The Challenges of Going on a Raw Food Diet
by Dr. Graham
Published: Fri, 8 Apr 2011
Only a few people have consistently maintained a completely raw diet over a period of years that lasted into decades. For many folks, the raw food diet is an experiment that fails rapidly. Initial weight loss results are deemed positive, when a person has weight to lose, but for those who are already thin, this first response of rapid weight loss and subsequent fatigue tends to be received in a negative light. Of course, everyone blames the diet, ignoring the details of how they actually applied it. The old adage “practice makes perfect” is applicable, but it should be amended to say, “perfect practice makes perfect,” for those who fail early tend to give up rather than persist and pull through.
Calories Per Bite
A crucial steppingstone for success in a healthy raw diet is understanding the concept of “calories per bite.” Raw fruits and vegetables yield far fewer calories per bite than cooked foods or fatty foods, so we must eat more bites in order to consume sufficient calories. Just as a bodybuilder trains to lift more weight or a runner trains to run longer races, in order to succeed on the † 80/10/10 diet, we must train our body and mind, over time, to eat the kind of volume we would eat in our natural environment.
Every once in a while, we hear an isolated fact about what an animal in the wild eats. The volume is always staggering to our imagination. Animals such as sea otters eat 30% of their weight in food each day.1 Lions have been known to eat eighty pounds of meat in one meal.2 I have watched little capuchin monkeys (the type that organ grinders used to train) eat banana after banana after banana. Our perspective of “normal” volume has been skewed by the low-water, low-fiber, high-fat meals we have been eating all our lives.
Cooking Reduces Volume
Due to the reduced water and fiber found in cooked foods, we are accustomed to eating small-volume meals. By eating cooked foods our whole lives, we have never developed our stomach’s potential elasticity.3 It is not too late; however, for the new fruit eater, the unnaturally low flexibility of the stomach muscle causes us to feel full after eating a relatively small volume of fruit and calories. Upon adopting a raw food diet, many people attempt to solve this problem by adding fat in order to make a meal more sustaining and more calorically dense. They add oil to their fruit smoothies, nuts and seeds to their fruit desserts, and fats to their vegetable salads.
To give you a sense of the magnitude of the divergence in calories per bite between cooked and raw foods, let’s take an extreme example. A slice of a large pan crust Round Table “Montague”s All Meat Marvel” pizza contains 350 calories. At an estimated six bites per slice, that’s about 60 calories per bite, the same number of calories as a 12-ounce head of lettuce. If four slices of pizza filled you up, it would take about the same (very small) volume of lettuce to also fill you up, in terms of sheer bulk. But the lettuce wouldn’t be satiating, because it would only have provided one hundredth of the calories. To actually eat the same number of calories from lettuce that you got from eating the four slices of pizza, you would have to eat six heads of lettuce per slice of pizza, or one head of lettuce per bite! When we do the math on this example, we get a staggering result: we would have to eat 24 heads of lettuce to consume the same number of calories in four slices of pizza!
One of the reasons that people like cooked food is that cooking intensifies flavors. Many people new to the raw-food diet gravitate toward dehydrated foods, because the dehydrator functions quite similarly to the oven and produces dishes reminiscent of those cooked in an oven. Water deficient, these foods are more condensed calorically, and more dense in flavor, than their raw food counterparts.
When dehydrated, foods take up less space then the same foods eaten whole. As with cooked foods, their compact size disrupts our natural satiety triggers, which respond to volume. Dehydrates also take longer to digest because of their complexity and dryness. For both of these reasons, we tend to overeat dehydrated or cooked foods before we realize we are full. A similar thing happens with dried fruits, which, in addition to being low in volume, also release their sugars more slowly. These two factors contribute to our tendency to overeat them, a phenomenon not common among people who eat whole, fresh fruit.
We compound these problems when we add the various fats (oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, coconut meat, and the like) used freely among raw foodists to make their dehydrated dishes look and taste similar to their cooked-food counterparts. Added to low-calorie vegetable recipes, fat becomes the overwhelming caloronutrient in the entire dish. Many dehydrated raw food entrées such as lasagna, pizza, and chili offer 50 to 80% of their calories from fat, sometimes even more.
Dishes of this sort slow digestion, forcing foods to be delayed in the stomach and giving us that “stuffed” feeling we have come to associate with satiation, even though they do not contain the volume that our stomachs are designed to handle. The fact is that most people consume their food in an extremely condensed form—cooked, dehydrated, and fatty—and are eating a far smaller volume of food than is truly healthy. This concentration of our food is part of the reason we tend to overeat in terms of total calories.
Contrary to popular mythology, there is no reason to think of dehydrated fruits or vegetables as “super” or “special” in terms of nutrition. Certainly they are not as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, in any quantity. Supplement vendors publish convincing literature to convince you that their green powders or “whole-food-based” supplements supply concentrated nutrition in amounts you could not get from fresh fruits and vegetables. Taking them can serve only to imbalance you, as even in deficiency conditions, we do not need more of any nutrient than we can get in whole, fresh, ripe, raw plants eaten in sufficient quantity to maintain our body weight.
Of course, low-temperature dehydration causes less nutrient damage than cooking, but dehydrated foods are nutritionally far inferior to fresh food, regardless of processing method. Not only that, but eating them dehydrates us, increasing relative bodily toxicity, and requiring yet more water to be consumed to maintain proper hydration. The eight to twelve glasses of water we are told to drink every day are a good indicator of how low in water—or if you prefer, how toxic—our diets really are.
More Bites and Raw Food Diet Success!
The challenge of eating more bites is often one that people are not prepared for, as evidenced by the considerable weight loss common among new raw fooders. After initial water weight losses, if a person still loses weight regularly, he or she is very likely undereating in terms of total calories. (Digestive, absorptive, or assimilative problems could also contribute to the problem, but these must be considered the exception, not the rule.) While a huge percentage of the Western world’s population is suffering from impaired digestion and compromised absorption,4 these conditions tend to self-correct when the causes (high-fat, cooked, processed, toxic foods unsuited to our physiological design) are eliminated.
Eventually, most people agree that eating more food per day is not a hardship, but one of the many rewards of healthful eating. The 80/10/10 Diet is the only healthful plan that allows you to eat as much of the recommended foods as you care for.
How Do I Eat That Much Fruit?
With 80/10/10 firmly in mind, we return to the question of how to obtain the calories we need, now that high-fat, low-fiber, low-water foods are removed from the diet. To get 80% of your calories from the carbohydrates in fruit, you will have to create some dramatic new eating habits, perhaps more dramatic than any dietary change you have ever made. As you drop the fat from your diet, you must significantly increase your daily fruit consumption, a habit that takes practice to develop. The good news is that your health and your waistline will show you immediate results to let you know you are heading in the desired direction.
One tactic to achieve more bites, and to support our caloric needs, is to start with several fresh fruit meals per day, approximately four. Over time, depending on your exercise program and other healthful habits, you will be able to reduce this number of meals down to three and then possibly even two. Also, make a practice of eating just one or two bites more at each meal than you otherwise would. The elasticity of your stomach will promptly accommodate, just as all of your other muscles would elongate if you were to adopt a practice of regularly stretching them. I must stress: the goal here is not to eat until you hurt but to gently encourage your digestive system to regain its flexibility.
You don’t have to make this transition all at once, either. If you are not ready to eat just fresh fruit for your breakfast and lunch meals, it is perfectly acceptable to simply begin your meals with fruit. You can eat all the fruit you care for at the start of the meal, and then follow the fruit with other foods. Over time, the amount of fruit you desire at the beginning of the meal will increase. Eventually, you will be able to eat a satiating and calorie-sufficient meal from fruit that will hold you all the way until the next mealtime comes around.
† The 80/10/10 diet recommends consuming (as a percentage of total calories) 80% carbohydrate, 10% protein and 10% fat. This recommendation is best applied to a diet of whole, fresh, ripe, raw, organic, plants. A raw food diet that follows this recommendation bases its caloric consumption upon whole, fresh, sweet fruits, with an abundance of tender leafy greens to balance mineral needs.
3 An adult stomach is capable of stretching at the sides to hold nearly a gallon of food and liquid, however other sources report that the average adult stomach stretches to only about a quarter of its capacity, about two to three pints.. (See http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2000/JonathanCheng.shtml.)