My 4 Week Raw Vegan Challenge

My 4 week raw vegan challenge

Right. Full disclosure here: I have often used my meals (especially at dinner time) to block out the day, to ignore uncomfortable feelings and to “tap out”. I would do that by overeating and consuming heavy foods, resulting in self-induced food comas. The next morning, I would wake up feeling bloated and foggy. This would cause me restrict my food during the day, causing my body and mind to go under stress, followed by more bloating. By the end of the day, I was really hungry so would overeat. And so the cycle would continue. Can you relate?

Towards the end of 2018, my mental and emotional states were taking a turn for the worse, and old eating disorder thoughts were reemerging. I was terrified of slipping back into damaging and destructive patterns again.

I needed to change and shake things up. When a work friend asked me if I was interested in giving a raw vegan challenge a go with him, I suspected this could be something to help bring about much needed change to my life. And so we decided on doing a four week experiment of eating only raw foods at the start of 2019.

The guidelines:

  • Everything had to be 100% vegan. This meant no animals or their by-products were to be consumed.

  • All meals had to be raw; no cooking (steaming/roasting/baking) of any kind were allowed.

  • I decided not to give up teas or yerba mate so I continued to have warm drinks throughout the challenge.

  • Coffee was only allowed if I used my own nut milk.

  • If there was a social arrangement where there was cooked food and there were no other food options, we could have cooked food.

The preparation:

I approached the challenge with excitement and slight trepidation. I had done “Rawtil4” a few years ago and would constantly feel tired and hungry. Dinner time would come around and I couldn’t wait to smash in a huge plate of potatoes. It was unbalanced and restrictive way of eating for me, whereby I ate an insane amount of carbs and was terrified of fats. I also obsessively tracked my macros. Over time, I naturally moved away from eating in that way which was damaging not only for my physical health but for my mental health too.

I have since found a better balance towards food, yet I was still concerned I would struggle being raw this time around. “If Rawtil4 was difficult, I’m sure 100% raw will be even harder”, I thought to myself. Nonetheless, I was willing to give it a go, without rigidly sticking to specific rules around macros and calories.

Week 1 of the raw challenge

The Food

My diet has consisted of lots of dates, smoothies (with protein powder, leafy greens, seeds and fruit), and big crunchy salads with some form of nut butter sauce, pesto or lemon and balsamic dressing. Sprouts, raw crackers, saukerkraut, nut cheese, nutritional yeast, and fresh herbs provided delicious crunches, textures and pops of flavour - they kept things interesting.

On Day 3 I enjoyed a raw sushi evening with friends, using cauliflower rice, cut up veggies and an almond butter sauce.

By Day 5, I was craving the texture and satiation that grains offer, so I opted for a big bowl of overnight oats that seemed to fill the hole. I also made a ton of homemade date balls (packed with superfoods and green powder) that ticked all the boxes as a source of protein and healthy fats.

On Day 6, I ended up having a cooked dinner with two friends, comprising of meat-free mince, potatoes and veggies. It was important for me to remain flexible and I wanted to participate in the social gathering. Also, there was nothing else to eat. The next morning, I felt perfectly fine.

I have continued to take my supplements including a vegan omega 3, B12, magnesium, green powder, spirulina, and lion’s mane.

My Mental State

Almost instantly, I felt significantly different - and in a good way. My bloating disappeared, my energy increased, I felt lighter and my mind clearer. I realised very quickly that I had been using food to cover up my feelings as a way to numb out. As raw food is inherently lighter compared to cooked food, I felt more alive rather than tired and numbed out at the end of each meal.

The preparation of the food - seeing it in its whole form and full of colour also caused me to feel a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the food on my plate.

My Physical State

My fitness levels or strength didn’t take any bad turns. My energy was on point and I could train as per my normal routine.

For the first three nights, I felt super awake and struggled to fall asleep (although it could have been full moon which does affect me). After the initial three nights, I was able to fall asleep with greater ease.

Week 2 of the raw challenge

The Food

I was craving Ethiopian food. Give me all the injera and legumes. Like. Now.

I eat copious amounts of dates (which I didn’t have a problem with). I have realised that cashew nuts and cashew nut cheese can make me bloated if I eat too much of it. I have started adding coconut yoghurt into my diet which I have found to help ground me. Chia seed puddings are a nice alternative to morning smoothies that I topped with nut butter or coconut butter, seeds and superfood things. Yum.

On Day 10, I made a delicious Indian-style curry sauce with tomatoes, garlic, ginger, Indian spices, and thickened it up with chia seeds, served cauliflower rice, peas, spinach, bell peppers, coriander and avocado.

By Day 15, I’m still feeling good. I can really sense how nutrient-dense my meals are; I feel like I have become hyper-aware and more in tune with how food affects me and nourishes me. That evening I made the most delicious raw Mexican dish - thanks to Minimalist Baker.

Also, I made epic raw banana not bread. It was really simple to make, super tasty and reminds me pretty much of banana bread!

I ended Week 2 with two cooked meals (on Saturday afternoon and Sunday night) - mostly due to various social situations. Again, it is more important for me to remain flexible, relaxed and at ease during this challenge and sometimes that means eating some sweet potato flatbread and making chickpea pancakes :) #livingmybestlife

My Mental State

I started the week feeling a bit scattered and floaty, and finding it tricky to fall asleep at night - could it be because I am not using food to numb me out and lull me to sleep?

When I get hungry, I get huuuuungry and it takes up a lot of my thought processes. It’s important to plan meals when eating more raw food as well as eat more at meal times.

My Physical State

I have felt strong, fit and agile. Skin clear. Nails strong. Energy good and I have got through each day feeling pretty pumped.

Week 3 of the raw challenge

The Food

I started this last week on a bit of wobble. I had quite a full and emotional weekend so my physical, emotional and spiritual bodies were shouting and craving for some grounding food. Ethiopian chow was what I needed. As such, on Day 15, I was raw until dinner and enjoyed a delicious and flavoursome Ethiopian dinner with all the lentils and injera.

I promised myself to get back on the raw train from Day 16. As it so happened, I “cheated” a few times over this week. What can I say… #yolo. I ended up eating out a fair bit during Week 3 with two Ethiopian dinners, adding some fried tofu to my raw pad Thai salad, and eating a falafel wrap.

It was during this week however that I was on my period and was craving grounding and wholesome foods.

My Mental State

I felt fuzzy, tired and distracted.

My Physical State

As I was on my period, I felt quite bloated and exhausted. I can’t tell if the cooked meals caused the severe bloating or if it was more related to my period. It could have well been a combination and is something I will keep an eye on the next time I am on my period.

week 4 of the raw challenge

The Food

I was committed to giving my last week of vegan rawness a real go and sticking to it as much as possible! Oh wait, I have two social events (Taco Night with work colleagues and another Ethiopian dinner with a friend). I tried and did my best.

I started my week with a smoothie and lots of fruit. Lunches are comprising of lots of colourful and crunchy veg, seeds, lemon, avocado and pestos, wrapped in lettuce cups or nori sheets. Raw, marinated tempeh and tofu have been wonderful additions for protein. I have also noticed an improvement with my digestion which seems back on track.

I have probably eaten more nuts and seeds during these four weeks than ever. Incorporating them regularly has been very beneficial for my skin, sports recovery and hormonal balancing.

My Mental State

I found it difficult to remain raw and still keep up with various social events. Rather than isolating myself, it was better for me be flexible and balanced, and at the same time, not being hard on myself for “cheating”. This is meant to be a fun challenge at the end of the day, right?

My sleep patterns have normalised and I have felt more grounded over the last week compared to the first.

My Physical State

I have felt strong and fit. After being raw for almost four weeks, I haven’t noticed any decrease in my physical fitness or overall strength. In fact, quite the opposite. I am feeling stronger than ever!

The verdict

Did I “cheat”? Yes. Will I do this challenge again? Yes. Will I eat more raw foods on the regular? Yes.

I have so enjoyed eating this way over the last few weeks. I have realized how I was using food to numb out and hide after a long and tiring day. It was like I was putting myself in a coma to disengage from uncomfortable emotions. This isn’t a bad thing - we often want to tap out rather than drop in when things get overwhelming. It’s human. Simply becoming aware of what stimulated these responses and what I turned to as a way to get by has been an interesting experience to notice.

Some other notes:

  • I’ll definitely continue eating more raw foods as it helps me feel clearer mentally.

  • I like that it stimulates me to get creative in the kitchen and eat more colour.

  • Raw food helps with my digestion too and I feel satisfied after the meals (as long as I eat enough).

  • Dates give me life. Avocados are life.

  • I have a renewed appreciation for cabbage.

  • I still love eating cooked foods.

  • I will continue to eat raw as much as possible without putting pressure on myself to be 100% raw. It is better for me to remain flexible otherwise it becomes too pressurizing.

Eating raw food isn’t for everyone and that’s ok. This was simply my experience which I wanted to share it with you! I welcome all comments from you below!

Lots of love

Francesca