During and after a week on a raw food diet

Following up a 2-day raw fruit diet in November 2011, and a 5-day one in the first week of 2012, I thought it was time to do another one. I had been reading the book Clean, and slowly getting excited to launch myself into the 3-week detox diet mentioned in the book. But  reality struck after a particularly troublesome night with a crying baby, and I settled for the easier raw food diet. It has now been more than a week since I ended the week long diet, and thought that now is a good time to reflect on the past two weeks on how I felt during the week and after the week of this diet.

During that week

The plan was similar to my previous attempt — to eat only raw fruits and vegetables. The diet was complemented by nuts (almonds and walnuts) when I felt really hungry, and a teaspoon of flax oil or olive oil at night to get the good fats. It is recommended to take a protein shake as well, but I could manage to down ‘muscle milk‘ only one night before questioning whether I really needed it, given its horrible taste. And of course it is recommended to drink lots of water.

What is always surprising to me during such a diet is how easily the body and mind adapt to the newly imposed constraints. I knew this from past experience, and so was much more relaxed during this week than in the past. That allowed me to navigate this week even easier than last time. I would rate the difficulty of going through the week as a 8 on 10 – a rating I would give to a ‘moderately hard’ weekend long run. Given that my sleep schedule was still haphazard thanks to an infant in the house, it was satisfying to be able to go through the week with relative ease.

While subsisting on raw fruits and vegetables was a breeze for me this time around, it was a new challenge to me this time to eat in strict moderation, i.e., allow hunger to come in before eating and double checking with myself whether I was hungry or not before launching into a plate full of fruits or vegetables. Earlier I had thought that it is ok, even preferred, to keep grazing all day. Once you allow that, you can always take in a handful of almonds whenever and get that feeling of fullness. However, the book talks about giving the digestive system of the body ample rest and to “work with hunger” to try to really understand hunger. The following quote and advice from the Clean book was useful to remember:

“What we call hunger is often just a habitual urge or just the desire to eat, often to distract, numb, or comfort. Drink some water, because often dehydration appears in our body as the feeling of hunger. Take some deep breaths and find something else to occupy your mind, or better yet, to occupy your body. Move around. Go outside. Keep breathing. It will pass. Each time this happens, that ‘hungry’ feeling will pass more quickly, and you become stronger than your cravings.”

Once I started practicing this, it became second nature. When hunger came, I could check in on myself and enjoy that feeling of being able to check in on myself during such bouts of supposed hunger. Make no mistake – this was not being masochistic or being cruel to myself in any way. Think of it as a really interesting thing to be able to look deeper into oneself. And there were a couple of times when I did feel really hungry. At those times, indeed a handful of almonds makes you feel quite full with in half an hour. To be sure, neither nuts, nor fruits or vegetables make you feel satisfied in the same way as a pizza or your favorite hot meal would normally. But the interesting part is that you stop wanting to feel satisfied in the same way you wanted to usually. You start to “work with” your diet and the craving just stops. That was the most interesting part for me. By the 6th day, I was not even feeling hungry or craving anything that I would normally crave, such as coffee or a hot meal or any of the other plentiful free snacks at work. When the 7th day ended, and I could again eat anything I wanted, I actually had no rush of desire to eat anything that I had not eaten during those 7 days.

I also lost about 5 pounds during these 7 days, which was a nice side-effect. I did not feel weak or lethargic at any time, except a couple of days of a bit more sleepiness when the night sleep was again disturbed thanks to an erratically sleeping baby at home. I went for a run twice in that week. My mind was clearer and I could notice that it was indeed more available to the tasks at hand. This difference was most noticeable in early afternoons when the past lethargic feeling post lunchtime was still fresh in memory. And inexplicably, there were a few moments when I had sudden rush of energy – the kind that you feel when the endorphins are flooding your body post a good run or any aerobic exercise.

A week after

It’s now been about ten days since I returned to my normal diet. In many ways, this, now, is really the much harder part – to translate the reset of the body during that week to a daily practice for life. That indeed is the thing to crack. And I have failed to not succumb to the odd bout of snacking or overeating a meal or two in the last 10 days. But what has happened is that I have been able to be much more mindful of my overeating than before, and have been able to take some action after if not during the act of overeating. For example, if I got carried away and over-ate at lunch, I could check in with myself and go without dinner. This would never happen earlier – because you know, at night, one was supposed to have dinner, without fail.

Also, I have been able to mostly (though not all) replace my previous coffee with green tea, and my afternoon snacks of dark chocolate almonds with a peach or an apricot. My weight has increased by a couple of pounds since the drop, still leaving me net 3 pounds or so lighter. More importantly, my body still feels lighter and I still feel quite better than before the dieting week.

All in all, a successful experiment. I am looking forward to doing it again in a few months.

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