Raw Vegan Reflections

Trigger warning: This post discusses eating disorders. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder and feel that reading about this topic may be triggering or will impede your progress, please come visit the blog again another day!

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’ve been experimenting with the 80/10/10 diet. Short version for those of you who are just tuning in: 80/10/10 is a low-fat raw vegan lifestyle that encourages you to get 80% of your calories from fruit, 10% from protein via leafy greens, and 10% from overt fats (nuts, seeds, avocados). It also encourages daily exercise, daily sun exposure, and getting plenty of sleep.This style of eating/living is also referred to as “low-fat raw vegan” (LFRV) and “high carb raw vegan” (HCRV).

I have experienced tons of benefits eating this way. Increased energy, loss of cravings, rarely feeling hungry, great sleep, good skin, slight weight loss, feeling generally lighter and more upbeat in my mood.

But despite these results, I intentionally “broke” the diet last week with some steamed vegetables that I added to my giant dinner salad.

(Note: Nothing that follows is meant to criticize anyone who has found success following this plan 100%. I experienced first-hand the benefits, and am certain that many of the low-fat raw vegans out there are living totally healthy, awesome lives!)

Why would I stop eating in a way that offers me so many great perks? In a word: obsession. In another word: anxiety. In a third word: money.

First, the obsession: I became fixated on reading all I could about this diet, which included tons of message board-reading and youtube video-watching. While there are plenty of LFRV gurus that stress the importance of balance, there are a whole lot more LFRV gurus that make you feel like steamed vegetables are toxic, grains are poison, oil is the devil, and that if you’re not being supported by your friends, you should find new friends. Yikes! And my commitment to this diet made me start to feel like I had to embrace all of those things as truth, and that if I didn’t, I was a failure. And this started to make me really judgey about food, and the people who were eating the food I was being judgey about. And, more than that, it started to make me really afraid of food. Like really afraid. And that scared the shit out of me; it’s a sensation I know all too well.

Being afraid of the steamed vegetables, or brown rice, or olive oil stemmed partly from relying solely on testimonies over science, but more so because I was convinced that if I didn’t stick to the 100% raw vegan plan that I wouldn’t be able to lose the weight that so many claim they do by being pure raw foodists. And once again I realized that something I claimed to be doing for “health,” turned out to be more rooted in my seemingly impossible-to-shake desire to be thinner.

Being vegan and struggling with an eating disorder since the age of 11 makes for a complicated relationship with food. When I reject food because it’s an animal product, it comes from a place of mental and emotional health, and a commitment to my politics and ethics. When I reject food because someone on a message board told me it will keep me from losing weight, it comes from a place of fear and self-hate and total selfishness. When I realized this, I knew that sticking to this diet 100% would continue to trigger the eating disorder mentality with which I am obviously still struggling.

I was also starting to feel a lot of anxiety about how it was impacting my social life. Although there are plenty of activities that I love doing with friends that don’t involve food, I really love the activities that do involve food! I love cooking for friends, and I love enjoying the food friends share with me. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of vegetarians and some vegans, and my non-vegan friends are always so excited to share something with me that they went out of their way to make vegan.

When I got hooked on detoxes and shifted to a more clean-eating diet, I already had to start explaining to people that I no longer eat soy, avoid gluten, and steer clear from sugar. I know it might seem hypocritical for me to say I am okay doing that stuff, but not okay rejecting non-raw food, but I really feel that I have to draw a line somewhere. And for me, eating cooked vegetables or the occasional grain really doesn’t make me feel sick. And if the whole point of a raw vegan diet is to feel healthy, and I can eat steamed broccoli and still feel healthy….well…then…I’m gonna eat the broccoli!

It’s certainly possible that I don’t know what “real, optimum” health actually feels like. If I stuck to 100% raw foods for years, maybe I would reach enlightenment and live to be 150. But I sort of don’t want to live to be 150, you know?

I saw one great raw foodist video that talked about how we should look at health as a spectrum, and people should choose where they want to land on that spectrum. I would like to be at the higher-end of health, but not at the expense of my emotional stability. I would like to be at the higher-end of health, but not at the expense of an evening with friends that involves a vegan, gluten-free piece of birthday cake (did I mention my bday is on Thursday? ;)). I would like to be at the higher-end of health, but not at the risk of turning me into the woman who spends far too much of her time obsessing about how to get thin.

So, let’s say there is a (physical) health spectrum from 1 to 10. Ten being the absolute ideal, optimum health. I bet a low-fat 100% raw vegan diet could get you to be a 10. But I think I’m content with hovering around an 7 or 8. (During the holidays, just bump me down to a 6). Because I’m pretty sure, for me, being lower on the optimum physical health scale means I’ll be a bit higher on the emotional health level.

Finally, buying a lot of organic produce in the winter was getting very expensive. My grocery bills have been exceeding my budget. I know it will be easier to buy a lot of fruit in the summer, but for now, I can’t really afford to buy that much fruit.

None of this means I’m abandoning what I’ve learned on this diet. In fact, I plan to maintain a high-raw diet, and will continue to keep my fat intake low, avoid salt, and get the majority of my protein from greens. Like I said: eating this way makes me feel physically great! But I just need to make sure I detach myself from the belief that I have to be perfect. And it will be helpful for me to stop identifying as exclusively “80/10/10.”

I’m going to try to stick to blog-reading that makes me feel better about myself, not worse. I’m really motivated by people who embody a commitment to health and balance. Gena Hemshaw from Choosing Raw is probably the most inspiring healthy living blogger I’ve come across. I often read her posts about body-love and shifting to a high-raw (rather than exclusively raw) diet and feel my ED-mentality diminishing with each word.

I also really adore Dara Dubinet. She is 100% raw, but she constantly tells people to do what they can and not to feel bad if they don’t go full on raw. She often says, “just add things, don’t eliminate.”

Also check out A Simply Raw Life which espouses an almost entirely raw diet, but has the occasional cooked vegan recipe because, as Felicia reminds us, “we are only human!”  Another good one: The Detoxinista, who abides by a clean eating lifestyle, but not without an occasional treat. Oh, and I can’t forget Kibby’s Blended Life! Read her About Me section and you’ll see how she glows with balance!

So, concluding thoughts on 80/10/10? It’s pretty awesome. But it isn’t a diet that can be sustainable for me, at least not while I’m still battling some ED demons, and not while I have other priorities. Maybe someday I’ll grow up to be Dara Dubinet….but until then I want to enjoy what’s left of my youth—(I’m feeling a little melodramatic about turning 28)—the parts that involve an occasional night at the bar, the random night of vegan ice cream (and rom-coms) with pals, a sporadic piece of vegan birthday cake, etc. Thus, the blog will still have a lot of 80/10/10-friendly recipes, but I’ll also include some cooked food and the occasional not-low-fat dessert.

Whew! Posts like these make me feel super vulnerable, but I hope they can be of use to people who might be struggling with some similar things. <3


30 thoughts on “Raw Vegan Reflections

  1. dboothsummers says:

    Good for you. Remember, restriction is a fine line… one minute you’re eating for health, the next you’re in ED mentality territory… way to identify your line and own it. Be confident and proud, girl!

  2. Jess says:

    “But I sort of don’t want to live to be 150, you know?”—I totally get that. Thanks for this post. Emotional health is such a huge part of being healthy overall, so cheers to doing what’s going to make you feel emotionally healthy : )

  3. Kibby@Kibby's Blended Life says:

    Raechel, I read your article this morning before heading out for the day and has been on my mind since. The first thing that stood out for me is that you are a remarkable woman and you have great intuition for yourself. I commend you for trying the 80/10/10 out and see how it resonated with your body and lifestyle. Way to go, girl! I enjoyed reading about your experience and how you just flow with what works for you – that’s how we all could benefit from doing – what is best for our individual selves. Thanks and I am going to share on Thoughtful Thursday tomorrow – that important for others read. Also, thanks for the “shout out” – appreciate it much dear! <3

  4. Lou says:

    Oh this post is just fabulous, Raechel – honest, REAL, and from the heart which is why I dig it so much. I think women will always have a certain emotional attachment to food – I think one way or another most of us will go through some degree of disordered “thinking” surrounding food during our lives. Men seem to be able to have a certain detachment to eating/food that women aren’t aware of, yes?

    Your insight really comes across as WISE – you have acknowledged that the emotions brought up by eating this way are non-productive to helping your overall health, and you will adjust to rectify that – bravo! I think striving for a high raw diet (with lots of flexibility!) is an awesome way to go…..when Summer is on its way out I think I will lean towards that style of eating too – I mean how can I NOT eat roasted root veggies in Winter!?!

    The way we eat should make us feel good BOTH mentally AND physically, yes? Again, it’s all about finding that ellusive BALANCE! Hugs! xx

  5. The Healthy Flavor says:

    I loved this post Raechel. I loved your honesty and being real. Too many people try to fit or compare themselves. We are not a one size fits all. I love that you gave it your all and have decided to do what is best for you physically, but mentally as well!

  6. Kari @ bite-sized thoughts says:

    Thank you so much for this post Raechel. It means the world that you were able to recognise that a ‘healthy’ eating approach had the potential to turn unhealthy. I think a lot of people don’t recognise (or acknowledge) the emotional consequences of following an eating plan obsessively, even if that eating plan isn’t restrictive or blatantly ‘unhealthy’. I love your points here and am so glad you have found a way to balance a way of eating that makes you feel good with a stance that is realistic and practical.

  7. Natalia says:

    Thank you so much for this post!! I haven’t commented in a little while, but feel compelled to write now and say that I read your blog every week; feel continually inspired by it; and you are without a doubt one of my favourite health bloggers :)

  8. Gena says:

    Interesting thoughts, Raechel. I have to say, I am really glad that you’re not being strict about 80-10-10, or anything like it. I’ve never been able to understand a diet that’s so incredibly unbalanced in terms of macronutrient ratios. The science just isn’t there, and those who sell the diet are not informed about it. Healthy fats are crucial for satiety, energy, and hormonal balance, and the irony is that they’re also implicated heavily in most successful weight loss studies. The low fat craze has been blasted through by countless trials. To say nothing of the difficulties of protein intake, the social restrictions, the obviously disordered rhetoric of the movement. And dearly though I love the taste of raw food, there is zero–literally zero–legitimacy to the idea that cooked food is toxic.

    I’m usually very loathe to make broad claims about what people with ED histories “should and shouldn’t” do, but I’m comfortable saying that anyone with an ED history is the last person who should be seduced by “cleanses” and “detoxes” and elimination diets. The very vast majority of these are replete with pseudoscience. They’re an exercise in that oh-so-dangerous process of feeling enlightened and special and proud of eating with restriction and restraint, not an exercise in health.

    • raechel @the rebel grrrl kitchen says:

      Thanks for the response, Gena. As usual, your words provide me a lot of comfort and encouragement. I really love that you actually have a background in science….I trust your opinion on this stuff so much more than people who just show “proof” through the handful of successful “before and after” pictures.

  9. Gabby @ the veggie nook says:

    Wow this is a fantastic post Raechel. Good for you for being son honest with yourself and making sure that you re treating yourself with love, kindness and understanding. Your recognition of your own weaknesses is such a strength! I’m glad you’ve come back to a place of balance and it sounds like you’re eating in a way that is nourishing your body, mind and spirit now. Good for you, so happy :)

  10. chantelle says:

    You are definitely not alone! As someone who’s been carrying around an eating disorder for 10 years and been vegan/vegetarian for longer for ethical reasons then broke veganism for similar/health reasons I just want to hug you! I know that immediate guilt from breaking the rules but who made the rules and what are the *real* consequences to you? Admittedly I miss my super restrictive/clean vegan days but my disorder was turning into borderline orthorexia and it’s actually taken a few years to find what works and what does work is always changing depending on our life’s demands at the time. The balancing act can be tough and sometimes we fall into our bad habits, especially when something like eating (and internetting!) takes up so much passion and priority but the 80-10-10 ratio could still be used in a way: 80 raw gf – 10 cooked & grains – 10 vegan wiggle room. Of course, I am in no way rid of my e.d. demons either but a rad lady whose tumblr I follow often reminds me that (all) food is the fuel needed to fight those demons *flexes* hehe
    It’s so true that just the recognition is a great strength and from what I’ve seen on your blog so far, you’re pretty badass and deserve all the compassion and support possible, even from total strangers (◕‿◕✿)

    • raechel says:

      Chantelle, thank you SO much for responding to this. I love the idea of 80/10/10 with different categories…I don’t ever feel the need to eat non-vegan food, but wiggle room in general is so important for mental and emotional stability. Allowing yourself to not be perfect. So huge. But I really do appreciate your support, even if I only know you “virtually.”

      • chantelle says:

        Oh no, thank YOU, I think the interwebs can be great when it comes to support especially when it may be hard to be completely open with our friends or even if they can help but it’s just different when someone else has had the same feelings. I’m still trying to find that balance myself, especially with the wiggle room which I still keep within my ethical standards but apply it more to social situations where if something is vegan but has ingredients I normally avoid (white rice, tofu, potatoes, etc) I have to think about whether my food choices are going to negatively impact me enjoying that time with those people. (At a restaurant with family and the only vegan options are a veggie stirfry or a side salad? I’m hungry! I’ll eat the g.d. rice..) Mostly it just lit a big inspirational spark in me because it’s something I forgot and have to remember as well.
        Stay rad!

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