FEATURE: Troubleshooting: Avoiding Or Overcoming Problems In RAW and Living Foods Diets

Notes for a talk held at the SF-LiFE Expo on June 1, 1997, and updated in November, 1997. SF-LiFE is the San Francisco Living Foods Enthusiasts, the oldest and largest raw/living foods support group in the world. For information on SF-LiFE, check < http://www.living-foods.com/sflife >.

Thanks to Dorleen Tong, Ward Nicholson, and a reviewer who wishes to remain anonymous, for valuable comments on this paper; the present version incorporates some of those comments.

Disclaimer: the information here is for educational purposes only. Readers are solely responsible for their health, and any actions they take in reference to any matters discussed herein. If you have health problems, you should consult a qualified health professional for advice before applying any of the suggestions herein. No guarantees are made or implied, as regards the information presented here: use solely at your own discretion, and at your own risk.


The reality of raw diets is that many try such diets, but very few succeed on them, in the long run. Problems are common on raw diets – far more common than some of the idealists promoting such diets, care to admit. The purpose of this paper is to list some of the more common problems that can occur on raw diets, and to present a list of possible solutions for you to consider. The approach here is a frank, and honest one. Because of this, some readers may find that portions of the material here might not agree with their dietary philosophy.

The material here reflects my personal experience (since the early 1970’s) in raw foods diets, and my personal biases. Additionally, although the list below is lengthy, I do not claim that it is complete or perfect. Further, readers should be aware that the author (that’s me) does not claim to be perfect. The preceding claim should be obvious, so why am I explicit about it? Reason: because some people put the dietary “experts” on pedestals and effectively worship them (e.g., those who worship Shelton or Fry). I don’t want anyone to do that with me – I want people to think for themselves, to ask questions, and to actively search for the truth. Glorifying “experts” leads some people to just “ask the expert” when they would be best served by their own experimentation and independent thinking. (There is nothing wrong per se, with “asking the expert”; my point here is that you should apply common sense to all “expert opinion”, and take personal responsibility for your own actions and health. Common sense also provides an excellent defense against the utter nonsense promoted by many raw food extremists.)

I hope this paper is interesting, and maybe even helpful, to you!

– Tom Billings

I. Physical Problems that Can Occur in Any Raw Foods Diet

1. Detox Symptoms: headache, nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, acne/rashes, strong body odor. – these symptoms are usually short-term – if the symptoms are due to detox, you can slow down detox by increasing % of cooked food in your diet, and/or by eating “heavier” raw foods like avocados, coconut, or nuts – don’t let dogma override your common sense – some of the above symptoms may have a serious underlying cause if they persist (i.e., they might not be “detox” symptoms). Consult a qualified health professional if serious symptoms persist!

2. I’m always hungry, even though I overeat! (gluttony) – psychological causes may be a factor – try meditation or other spiritual practices – eat mindfully, in a non-stressful environment. Foods eaten in a hurry or under stress will not satisfy your physical or psychological hunger. – if you have a very restricted diet (like fruitarianism) – expand your diet. Sprouts, eaten when short (root shoot is length of soaked seed), can be very filling. Experiment with fancy recipes, also raw dairy (if available, and you have no philosophical objections). – consider that your body may be telling you something: that it needs more calories, particularly from the foods avoided by many rawists: those high in fat, protein, and other concentrated foods – see also section on sugar addiction

3. I have cravings for “undesirable” foods. How can I resist? – may be a symptom (result) of detox of those foods – suggestions for item 2 above apply – substitute raw foods for cravings: sugar dried fruit/dates, very sweet fruits (mangos), carrot juice, comb honey (use sparingly). Caution re: sugar addiction. salty foods seaweeds, tomatos, celery juice, or for instinctos: RAF fatty foods avocados, coconut, soaked nuts, raw sesame tahini, raw dairy, or for instinctos: RAF – avoid temptations to the extent possible – a psychological tool: consider the consequences (how bad you will feel physically, the after-effects) if you do eat the “undesirable” food. You may want to make written notes on the bad effects, to reinforce the memory thereof, as it is very easy to forget when faced by temptation. – if cravings persist in the long-term, consider that your body may be telling you that the “undesirable” food contains nutrients that are missing in your diet. Your health is more important than dogma – you may actually need the “undesirable” food!

4. I’m underweight and emaciated. How can I gain weight? Help! – primarily a concern for men, as our society foolishly considers extremely thin/underweight women to be more “beautiful”?! – regular strenuous exercise, such as working with light weights, or Ashtanga style yoga, can be very helpful in gaining/maintaining weight (Viktoras suggested weightlifting in an interview in “Eat it Raw!” newsletter.) Strenuous exercise may stimulate weight gain by promoting muscle growth. – expand the scope of your diet – eat heavier raw foods like nuts, avocados, sprouted sesame. Raw goat milk will put weight on quickly, if you are willing to drink it. Note to fruitarians: it is extremely difficult to gain weight on a fruitarian diet, even if you overeat avocados! – some raw food authors recommend fasting to increase the digestive fire, and indirectly increase food assimilation. This is really not a good idea when you are emaciated – for alternatives, see increasing digestive fire below.

5. I’m always cold! – this usually passes in time; indeed some long – time raw fooders develop the opposite problem: too hot! – indicates low liver bile output and sluggish digestion – fasting not recommended here – vigorous physical exercise (fast walking, rebounding, etc.) for 20 minutes or more, may help warm you up – see increasing digestive fire section below – daily warm oil massage (using unrefined, crude sesame oil), Ayurvedic style, can be very helpful – gain weight (per above)

6. The food that I eat passes through me and looks the same when it comes out, as it did when it went in! What’s going on here? – may be result of overeating; try reducing food intake – may indicate that you are not properly chewing your food; eat more slowly; practice meditative/mindful eating – indicates sluggish, weak digestion; common in fruitarianism – see increasing digestive fire section

7. I’m frequently very weak/fatigued. – if short term, usually a detox symptom – are you getting enough sleep? eating enough calories? Are you under heavy stress or suffering emotional trauma? Indulging in excessive sex? Using recreational, natural drugs like marijuana? All these can be factors in fatigue. Evaluate your life as objectively as possible, and try to remove or reduce any potential causal factors. – can be caused by sugar addiction (common in fruitarianism) – carrot juice may be a useful short term solution, but it can lead to sugar addiction – be careful! – raw dairy may be helpful, or for instinctos: RAF. Adding animal foods to the diet often increases strength, and may eliminate fatigue. – long term, may be a symptom of B-12 deficiency (or something much more serious). Consult a qualified health professional.

8. Vitamin B-12 deficiency – algae, chlorella, spirulina are not reliable sources – also expensive and some are sold by the inefficient, unpopular method of multi-level-marketing – supplements are best source: reliable, cheap – supplements not required if you eat raw dairy or are an instincto – blood test for B-12 is available – see your Physician – symptoms of B-12 deficiency usually appear very slowly – high sugar consumption (fruitarians take note) can accelerate and aggravate B vitamin deficiency – some raw fooders are also at risk of Vitamin D, zinc, and in few cases, calcium deficiency

9. Animals don’t brush their teeth, why should I? – because if you don’t, your dentist will eventually make lots of money repairing the damage you will cause by not brushing your teeth. – this sentiment is sometimes motivated by a fear or dislike of commercial toothpastes. Natural alternatives are available, ranging from salt/baking soda to astringent herbal toothpowders (some of which are excellent).

10. I’m hyper sometimes and can’t sleep. – although many raw fooders are mellow people, the diet provides substantial energy which must be burned some way – meditation and hatha yoga can be very helpful here – regular exercise can be helpful – slow, deep breathing, and simply concentrating on the breath, is very calming – evaluate your life for stress factors – reduce stress – if due to hunger, see also the “I’m always hungry” section – herbs with a sedative action are available, including the commonly available chamomile tea (many other herbs are available, see holistic health prof. for recommendation) – long-term 100% raw, restricted diets (e.g., fruitarianism), may place one at risk of nervous system disorders, which can disrupt sleep – if problem persists, see qualified health professional

11. Little or no sex drive- not seen as a problem by many; seen as spiritual progress by some, and/or allowing you to relate to others in a loving, yet non-sexual way. Others see this as a serious problem indeed! – to increase sex drive, you can try (no guarantee they will work): increasing % of cooked food in diet, eating onions/garlic (though the odor may drive away people who have a good sense of smell!) – some have found that increasing the amount of sea vegetables in the diet can be helpful here – may be a sign of zinc deficiency; broaden the diet to get more zinc, or try supplements – may be due to EPA/EFA deficiency – EPA/EFA are found in animal foods, flaxseed, and surprisingly, in the common weed purslane (Portulaca oleracae) – certain herbs may increase the sex drive (note: the claim is they may impact the “sexual mind”, not that they are “aphrodisiacs”)

Supplement: Increasing Digestive Fire – hatha yoga is best exercise system for this. No conventional exercises can compare to nauli kriya, and many other yoga exercises are superb for increasing digestive fire: peacock pose, agni sara dhauti, uddhiyana bandha, agni sara pranayama, kapalabhati, bhastrika, etc. – some raw fooders report that long-distance running sharply increases their appetite, and improves their digestion – spices: ginger, cayenne, black pepper, other spices. Used carefully and correctly these may be beneficial. The dogma of some raw fooders prevents them from even considering these. Pungent greens, like mustard, watercress, arugula, are alternatives to pungent spices. – some foods increase digestive fire – onions, garlic. Some raw fooders have religious objections (and other objections) to these. – daily Ayurvedic oil self-massage, with clockwise massage of the stomach area, can increase digestive fire over time (sounds strange, but it really works!) – fasting, if not contraindicated by conditions, can increase the digestive fire – try reducing number of meals per day. This allows your digestive system to rest longer each day. Caution: in some people this may work too well, and may aggravate your digestive fire. – tonic herbs: the Ayurvedic herbal blend, triphala churna, which is 3 fruits, dried and ground up, strengthens the entire digestive system, and is extremely good for the colon.

II. Physical Problems Associated with Specific Dietary Styles

A. Fruitarianism and Natural Hygiene

1. Dental problems: severe erosion of tooth enamel (enamel hypoplasia) – caused by consumption of excessive amounts of acidic fruit like citrus, pineapples, kiwi – may be caused by acid reflux, due to overconsumption of sweet fruit, esp. dried fruit/dates; common in sugar addiction – very similar to dental damage encountered in bulimia (an eating disorder) – if damage already done, see your Dentist for restorative work: bondings, veneers, crowns, etc. – prevention is better than repair! Limit acid fruit, always brush with baking soda and floss after eating acid fruit, do something about acid reflux/sugar addiction. Have your teeth checked by your Dentist for enamel erosion.

2. Sugar Addiction: Sugar Highs, and Sugar Blues – serious problem in fruitarianism, as modern hybrid fruit contains UNnaturally high levels of sugar, and some fruitarians claim that 100% fruit (hybrid sweet fruit, not the sour, fibrous, wild fruit!) is the “ideal” diet – a physical addiction, but it has mental effects: highs like a stimulant drug, followed by depression, with accompanying psychological dependency – excess sugar can produce symptoms similar to those found in diabetes and hypoglycemia: excess urination and thirst, mood swings, fatigue, temporarily blurred vision, pains in extremities, etc. (Good idea to see a health professional if these symptoms persist.) – the traditional antidote for excess sugar is to eat bitter foods: bitter greens (endive, escarole, dandelion, wild greens like the thistle family), bitter melon, turmeric, or bitter herbs. Eat some of these regularly – daily. – see Ayurvedic practicioner, OMD, or Western herbalist and get herbal anti- diabetes program – overeating of sugar is clear evidence that your diet is not psychologically satisfying, in the long run. Make appropriate dietary changes and address underlying psychological factors via mindful eating and meditation/spiritual practice.

3. I was a fruitarian for year(s), and now my digestive system is extremely weak; I eat food but have real difficulty digesting it. Help! An alternate, but equal form of this question: I was a fruitarian for year(s), and now I find that I cannot digest raw protein foods like seeds & nuts. Help! – very common complaint among former fruitarians – see increasing digestive fire section, (above); hatha yoga can be very helpful in this situation – use of tonic herbs is suggested here; the Ayurvedic herbal blend, triphala churna, is a truly excellent tonic.

4. Mental Problems – common, as former fruitarians openly admit. Those who are currently fruitarians are often less candid. Natural Hygiene is subject to many of the same problems – see mental problems section.

B. Living Foods

1. Flatulence (gas) – from sprouts or certain vegetables, esp. cabbage family – see section on increasing digestive fire – mono-eating and food combining are options for experimentation – eat with oily dressing or food – avocados or tahini dressing – slows down passage of food through digestive system – for sprouts: turmeric and ginger are a great help in digesting protein foods – for vegetables: fermentation (e.g., sauerkraut), and marination in lime/ lemon juice (which may include spices also) – dental caution re: lime/lemon. – if all else fails, eliminate the offending foods from your diet

2. Watermelon Juice Fasts Are Not For Everyone. – some living foods books advocate watermelon juice fasts as a cleansing tool. – Ayurveda and TCM say watermelon juice is contraindicated in: hypoglycemia and diabetes (disorders characterized by excess urination and problems with sugar metabolism) congestive lung disorders (watermelon is cooling, may increase mucus) Note: some living fooders suggest fasting on juice of the watermelon rind (the green part, not the sweet red part), in hypoglycemia/diabetes. As the green rind may be an antidote for the sugar in the flesh, fasting on the rind juice might be OK then. (Warning: try at your own risk.) – Ayurveda says watermelon increases intraocular pressure – the pressure in your eyes. This suggests that watermelon fasting is not appropriate if one has glaucoma, optic nerve disorders, detached retina, or other serious eye problems (consult your Opthalmologist). Obviously, your eyesight is too valuable to put at risk! If you have eye disorders and want to fast, fast on water or some other type of juice, not watermelon juice. – some advocates of watermelon juice “fasting” suggest consuming an entire large watermelon in a day. While this can be cleansing to the kidneys, it may provide more sugar than can be tolerated by some. One can argue that eating a whole melon in one day, is gluttony rather than fasting. An alternative is to limit the amount of melon used – say to 3 kg. (1 kg. per main meal), drinking good quality water (instead of watermelon juice) between juice meals.

C. Fasting

Avoid excess fasting – generally fasting is NOT necessary to receive the positive results of a raw food diet – fasting may create a psychological feeling of deprivation – leading to over-eating/binge eating after the fast. The result is a yo-yo process of fasting followed by gluttony. If this is your reaction to fasting, it is not helping you in the long run. (If the yo-yo eating persists, it is bulimia.) – can make backsliding or cheating easy: “It’s OK to eat this junk; I’ll get rid of it by fasting”. (Not good for you if it becomes a habit.) – a certain amount of fasting can reset the body’s metabolism, making it very difficult to lose weight and easy to gain weight. Grossly excessive fasting, as in anorexia nervosa, can have the opposite physical effect. (The latter effect can also occur after years on a high % fruit diet.) – some instinctos report that a short-term (2-3 days max.) mono-diet of cassia pods is highly effective at promoting detox, and may be an alternative to (or supplement for) conventional juice/water fasting. – moderate fasting can increase your digestive fire. In some people, this effect is helpful; in others it may be harmful. – fasting is strong “medicine” – take in “right dose”, when really needed – excess fasting weakens the mind-body connection, can lead to serious mental problems, particularly ego problems. (Following a high % fruit diet for a long time may produce similar problems.)

III. Mental Problems on Raw Food Diets

Personal experience and observation: mental problems are more common in fruit- arianism and natural hygiene, less common in living foods and instinctive eating.

1. Behaviors Found In Eating Disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia) and Raw Foods:

– lying about eating (common in fruitarianism) – obsession with food (fueled by constant hunger/sugar addiction) – backsliding (“cheating”), eating in secret, binges – feeling guilty about eating – perfectionist attitude and resultant poor self-image – eating is a stressful act (anorectic: will it make me fat? raw fooder: will it produce mucus? will it constipate me? did I combine foods correctly?) – acceptance of severe underweight because of delusions/dogma (anorectic: I’m FAT! raw fooder: the lost weight is mucus/toxins; glad it’s gone!)

– fruitarianism can produce a physical and mental feeling of lightness. Some fruitarians mistake this for a “spiritual” feeling – it usually is not – it is comparable to a mild drug high. This mental feeling may really be a symptom of zinc deficiency. Also, the misinterpretation of this feeling may lead a few down the path to narrow-minded zealotry and hostile behavior. – the types of behavior described above, reflect a very UNhealthy emotional and mental relationship to food!

2. The WRONG Motives for a Raw Food Diet

common but inappropriate motives: – fear of mucus – obsession with toxemia – hatred of protein foods, including raw protein foods – hatred/fear of cooked foods, and those who eat cooked foods

– unfortunately there are people in the raw foods movement who promote the above as reasons to have a raw foods diet. (Shame on them!) – hatred and fear are not a healthy basis for a diet; they are not healthy emotions. To have hatred and fear as motivations for your diet is to “eat” hatred and fear daily, and to put them at the very center of your life – a very bad idea!

other inappropriate motives: – you think it makes you morally superior (“more compassionate”) than those who eat meat, or cooked/processed foods (ego) – you think it is 100% guaranteed to bring you perfect health (there are no guarantees in life) – you think you can eat your way “into heaven”, that eating raw foods will make you enlightened, or will somehow make you spiritually superior. Eating must be subordinate to spirituality; it can be a part of, and support your spirituality, but should not dominate it. – you read book(s) by raw food expert(s), and you think the expert(s) know everything there is to know about health (they don’t, and some of the so- called experts are frauds). An example of this would be those people who view the writings of Shelton or Fry as being, in effect, ‘holy scriptures’. Side note: I am not suggesting Shelton was a fraud; as for Fry – no comment. – it is a cover for your eating disorder(s)

3. The Terrible Mental Poison Called Zealotry

– fear of mucus; blaming all sickness on mucus – intellectual dishonesty of blaming protein foods for most health problems – fear/hatred of protein foods, including raw protein foods – intellectual dishonesty of blaming cooked foods for all the world’s problems – fear/hatred of cooked foods, and those who eat cooked foods

– dietary philosophy becomes a de-facto religion. “My diet is the ONLY truth, all other diets are wrong; even other raw food diets are wrong!” (Alas, such stupidity is far too common in the raw foods movement.) – you MUST adopt a raw foods diet or the world will come to an end! (Chicken Little environmentalist syndrome)

To Avoid Mental Problems:

* have positive motives for your diet * avoid the poisons of obsession, hate, fear, ego, zealotry * raw/living foods – an excellent diet, but a terrible religion. Don’t make it your religion! It can be incorporated into your spirituality if you wish, but don’t make it more important than your spiritual path. * It is better to be a cooked food eater with a healthy emotional/mental relationship to food, than to be a raw fooder who has an UNhealthy emotional/mental relationship to food. However, best of all is to be a raw fooder who has a healthy emotional/mental relationship with food.

Appendix: References of Possible Interest

1. Some of the hatha yoga practices listed under “Increasing Digestive Fire” are advanced practices which one must work into over time. It is best to have a yoga teacher to learn these practices from; books and videos are nice but are not a substitute for a real teacher.

References that discuss many of the practices mentioned here include:

– “The Practices of Yoga for the Digestive System”, by Dr. Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati; Bihar School of India (this book is hard to get, but see below for a source) – “Integral Yoga Hatha”, by Sri Swami Satchidananda; Integral Yoga Publications, Yogaville, Virginia – “Ashtanga Yoga Primer”, by Baba Hari Dass; Sri Rama Publishing – A reference that deals specifically with agni sara pranayama: “Solar Power”, reprint from “Yoga International” magazine (NOT “Yoga Journal” magazine)

2. The Ayurvedic properties of foods are discussed in the book, “Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing”, by Dr. Vasant Lad and Usha Lad. Even though it is a cookbook, and the recipes are of very limited value to a raw fooder, I recommend the book because it has the most detailed set of food tables and properties (more detailed and much better than the tables in Gabriel Cousens’ book), and it has a lot of information on the use of spices, including medicinal uses.

In order to use spices in accord with your Ayurvedic body type, you need to know what your body type is: your prakruti – what you should be, and your vikruti – what you are now (ideally, same as prakruti). The best way to get this information is to see a qualified Ayurvedic practicioner, and have your pulse read to determine this (there are a very few qualified practicioners in the area, can give you a referral). Alternately, you can use the various tables/tests in books to determine your type. The best book in this regard is: “Prakruti”, by Robert Svoboda; Geocom Ltd.

3. Ayurvedic massage – is discussed in most basic books on Ayurveda, and is easy to do for yourself. Detailed information on self-massage is in the book, “Ayurvedic Beauty Care” by Melanie Sachs, and the topic is covered in “Ayurvedic Massage” by Harish Johari.

Many of the above books mentioned above can be obtained at the bookstore at the Integral Yoga Institute (770 Dolores St; San Francisco, CA. 94110; U.S.A.)

I am a long-time raw-food vegetarian, and have (at different times) followed many of the common raw vegetarian diets: fruitarian, natural hygiene-style, living foods. My current diet is lacto-vegetarian (includes some raw dairy), 75-90% raw. I enjoy writing about nutrition, health, yoga, Ayurveda, and other topics. I am active on this website, a few email lists, and in SF-LiFE: the San Francisco Living Foods Enthusiasts, the oldest living foods support group in the world. I frequently contribute articles to the SF-LiFE newsletter. Additionally, my (internet) writings have been (or are being) published in a number of other venues. Readers are advised that many of my writings are controversial in certain raw food diet circles. My approach to raw foods is one of realism, moderation, common sense, sanity, honesty, and staying open to new information. Additionally, I am critical of fruit diets as my extensive experience with them was very problematic, to say the least. My willingness to challenge the dogmatism and excess idealism that infects the raw vegan movement has upset some of the more extreme rawists.

Copyright 1997 by Thomas E. Billings; all rights reserved. Not to be published without express consent of the author.

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