Lauren Tepper

www.breathtakingspace.com

917-902-4649

December 2011 for http://www.yogacitynyc.com/

The Accidental Raw Foodist

I didn’t choose a raw foods lifestyle; it chose me. In fact, if someone had suggested years ago that I would become a raw foodist, I would have laughed them out of town. What could be more wholesome than cooked fare like bread fresh from the oven, or a big bowl of soup? Well, chew on this: salad. As I’ve gradually developed a taste for all things green and crunchy, I’ve not only reaped many health benefits, but also witnessed dramatic personal transformations and a profound deepening of my yoga practice.

Before I elaborate on that, you may be wondering exactly what a raw diet entails. The answer varies for each person, but for me now the bulk of my diet consists of fresh organic fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts and seeds, plus occasional portions of sprouted beans and grains.

Why eat raw? According to many nutritional experts, raw fruits and vegetables have a higher nutrient content than cooked food. They’re also high in antioxidants and easier to digest than cooked food. Raw fruits and vegetables are loaded with enzymes, vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and oxygen. They also have a high water content compared to many cooked and processed foods. A raw food diet, done properly, gives our bodies everything we need to function most efficiently. 

Oddly enough, all these reasons were not what originally propelled me into this new lifestyle. It was a man dancing on a beach (ah, that’s another story!) who turned out to be not only my life partner but also a raw foodist. At first I would sneak some pizza or a sugar fix after his thoughtfully prepared dinners. But to my surprise, this strange new way of eating began to grow on me. Now I actually love and crave these life-enhancing foods.

As I became more consistent with eating raw I felt incredibly good, vibrant and energetic. My muscles became leaner and less bulky but stronger than ever, allowing me to move effortlessly into poses like Malasana (garland) and Mayurasana (peacock pose) that used to seem unattainable. A lot of the health problems that used to plague me such as headaches, colds, joint pain, and sinus congestion became memories from the past. As my body’s nutritional needs were more satisfied by my diet, my cravings for unhealthy foods diminished. I began to break free from compulsive habits like late-night snacks and mid-afternoon coffee breaks. My mind grew clearer and more calm. Meditation became something I often wanted to do, rather than a chore.

In spite of all these benefits, I was not chomping at the bit to become a raw foodist. It’s amazing how many social occasions center around eating, and it was a challenge for me to maintain this lifestyle and still stay connected with friends and family. I wanted to ‘have my cake and eat it too,’ so to speak, enjoying raw food when it suited me, and then dipping back into indulgences like baked goods or a nice greasy plate of French fries when the mood struck me. What finally transformed me from ‘accidental’ to intentional raw foodist was my wise body. Rebelling against the yo-yo-ing from one extreme to another, my digestive system shut down. I will spare you the gory details, but let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. Googling ‘raw foods detox symptoms’ turns up a long list – and I had pretty much all of them, all at once! At first I wasn’t sure what was happening to me; I’m not exaggerating when I say I thought I was dying.

I’ve come to learn that eating raw is a powerful lifestyle change, and it allows the body to release toxins it may have been holding for years. Imagine a house that’s never been well cleaned. It may not look so bad on the surface, but once you start moving the furniture accumulated gunk is revealed.

Fortunately I fell into the hands of nutritional expert Fred Bisci (who lives right here on Staten Island, of all places!). One thing I’ve learned from him is the importance of consistency. Under his guidance, I realized that raw food for me was more than a way of eating; it was a doorway into a new way of life – one that I had been simultaneously seeking and resisting.  

The yamas and niyamas always looked good on paper, but living them consistently always seemed like a project for a future life. Changing my diet fired up my discipline and will power to make healthy choices more a part of my everyday life. It’s been a big shift, eating to satisfy my body’s needs rather than my mind’s cravings for stimulation and distraction. This leads me toward the freedom and peace of mind that Patanjali sets out as the culmination of the yoga practice.

If you want to explore raw foodism there are many great resources. Some of my personal faves: East Tenth Street between Avenue A and First Avenue sports three raw food havens where you can learn about, sample, and savor raw fare (Quintessence, the Juice Press, and Live Live). There are a number of web sites dedicated to raw foods, including Fred Bisci’s site www.fredbisci4health.com and Matt Monarch’s marketplace at http://www.therawfoodworld.com/ . Beware: dipping your toes into this lifestyle can lead to diving in! Happy swimming…