Los Angeles, CA

I Went Raw and Vegan in Los Angeles for a Month. Here's What Happened.

Michael Loren

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A friend recently gave me some wise advice: “Do everything in moderation…including moderation.”

Most people called me crazy when they heard that I was going to spend the entire month of December as a raw food vegan simply so I could write an article about it.

“How are you going to eat food that hasn’t been cooked for a month?”

“Can’t you wait until January, celebrate the holidays, and then make it a resolution?”

In all fairness, I do understand that it was a pretty extreme experiment simply to generate writing fodder. And I accept that . . . with open arms. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that sometimes if you jump in the deep end, you find that you’re a fabulous swimmer.

More importantly, you never truly understand something until you try it. So, I wholeheartedly spent the entire month of December eating only raw (not cooked over 115°F) food that contained no animal products or animal byproducts. I allowed myself the ability to cheat on Christmas — I won’t subject my family to my whims.

This experiment has unequivocally changed my eating habits forever. Here’s an explanation of why I chose to make such a drastic change, what I learned, and how you can apply these things to your own food consumption.

Why vegan and raw?

Why would anyone try cutting out cooked food and animal products? There are a few reasons. First, I watched the documentary The Game Changers on Netflix. And then I went down a rabbit hole of food documentaries — Forks over Knives, In Defense of Food, and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. By the end of binge-watching content on how not to binge, I was definitely ready to replace the dead animals in my fridge with plants.

The solid research behind the health benefits of eating a largely plant-based diet impacted me the most. The website for M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the most prominent facility in the country in fighting this disease says, “There is one diet that is consistently proven, over more than two decades, to reduce your risk for cancer. It is a plant-based diet.”

Yep. That’s enough for me. If the biggest cancer center in the United States says eating stuff from the ground will help keep me cancer-free, count me in. Veganista life, here I come.

In addition to cutting out plant products, I decided to eat only uncooked foods because, well, consuming raw food is also really healthy for us. Many people don’t know that food loses a significant amount of its nutrients when we cook it. Water- and fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin C, A, D, E, and B vitamins get out of Dodge when they’re cooked at high temperatures.

In short, cooking food may make it easier to digest, but it also takes away some of the natural healthiness. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to consume kale and broccoli, I want to ensure I’m getting the maximum amount of nutrients from it.

So, go, go Gadget Raw Veganista Michelle (for the month of December). How hard could it be, right?

Day 1 — A rough start

On the first day of my raw and vegan adventure, I went to the grocery store and purchased a cart full of fresh fruits and veggies. Ooh! Avocados! Red peppers! Olives! Asian pears! This isn’t going to be hard at all.

I came home and ate an avocado for breakfast — with a spoon. I then made a yummy salad with my grocery goodies for lunch, opened a can of chickpeas to top it off, and poured some of my low-fat raspberry vinaigrette on top. Good job, Raw Veganista Michelle!

I sat down and leisurely read the back of my dressing as I munched. Hmm. Xanthan gum. What’s that? Normally, I would ignore this random additive. But this time, I decided to Google this gum stuff. Yeah . . . glad I did. Xanthan gum is a food-thickening additive that is produced by the fermentation of glucose or sucrose (sugars) and then chemically doctored (seriously, look it up).

First of all, ew. Second, all of these processes included high temperatures that I realized precluded the xanthan gum and, consequentially my salad dressing, from my raw vegan diet (which, by the time I was done reading, was the least of my worries). Okay, so no salad dressing for me.

The next time I went to the grocery store, I read the ingredients of all of the salad dressings. High fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, calcium disodium, dextrose, and maltodextrin. The list went on. So, ix-ne on the essing-dre. Lesson learned.

I told a friend about my fabulous first-day salad and he wisely commented, “You should look at those chickpeas.” Crap. Canned chickpeas. COOKED canned chickpeas. With preservatives. Fine. Whatever. So, no chickpeas either. I realized I had a lot to learn.

The rest of week 1

Over the next week, I began to find foods and snacks that I could (and wanted to) eat. I added nuts, seeds, and sprouts to my list of Veganista-friendly foods. Cashews, sunflower seeds, coconut, sprouts, pumpkin seeds, figs, and so many other exciting foods became fun and tasty finds.

I found some yummy carob-almond-fig energy squares at my local market that were perfect to nosh before a workout and I picked up raw almond butter and spread it on slices of Asian pear when I wanted something sweet. I became a veritable Kalamata olive fanatic and took to adding them to my already-diversified salad concoctions. After a rough start, I was beginning to be inspired by nature’s diverse bounty.

Week 2

Somewhere around day 11, I was doing deadlifts and I crashed. Hard. My arms felt like lead and my vision closed like a camera aperture. A friend of mine wisely recommended I get a protein supplement because many raw vegans have a hard time getting the protein needed to perform daily activities.

So, I picked up some raw vegan protein supplement powder. Um, people? It tasted like chalk, dust, and the slime on the side of the A train stop at 181st mixed together. And I do not exaggerate.

I had to get some protein somehow, though. And I had paid a pretty penny for that vat of dusty disgustingness. So, I found a great little recipe on the internet for “protein balls” that mixed the powder with almond butter, walnuts, raisins, coconut, and sesame seeds. They were brilliant. And they were also a convenient grab-and-go snack.

In less than an hour, I felt much better. For that matter, after my little protein deficiency, I felt pretty fabulous for the rest of the month. I wasn’t hungry, I had tons of energy, and I was starting to crave things like olives and apples and cherry tomatoes instead of jelly beans.

Weeks 3 and 4

I wasn’t a perfect little raw vegan. I definitely made mistakes and consumed things I shouldn’t. But, I learned something new every time and I became a lot more aware of what I was putting in my body.

And, of course, I had my lovely predetermined “free” dinner on Christmas and ate my face off. There was NO way that I would pass up turkey, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and broccoli and cauliflower salad. I went to town. And then had some cheesecake to boot. It was Christmas, after all.

It was so good . . . for about twenty minutes. And then, I felt absolutely disgusting. For the next twelve hours. I felt like my body was trying to get rid of my dinner as quickly as possible. Was it worth it? I wasn’t quite sure.

All in all, though, the last two weeks of my experiment were . . . fun! I loved exploring new food combinations and I felt a little less stressed about figuring out what to eat because I had narrowed my list of possible foods significantly. While I would have thought this would make me sad, it made eating easy.

I also felt accomplished after eating a good raw and vegan meal. I had energy, I felt clear-headed, and I felt like I had done something good for my body. Every meal became an accomplishment rather than an obstacle of digestion that must be overcome. By week four, I had decided to make this experiment a part of my long-term lifestyle.

How to incorporate raw and vegan foods into your diet

By eating raw and vegan for a month, I learned an important lesson. I realized that what I put in my body has a significant impact on how I feel. This wouldn’t have been as apparent if I hadn’t gone to the extreme of cutting out all animal products and cooked foods for an entire month.

You don’t need to go to my extreme to make your diet a little bit healthier. Here are some ways to incorporate what I learned into your eating habits:

  • The first and most important way to clean up your diet is to know what is in your food. I had been ignorantly eating, for the most part, processed crap for my entire life. And didn’t previously have any idea what was in any of it. I encourage you to read the ingredients of any processed food you consume and research any items you don’t recognize.
  • A great way to make your diet more plant-heavy is to expand your food vocabulary. Much like I did in week 1, you can explore adding new kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to your diet. I have come to love fresh figs, pistachios, and olives. If you’re uninspired by your local grocery store, try a new one or find a local farmer’s market. You’d be surprised at the variety of tasty treats nature can provide.
  • If you choose to eat a mostly raw and vegan diet, make sure that you’re consuming enough protein. Tofu, edamame, seitan, beans, quinoa, and green peas can be exceptional sources of protein and are easy to incorporate into your diet. If you start to feel a little weak, make sure to stop and make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
  • Explore new food combinations. Much like my protein powder energy balls, there are thousands of ways to combine fruits, veggies, seeds, and nuts. Almond and sunflower butter work well to stick other yummy foods together and there’s nothing like a cold freshly pressed juice or a mixed fruit smoothie in the morning.

The takeaway

I believe that extremes can teach us so much. I definitely learned many lessons during this experiment. First, I learned that a plant-based diet of uncooked whole foods makes me feel fantastic. And I know this from my own personal experience. (I encourage you to never underestimate the power of a lesson learned firsthand.)

Second, I know that there are some foods that I used to eat that my body really doesn’t like. I was forcing foods like gummy bears and sausage down without really listening to my body and observing the effects of their digestion.

Third, I learned that chemicals taste like crap. I recently had a few jelly beans and it was an assault on my taste buds. “This is not good at all,” I thought. I went for a handful of raw cashews instead. Much better.

After this experiment, will I continue to eat only raw and vegan foods? Nope. I don’t roll like that. Will my diet be drastically changed because of the lessons I learned in this experiment? Absolutely.

I will now read labels fully, work to cut processed foods from my diet, and I will continue to listen to my body and observe its reactions to what I put in it. Perhaps I was crazy for radically changing my diet for a month. But now, having been at both ends of the spectrum of consumption — the ridiculously healthy and the overly unhealthy — I can now find a happy medium that works for me.

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Professional writer and journalist with concentration in data analysis. I specialize in interpreting data to give you unbiased, understandable information related to the state of California.

Los Angeles, CA
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