped it the same as I dropped macrobiotics and various other failed experiments. There would have been no incentive to make such a major lifestyle change. What would have been the point in giving up cooked food if it made no difference I could discern? I don’t have any kind of personal investment in promoting an all-raw diet — it’s not like I’m getting rich selling bananas.

It’s important for my future growth that I avoid getting my ego tied up in defending any position or perspective — if that perspective turns out to be wrong, I need to be free to let it go. If somewhere down the road I find that the raw food diet isn’t working for me, I’ll change directions yet again. But for right now, I’m pretty happy with the progress here.

What increased mental clarity feels like

Do you notice the effects of caffeine? If you go a month with no caffeine and then drink two cups of coffee, do you feel any different for the next several hours? I’m sure the effects of caffeine are slightly different for everyone, but if I did this, it would be very noticeable. I couldn’t just dismiss it or attribute it to wishful thinking or exaggeration. It would be obvious to me that I felt and behaved differently due to the caffeine consumption.

Similarly, if you drank four cups of coffee every day for a month and then stopped abruptly, would you feel any different for the next day or two? I sure would. I’d get major withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and mental fogginess for up to a week. I’d feel anxious and stressed too. The physical, mental, and emotional changes would be too strong to dismiss. It would be abundantly clear that my biochemistry had been altered.

Can you also observe the effects of alcohol? If you went a few months with no alcohol and then consumed several alcoholic drinks in a row, would you notice any difference?

The changes I experienced when going from cooked vegan food to a 100% raw diet are similarly pronounced. I can tell that the biochemistry of my body has shifted… like I’ve finally broken a long-term drug addiction. I can even physically measure some of those changes, such as by seeing my urine pH change from acidic to alkaline. My mind feels very different than it used to — definitely in a good way.

The “raw high” I enjoy is impossible to overlook. There’s this inner feeling of excitement and happiness that’s very powerful. I can’t simply attribute it to wishful thinking or pro-raw bias. It’s like being slightly drunk and then being sober. This is no minor change.

If you eat very differently than I do, the difference between a cooked vegan diet and a 100% raw diet may not seem like a big difference to you. You might think that both diets sound equally severe. But eliminating all cooked food is actually a much bigger shift than giving up animal products. The biochemical differences between raw foods and cooked foods — and how they affect our bodies — are just enormous. It’s analogous to drinking several glasses of water instead of several glasses of beer each day. Sure, they’re both liquid, and the beer is mostly water anyway, but it shouldn’t take you long to realize that these substances affect your biochemistry differently.

Now if you drink lots of beer every day and then have a glass of water now and then, will you be able to tell if the water is affecting you differently? Probably not. This is like adding some celery to a cooked food diet — you probably won’t notice any perceptible changes. But if you replace 100% of your beer consumption with water — or 100% of your cooked food consumption with raw foods — you’ll likely notice quite a big change within a few days. The difference can be quite dramatic.

Eating cooked foods every single day is a lot like drinking alcohol every single day. If you do it long enough, it will seem totally normal to you. The feeling that non-drinkers would describe as inebriated, you would define as normal because that’s the best condition you know. Until you drop the habit for an extended period of time, you’ll never know what the alternative feels like. You’ll never know what it feels like to be “sober.”

Going drug-free

Here’s how I’d explain the way the difference feels:

Going from meat eater to lacto-ovo vegetarian was like being under the influence of 4 ounces of beer at all times and then being suddenly alcohol-free. I felt a little bit clearer, but it wasn’t a huge shift. It made a slightly positive difference.

Going from vegetarian to vegan was like being under the influence of 8 ounces of beer at all times and then suddenly being alcohol-free. There was a short detox period, and then I felt significantly clearer. More of the fog had lifted. The positive change was more pronounced, and the benefits were greater compared to the first change.

Going from vegan to raw was like being under the influence of 12-24 ounces of beer at all times and then being suddenly alcohol-free. There was a longer, more severe detox period, but afterwards the gains in mental clarity were unmistakable. The ongoing degree of improvement was more variable, fluctuating from good to great. My body-mind seemed like it went through a major upgrade. So this is how my mind is supposed to work? Wow! What a fog I’ve been living under this whole time! I feel so awake and alert!

If you understand the 80-20 rule, then going vegan to raw was that extra 20% shift that required 80% of the effort. But it also unlocked 80% of the value. These kinds of changes are hard to make, but they can provide an enormous payoff.

Weaning myself off of cooked food felt like breaking a drug addiction. Try going without any cooked food for a couple weeks and see for yourself. You’ll see how addictive it is when you desperately crave the familiar feelings it induces. If you can break the addiction and keep going, you’ll probably be amazed at how it feels to be free. It’s like you were living in a half-drunken daze without even realizing it. No wonder you had so much trouble solving certain problems. No wonder you were confused about your life. You were under the influence the whole time.

Before I explored raw foods, I thought raw foodists were probably exaggerating their gains. I was suspicious that maybe they had a hidden agenda to sell the diet for some reason. Based on my own experiences, most of their reports seem fairly accurate to me on the mental/emotional side, but I haven’t personally experienced as much of a gain on the physical side yet (it’s good but not fantastic, but then I was transitioning from an all-vegan diet to begin with). Nevertheless, I understand that people would think I’m exaggerating the gains because I’d probably be thinking the same thing in their shoes.

How long did it take?

Typically with each of my raw trials, it took 1-2 weeks before I started noticing the positive effects. The first week I always had detox symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, emotional turmoil, fogginess, drowsiness, and cold-like symptoms. It’s just like a drug withdrawal, such as you might experience when quitting caffeine cold turkey after being a heavy coffee drinker. It takes a while for your biochemistry to adjust. Detox sucks, but you have to endure it to get to the good parts.

Each time I went back to eating cooked food after being raw for a while, I quickly lost the benefits. That basically happened on a per-meal basis. So if I ate a single cooked meal, it would drop me down to my old energy/clarity level for hours afterwards. If I went back to 100% raw again, I’d gradually recover the gains over maybe 24-48 hours, about as long as it took for the cooked food to pass through my body. This is one reason I found it much better to go 100% raw vs. 80-95% raw. Even a small amount of cooked food each day would kill most of the gains, especially my mental clarity.

Think of cooked food like a drug. If you consume even one dose of the drug, it will surely affect you. In fact, the effect will probably be even more severe if you’ve been drug-free for a while, since your tolerance will be lower. When I consumed a few cooked meals after 30 days raw earlier this year, I got terribly sick and was out of commission for days.

Cooked food turned out to be very addictive for me. When I ate a little bit of it, I started craving it more. It’s just like if I were to drink a cup of coffee. If I have a little bit of caffeine, I start craving it more and more, and within a few weeks, I’m consuming 4-6 cups of coffee a day. Better to break that addiction cycle completely than to try to tame it while still feeding it. Being drug-free is better than being on a low dosage.

The importance of personal experimentation

I can’t claim that you’d experience these same changes if you ate the same way I do. I’m simply sharing what happened to me. Guessing how this diet would affect you is akin to guessing what effect caffeine and alcohol would have on you. That depends on many factors. The only way to know for sure is to do your own testing.

However, based on the common experiences of other raw foodists I know, it’s a safe bet that your results would fall along similar lines. Caffeine and alcohol affect most people in similar ways. The general patterns are clear enough. I’d imagine that if you broke your addiction to cooked food, your gains would be akin to breaking any other drug addiction. I totally understand that this may be a very long journey for you, perhaps a seemingly impossible one. But the lifelong pursuit of conscious growth has an interesting way of converting the impossible to the possible.

Personal testing is really important when it comes to diet. No one else can assume the role of dietary authority in your life but you. I’ve been conducting dietary experiments since the early ’90s, and there’s still no end in sight. There’s always more testing to do, more positive steps to take. What’s your next step? What do you want to experience? What would you consider a possible improvement for you? You don’t have to guess right. Just try something new and see what happens. If it doesn’t work for you, drop it.

I have no interest in being a raw guru guy. The only person who should be a guru in your life is you. You’re in command of your own life. All I can do is share my experiences in the hopes they’ll be useful to you. If they aren’t useful, hopefully they’re at least interesting or amusing. The most important idea here is to conduct your own tests, guided by your logic and intuition. It’s better that you develop your own power and authority in this area instead of reacting to what other people are doing. Feel free to lean on other people for ideas and inspiration. Then make your own decisions to figure out what gives you the best results.

Be careful not to make the mistake of confusing truth with popularity though. Just because everyone behaves a certain way doesn’t mean that behavior is aligned with truth. When you seek your own truths, you’ll often find that your discoveries are unpopular. Don’t let that stop you. It’s better to be scorned for truthfulness than to be praised for falsehood.

The challenge of being an alien

For me the #1 challenge of the raw food diet is the simple fact that hardly anyone else eats this way. This lifestyle puts me even more out of sync with the rest of the world. For example, eating at a regular restaurant isn’t so great for me anymore. At best I may have a choice between a fruit plate and a salad. Sometimes that’s okay, but other times it feels limiting. Erin and I went to breakfast at a vegan (not raw) restaurant in L.A. this weekend. They didn’t have a fruit plate on the menu, but I asked them to make one for me anyway. To their credit they brought me a nice-looking plate of fruit that was very good, but it was probably less than 300 calories total. When I eat at home, I’ll typically have 600-1000 calories for breakfast such as two liters of fruit smoothie.

Being raw while the rest of my family eats cooked food puts me out of sync with them at meal time. What effect will this have on my family life in the long run? Imagine what it would be like to finally break your addiction to coffee… while continuing to live with three heavy coffee drinkers.

This is similar to the problem I faced during my polyphasic sleep experiment. After 5-1/2 months on polyphasic sleep, I returned to monophasic sleep because I found it psychologically difficult to be so out of sync with the rest of the world, including my own family. I experienced significant personal gains on polyphasic sleep, but in the end I felt that the social sacrifice was too great to continue. That was a tough decision. Even today I wonder what it would be like to go polyphasic again. I wonder if it would be possible to find a way to make it more practical.

When I was sleeping polyphasically, I felt more disconnected from other people. So my concern is that even with the significant gains I’m enjoying from going raw, I’ll always have to deal with being out of sync with the rest of the world. I can’t predict how I’ll feel about that further down the road.

It’s like I suddenly realized I’ve been living on the planet Ornara, where everyone consumes the narcotic felicium because it’s thought to be necessary for their survival. It’s disturbing to observe that the drug (i.e. cooked food) is sold on every street corner. Most people consume it several times a day, including my family. Countless people are invested in marketing and selling the drug in a variety of forms, and almost everyone seems unaware that our species once got along fine without it, and no other species on our planet needs it. How much of my life was lost under the haze of this addiction? How great it finally feels to be felicium-free… How difficult it is that virtually no one else is aware of this.

How far can you go in optimizing your personal results before your social connections pull you back down to earth?

Since I’m unwilling to abandon these kinds of growth experiences, the best solution is probably to find more like-minded people who — for whatever reason — feel naturally motivated to live like aliens.