30-Day Raw Food Vegan Challenge

Image by Alice Henneman, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

Image by Alice Henneman, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

Last week I mentioned that I am a proponent of 30-Day Challenges, which I have used many times to further my personal development and experience new things. Starting today, I am embarking on a new challenge of eating only raw vegan food for the next 30 days. Below, I will detail my reasons for wanting to try this diet as well as a brief history of my dietary choices throughout my life.

I grew up on typical Southern fare, which included a lot of fried foods, meat, dairy, breads, and sugary drinks and desserts. My parents make excellent Southern-style comfort food, and I never thought twice about what I was eating until a few years ago when I started my journey to become healthier. 

Fruits and vegetables were not appealing to me when I was growing up. At that time, I would much rather have consumed anything rather than fresh produce. There was a long period of my life when I was consuming far too many empty calories in the form of junk food and sodas. At one point, I used to discard my veggies outside so that my parents would think I was eating them!

For the majority of my life, I couldn't even imagine becoming a vegetarian, much less a vegan or raw vegan. So much of my concept of food revolved around biscuits and sausage gravy, orange sodas and dark colas, pepperoni pizzas, and butter-laden desserts–I never thought that I would give those things up. I regarded vegetarians as strange, eccentric folks that cared more about animals than a tasty meal. Vegans and raw foodists weren't even on my radar at that time.

Something changed for me a few years ago when I started getting more interested in diet. Watching movies like Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, Food Matters had a huge impact on me. I realized that what I put in my body is incredibly important and started making incremental changes in my diet.

After reading Superfoods by David Wolfe, I followed that path for a while, buying expensive goji berries and cacao beans to bring for snacks at work. Around this time my parents gave me one of the best gifts I ever received, a Nutribullet blender that I used to make smoothies for breakfast every day for at least a year. For the first time ever, I was buying fresh produce from the grocery store and consuming it every day. Salads started making their way into my diet as a staple lunch or dinner, and I was actually enjoying them!

I quickly noticed that eating these fresh foods made me feel better and helped improve my running as well. I made the decision in April 2012 to try a 30-Day Vegetarian Challenge, which was one of my first 30-Day Challenges. The last meal I made the night before I started the challenge was cheesy beef nachos, and the next day I increased my consumption of fresh produce and added in faux-meats like veggie burgers and veggie dogs. After 30 days of eating this way, I felt better and decided to continue the vegetarian diet.

Transitioning to a vegetarian diet is fairly easy. Most restaurants have vegetarian options, and it's not too difficult for friends and family to accommodate you when you become a vegetarian. I am very grateful that my friends and family were supportive of my decision to change my diet for the better. My parents made delicious vegetarian dishes for me and my friends didn't harass me too much when I ordered meatless dishes when we were out for dinner.

My personal goal was to take my diet as far as I could in the direction of optimum health. Becoming a vegan was interesting to me, but I had a lot of reservations about it as well. What would I eat if I couldn't eat cheese? How will I feel when I have to awkwardly ask someone if a food item is vegan? Will I be getting the nutrients that my body needs to thrive? Questions like these kept me in the vegetarian lifestyle for nearly two years, but last January I decided to test the vegan diet out for 30 days. 

To my surprise, becoming a vegan was just as easy as becoming a vegetarian! The main difference is that there are far less places that a vegan can eat out, but that's not too big of a concern because I prefer to make my own food anyway. It's a lot easier to ensure than the quality of my food meets my high standards when I am the one buying (or growing) and preparing it than when I blindly trust a chef at a restaurant to prepare it.

However, it is really easy to become a junk food vegetarian or junk food vegan, which is what I am afraid I devolved into from time to time for the past few years. My main reason for changing my diet was to improve my health. While the ethical and environmental concerns of factory farming are driving forces in my dietary choices nowadays, when I first started out changing my diet, it was with the focus of personal health and athletic performance in mind.

I experimented with two cleanse/detox diets last year. On New Year's Eve 2013, I decided to abstain from drinking any alcohol or eating any unhealthy foods for a few days in preparation for a 10-Day Master Cleanse I started on New Year's Day 2014. I succeeded with completing the 10 days, and overall the experience was pretty good. It was similar to the 3-Day water fasts that I did periodically throughout high school and college, but I had more energy and felt better overall. Last April I tried a 10-Day Juice Feast, which involved drinking only fresh vegetable and fruit juices for 10 days. I made it seven days into this challenge before I lost the will to continue and started eating solid foods again. The Juice Feast didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but I think that is because I was consuming a lot more fruit juice than vegetable juice. I wouldn't rule out ever doing these short-term cleanse/detox diets (or a water fast) again, but I'm not in a hurry to repeat them at this time.

My most recent diet challenge was the 28-Day Engine 2 Diet Challenge, sponsored by my local Whole Foods Market during January and February. The idea behind this challenge is to eat a diet composed of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Ideally the participant will cut out all added oils, alcohol, and caffeine as well. Since I was already following a vegan diet, I decided to tackle the full challenge head-on by eliminating oils, alcohol, and caffeine from my diet. Although I didn't stick to the plan 100% (a few dishes with oil sneaked in), I experienced excellent results during and after this challenge, and I decided that I would like to take my diet even further.

After doing a lot of research the past year on the raw vegan diet, I have made the decision to give it a go for 30 days. I have really enjoyed learning about how to do the diet correctly from raw foodists like John Kohler of OKraw, Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram of FullyRaw, and Dr. Douglas N. Graham, the author of the book The 80/10/10 Diet. In fact, I am in the process of finishing up the book right now, and have been learning a lot of valuable information about how to prepare for this dietary transition.

So what will 30 days on a raw vegan diet look like? Well, it will include tons of delicious raw fresh fruits and vegetables, with very small amounts of seeds, nuts, and fatty fruits like avocados. I will be ensuring that I intake enough of the caloronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) with my diet and I look forward to seeing if this diet works well for me or not.

If the challenge goes well, then I may choose to become a raw foodist. If it is a total disaster, maybe I will incorporate cooked food back into my diet. At this time, I'm not sure what will happen, but I am open to the possibility of changing myself again. My ultimate goal is to be as healthy as possible and continue my evolution into the person I would like to become.

I will write a follow-up review of the 30-Day Raw Food Vegan Challenge after it is over, as well as a review of The 80/10/10 Diet once I have finished reading it. Every 30-Day Challenge that I attempt is proceeded by a minor amount of skepticism, trepidation, and excitement, and this one may be the boldest that I have attempted so far. I am looking forward to the results and plan to share them with the Think Wilder audience once I have fully processed the experience. Until then, wish me luck!