by Caroline McNally, Ramapo College Intern to Karen Ranzi, M.A.
To me, there is nothing more beautiful than walking through a farmer’s market packed with fresh, vibrant, colorful produce ready for the taking. Grown right from the earth, it’s all so full of vital nutrients you can’t really get anywhere else. For me, I never actually thought I’d go mostly raw vegan. I cringed at the idea of giving up mayonnaise and eggs for most of my life, even though I knew that was the best choice for my health. It wasn’t long ago that my diet was heavy in cheese, milk, poultry, and processed food—as a matter of fact, I still struggle with the kneejerk reaction of asking my boyfriend, “chicken for dinner?” because it’s so easy, and so many people rely on animal products or processed food for what they think are “healthy” and fast weeknight meals. Now that I’ve really made the commitment to going plant-based, these are some tips that have helped me keep my healthy streak as a predominantly raw vegan, with no intentions of stopping it.
1. Figure out what’s holding you back. Is it that the mainstream foods just taste good? Are you not willing to give up your vices—what comfort food do you turn to on stressful days—or is it the fear of being ostracized by the people around you? Do you feel like you don’t deserve to be as healthy as possible because you think the damage is already done? Even if you can’t figure it out, sometimes you just have to force yourself to start cutting out the things you think you can’t live without—you’ll probably come to realize what was keeping you from getting to this point as your journey picks up and continues far beyond the starting point. Keep in mind that your reason may sound “stupid” or “invalid,” but it really isn’t; what you’re feeling is there for a reason, and that’s all the validity you need to address it and want to move past it.
2. Start slowly! Now that you’ve made up your mind, remind yourself that this is not a race. You literally have the rest of your life to figure it out. For me, the most important step was figuring out what to eliminate first. I chose dairy—so, yes, no mayo (which, again, I used to live off of) and cheese, and then came eggs. Believe me, it was so, so hard initially. But about a week into not eating the eggs and cheddar, I noticed that a lot of the nerve pain in my neck and back I’ve suffered from for years had substantially subsided.
That’s the whole thing—the starting point is always the hardest, but once you start to see and feel the results, it’s actually amazing. Things you’d felt or struggled with since the dawn of time are things that will no longer even exist—you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice by turning back.
Give it a week. Sometimes longer with each food group you remove. Any amount of time is fine—but don’t give up.
3. Start tracking your goals. Once you’ve fully erased your preliminary elimination choices, start thinking of what else you’d like to get rid of next. But don’t jump to this step. Make sure you’re firmly out of missing the first few things you chose to nix. If you rush this, these are changes (big ones) that will not last long term. You want it to stick and then keep going.
At this point, start a journal. Maybe adding some exercise into your routine is next up. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Honestly, walking around your block once a day is better than being completely sedentary, especially if you work a job that requires you to sit all day. That’s a wonderful goal to start with. For me, once I upped my exercise intake, I realized how much water I needed to drink to not feel like a human raisin. I also stopped drinking everything but water and green/plant-based juices, and the excess weight started flying off of me. I told myself to start with 8 glasses of 8 ounces a day—it helped me feel full and more awake.
The next thing I got rid of was anything with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce. That was huge. I started snacking on TONS of carrots and celery—even though it wasn’t popcorn, chips, or pretzels, I knew I was filling my body with nutrients it needed, and in turn, what I ended up wanting anyway. I know it sounds weird, but chewing your food until it’s pulp and really concentrating on the flavor of it—is it Sweet? Bitter? Sour?—helped me sort through what it was that I was completely craving. For example, carrots. I chewed them until I memorized the flavor and stored it in the part of my brain labeled “sweet snack.” That, coupled with journaling, was so helpful for me.
4. Don’t doubt yourself. I’m sure the time will come when you and your friends or family will go out to a restaurant and you’re going to think, “oh, just one splurge won’t hurt!” and that’s totally natural! What’s important is that you just don’t splurge anyway. Most restaurants are very accommodating—if you tell them that you want a salad and you give them a list of vegetables you’d like in it, they’ll most likely do it with no problem at all. This is hard—the social component is going to be incredibly difficult to navigate at first, but you’ll start to see that your health matters more than anyone else’s side eye.
5. Your body is going to change. If your goal is weight loss, going vegan (especially raw) is a good way to do it. However, as your body rids itself of the toxins from your previous way of eating and living, you might encounter changes that are upsetting and even painful. You might feel nauseous or get headaches, and while this may be alarming and uncomfortable, it will not last for too long, and you won’t feel the effects of detoxification like that again. If you can, talk to a friend or supportive loved one about the way you’re feeling and the fears you have as your body changes and adapts to this wonderful way of life.
Your journey is going to be unique to you in terms of what will work for you as you move forward, and the challenges you face may be frustrating and painful during the transition. Either way, you’ll see that this is one important part of ensuring your health and happiness long-term. No one else can do that for you! Good luck. Be proud of yourself in taking control of your health in ways that nothing else can.
Ramapo College Intern Caroline McNally’s testimonial of her work with Karen Ranzi: