Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Victoria Boutenko and 12 Steps to Raw Foods

Here is my chapter on Victoria Boutenko and her 12 steps to raw foods:

I enjoyed the simplicity and inspiration of Boutenko’s first book so much that I decided to give her raw food book a try. Not that I was intending to become a raw food person, but I was interested in improving my eating habits. One doesn’t have to give up cooked foods entirely to benefit from including more raw foods in their diet.

The subtitle of her book is How to End Your Dependency on Cooked Food. It is kind of like a 12 step program for food abusers. And most of us, whether we know it or not, do eat food the way addicts consume drugs and alcohol. If you don’t believe me, try giving up cooked foods cold turkey for a day and see how fast you start craving your favorite cooked foods, any cooked foods.

I think I was in a good place to begin considering incorporating more raw foods into my life. I knew I needed to lose some weight. I knew from going to my doctor for a physical that my cholesterol was high. And I wanted more energy in my life. Besides, I had seen what it was doing for my daughter and son-in-law.

Part one of Boutenko’s book is about how cooking food destroys nutrients and increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. She explains how cooking creates advanced glycoxidation end products (AGEs), very toxic molecules that get absorbed by the body and do such nasty things as stiffen muscles (including the heart), reduce flexibility in tendons and ligaments, cause inflammation, and speed up the aging process.

In part two of her book Victoria discusses how we have become addicted to food. We have become dependent on processed cereals and breads, pasteurized drinks, grilled meats and fish. I was amazed at how little I was eating was not a living food anymore. Salad and fruit and that’s about it for most of us, and those are only side aspects of our diets. Our main meals are almost always cooked foods.

These days I have to laugh to myself when I hear someone describe to me their healthy diets. They’ll say “I have hot oatmeal for breakfast with berries on top. Then I have a chicken salad for lunch and fish with rice for dinner.” Or something like that. I say to myself, don’t they understand that the oatmeal is cooked to a mush, the chicken is filled with antibiotics, and the fish is most likely farmed and they have antibiotics (along with other things), too? Of course, the rice is cooked to death. What makes all of this even more frustrating is that the so-called nutrition experts on television reinforce this fake healthy diet.

The idea that eating cooked food is an addiction is a major contribution to understanding how to improve our dietary habits. No one would think that the typical diet is an addiction, but try to go one day without cooked foods and you will see what I mean. This is a very important point that should not be missed. Cooked foods are an addiction, just as powerful cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and relationships can be. Knowing this will help you to make healthier food choices.

When I began adding raw foods to my diet it was not the raw food that caused me any problems. The more recipes I tried the more fun I had. My smoothies were delicious. My salads and the interesting dressings that my daughter gave me were totally satisfying. And the mock tuna salad, the flaxseed crackers, and cauliflower “mash potatoes” tasted wonderful. But even with all of these foods, and not being hungry at all, I still wanted to have something cooked at the end of the day, even if it was only a piece of toast and butter.

Victoria does argue that just like an alcoholic we should give up cooked foods entirely, that it is actually easier in the long run. And I think that for some people that would be the way to go. I cannot do this. I don’t think I could bring myself to the point where I would never ever want a hamburger again. I may not eat one but for me knowing that if I really want cooked food I can have it without feeling guilty is important to my sense of freedom. After all, I am trying to be reasonably, rationally, and realistically raw, not absolutely raw.

You may be thinking at this point that the analogy that food is addictive is helpful, but a little of an exaggeration. Well, Victoria points out in her book that plenty of research shows that cooked foods contain opioid peptides that reach the opiate receptors in our nervous systems. These opioid peptides are particularly present in dairy products, meats, poultry, and fish. (Another reason to eat a vegan diet.) Believe it or not, cooked foods are at least somewhat physically addictive.

12 Steps to Raw Foods

Here are Boutenko’s 12 steps to transitioning to a raw food diet. I have altered them a little, adding some of my own observations and trying to be brief. I recommend reading the book itself.

1. Become aware that you do have an addiction to cooked foods. Be honest. Can you get through a day without cooked foods and not feel those cravings? Try it.

2. Add healthy foods to your diet; don’t think about giving anything up and depriving yourself. Many of our food cravings come because we do not get enough nutrients. Add a green smoothie and a large salad to your diet. Greens are the most nutritious foods on the planet.

3. Learn how to prepare raw food recipes. Get some raw cookbooks. Ask around for good ideas on what to eat. Find out what other people do. Get the tools for make raw foods. Buy a good blender and dehydrator. You probably already have a food processor.

4. Don’t judge yourself or others for not eating raw foods. Take the pressure off yourself, family, and friends. Have fun. Think of this as adding something to your life, not taking anything away.

5. Avoid temptations. For me this means not keeping cooked foods in the house and not going out to eat very often. I can’t help it; if it is in the house I will most likely eat it, so if I don’t want cooked foods I don’t buy them. It’s the same with restaurants. You can only order salad so many times a week. I also find that I am a lot less tempted on a stomach full of my green smoothie. If you are going somewhere where you know you will be tempted—eat first.

6. Get support. The encouragement and ideas from my daughter Gina have helped me every step of the way. I could not have made the changes to my diet without her support and help. Support also comes from reading books, raw web sites, newsletters, and attending festivals.

7. Gratitude and forgiveness. Be thankful for learning about this healthy way of living. We may slip at times, but at least we are on the path. We know about raw foods, most people are not even aware of what they are doing to their bodies by eating cooked food all the time. Forgiveness is essential, too. It is hard to make the right choices when we hold grievances against other people…and ourselves.

8. Actualize your dreams. Your life is going to change. You are going to feel happier than you have ever felt before. You will have more energy and need less sleep. Now you can live your dreams. And the best dreams are those that give back to others.

9. Utilize other healthy practices. Exercise is essential. Move your body. Run, walk, do yoga, swim, incorporate some form of exercise into your daily routine. Get some sunshine.

10. Gain clarity. Spend time with yourself just being aware. Meditate, read; learn to live in the present moment.

11. Find your mission in life. True happiness comes from helping others. Discover what you are meant to do. Where is your passion? What is it that truly gets you excited? Almost every person I know who begins eating a raw vegan diet finds a new sense of spirituality in his or her lives. What does this mean for you?

12. Give support to others. When you help others you are helping yourself. Every time you share what you have learned, you learn it all over again only better. Your life becomes so much richer. We can’t live a healthy lifestyle alone.

I met Victoria and her daughter at the Raw Spirit Festival in Arizona in 2007. Victoria gave an inspiring talk on how she discovered the benefits of green smoothies. Her daughter Valya was working on a raw food documentary and we talked about how different people experienced healing from various illnesses. I also attended a food preparation demonstration given by Victoria’s son Sergei. The children are adults now and were looking quite healthy.

I learned from Victoria Boutenko early on in my raw food journey the importance of adding healthy raw foods to my diet and not to think of this as giving up foods that I loved. I would not have taken the first step had someone told me that I had to give up cooked foods all together. But I could make a green smoothie, and by experimenting they became so enjoyable I had to keep myself from drinking them too fast.

By eating more green leafy vegetables my body became more nourished and being more nourished desired less and less of the junk food and animal foods that I was used to eating. Slowly my tastes we changing. A raw food diet didn’t sound quite so strange.

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