This article is the first one of a series where I dive into different areas of Raw Veganism that I have personally struggled with the most, and where I’ve witnessed others stumble as well.
Most of the videos and articles available about raw veganism tend to mostly emphasize the amazing benefits of the diet. While I too have experienced countless benefits and would love for everyone to be able to transform their lives in this way, I would lie if I said it’s always been easy and all positive.
I have faced several challenges on this journey and still continue facing them after nearly 3 years following this lifestyle. My wish is to help those of you who are planning to transition to raw veganism, or are already doing it and need some validation and support when things get rough.
I want to foster a culture where it’s OK to struggle with these things, and it’s OK if as a raw vegan you sometimes eat some cooked food. There should be no shame, blame or guilt around that.
We are all on our own journey, going at different speeds and taking different paths that suit us personally. It’s not always easy to stay fully raw, and sometimes forcefully doing it, no matter what, might not even serve your highest good.
The monster that you eventually have to face
The number one challenge for me and I think for most people going raw is lo and behold… CRAVINGS. This may sound obvious, but what most people don’t quite understand is that behind most cravings are actually unprocessed emotions.
We all have developed coping mechanisms around food to suppress and to distract us from feeling “negative” emotions. We also have all kinds of unconscious associations to foods that formed in our early childhood.
Food may have been our only source of comfort, the only way we were nurtured, rewarded or given attention. We may associate food with belonging and togetherness, or with punishment and violation (when we were forced to eat).
But in most of the cases, we have simply learned that by eating certain foods we can distract ourselves from our own pain, that we could not resolve in other ways. Food has become the greatest coping mechanism of our time (Read my article: Food: the Greatest Coping Mechanism of Our Time).
The pain becomes our shadow self. It turns into a monster lurking in the shadows of our subconscious and it carries all the associated thoughts and beliefs that we also must deny in order to keep the pain in check. The pain itself becomes a black hole that we are terrified will swallow us the moment we stop running.
When we transition from cooked to raw foods, we are no longer able to suppress all the pain that has accumulated in our system, so it all starts to bubble up. If you are not willing or able to recognize these emotions, they will simply translate into intense cravings and irritation, almost an obsession around those foods that we used to cope with. You might not be able to see clearly what is causing the cravings, but I assure you, they are not ONLY a physical symptom.
When I first went raw I was working a full time job in an office environment and there was simply no space for me to deal with my emotions that started showing up on a daily basis, so I had to take sick leave just to process the pain that kept coming up. A few months later I quit my job.
The physical and the emotional healing go hand in hand and you cannot have one without the other. As your physical body starts detoxing on the raw vegan lifestyle, your suppressed emotions will inevitably start coming up.
If you refuse to look at them, then you have to find another way to cope. A common one is constant distraction: becoming addicted to work, making yourself so busy that here is no room for feeling.
However, no matter how healthy you eat and how much you detox, the suppressed emotions will find an expression over time. They could show up as a health condition that you thought could never develop on the raw diet.
Everything must find an outlet.
I recently read about a man who had been a passionate raw foodist since a decade, who died from heart attack unexpectedly. The Raw Food community was in dismay. How could that be?
Well, you cannot fool the inner child who carries your trauma and your wounds. If not processed, they will eat you up from the inside no matter what you do to fix things up on the outside. I do not know if this was what led to the death of this man, but it well could’ve been.
Therefore, I would say that the main reason why most people struggle maintaining a raw vegan fruitarian lifestyle is unprocessed TRAUMA. Unfortunately, in this day and age, everybody has trauma.
Being weaned from your mother’s breast is a trauma, having a little sibling is a trauma, not getting emotional presence is a trauma, being left crying in the dark as a baby is a trauma, being excluded by your peers is a trauma, school in and of itself is a whole special kind of trauma: being restricted, controlled and forced to do all kinds of things with no power to change anything for years on end (I will make another article about this topic).
It’s not about whether you have trauma or not, everyone has it. It’s just the matter of how much and what kind. So the sooner you can accept that you have trauma and start recognizing the unprocessed emotions related to it, the sooner and faster you can start progressing towards a sustainable lifestyle change.
If you don’t have the time and the resources to process these emotions and find true comfort for your inner child, if you cannot find another way to meet your needs besides cooked food, ripping away this coping mechanism would be abusive.
Self-Love is more important than having a perfectly clean body.
One might argue that eating healthy is objectively self-loving in the long term, but I would first question the motivation for eating healthy in the first place. Is it to truly feel better and to care-take the body? Or is to fix or even punish ourselves because deep down we feel unworthy? I would also question, whether there are other needs that are more urgent and would be compromised by the choice to refrain from eating anything cooked.
If you have an addiction to food, you most likely have an unnurtured inner child whose main or even only source of nurture is food. Imagine that you take away the only comfort from a totally deprived child (their food), without helping them to find people who could actually provide nurture, and without giving them the attention they so desperately need. Instead, you turn them your back and escape in a transcendental meditation. This is not self-love. This is self-abuse.
So if you cannot show up for your emotions, your inner child and your unprocessed trauma, I would not recommend that you discipline yourself into anything. Don’t force yourself, it is never the way. Most of us already have enough trauma around force and discipline, so please don’t perpetuate it by doing it to yourself. Instead, ask yourself, what feels softer? What feels self-loving? And start from there, with baby steps.
If you found this article helpful, you might also want to watch this video my partner and I made discussing the top 10 challenges we have faced on the raw vegan diet.