You think you want to become a raw vegan. You want to try eating more fruits and raw vegetables. You want to convince your friends and family that raw food will make them healthier. You want to change. You know your past failures.
It is not easy to change; if it were everyone would be just the way they want to be. Do you know anyone who is satisfied with who they are, who doesn’t want to change some aspect of themselves? Change is a lot of hard work and commitment. I am here to tell you that anything worth having, including excellent health, comes at a price. So don’t complain, just reach into your pocket and pull out your wallet. But, there is hope, and it can be made easier.
One of the biggest obstacles that we face when we want to make changes in our lives is to underestimate the difficulty in changing and not understanding the change process. This all too easily leads to frustration, pain, and the end of putting into place the changes we want to make. This does not need to happen.
I have included this chapter on change so that you may find it easier to implement what you have learned in this book and be able to share your new insights with others in a more thoughtful and intelligent way. Attaining a healthy, energetic body, saving our planet, and reducing the suffering of other sentient beings is a sacred and noble undertaking; it deserves a serious and well-planned attempt. I hope to increase your chances of success by sharing with you my research on the change process; together we will explore the stages and processes of change.
The Stages of Change
There has been a great deal of research committed to the understanding of how people are able to successfully change their behavior. Much of the study in this area is focused on behavior involving drug abuse, smoking, and mental health. But the lessons learned there are fully applicable to changing eating patterns. In this chapter I draw from the work of James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island. His book, Changing For Good, describes one of the most successful programs for implementing personal change ever developed.
“Things do not change; we change.”
Henry David Thoreau
In the raw food world, Victoria Boutenko says that we should go cold turkey to change our diet. And David Wolfe likes to encourage raw food progress by suggesting that we do it “little by little”; and that we should focus on adding raw food into our diets and not to be concerned with giving foods up. Who is to say which way is best?
We need to take into consideration that change is seldom a linear process, most of the time it is cyclical, spiral, and circular. If you are a “normal” human being, you will most likely take two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes you may take two steps back and one step forward. That is the way we learn and grow. There is no sense in fighting it, but it does help a lot if you are aware that relapse and setbacks are common and that you expect your journey to health to be a spiral one.
We become who we want to be by working, consciously or unconsciously, on life problems and finding their solutions. Change happens through a series of stages. The reason that understanding the stages of change is important is that each stage requires a different tool, demands a different approach. Each stage of change has its own process of change, as we will see shortly.
The six clearly-defined stages of change are: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination. We will be discussing each stage and its corresponding process shortly. Some of the processes that match certain stages of change are: consciousness-raising, social liberation, emotional arousal, self-reevaluation, commitment, countering, and environmental control. What I want to stress now is that by understanding each stage, by determining where we are (or where someone whom we want to help make changes is), we can match the appropriate efforts and processes to work through that stage to the next one and eventually reach our goal of healthful eating.
The experiences at each stage are predictable for all people. Each stage has its own task to be completed before moving on to the next. Warning! It is possible to get stuck in one stage. However, if we understand the stages and processes useful in each one, we will move through more quickly and easily. You will experience less guilt, shame, anxiety, and pain.
The precontemplation stage is characterized by denial. There is no problem as far as one who is in precontemplation is concerned. The food they eat, what it does to them, the environment, the suffering caused, is not even on their radar screens. Total oblivion. A person in the precontemplation stage will deny having a problem, even if it is brought into their awareness. If they do not totally deny the problem they will at least minimize it. “I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and have only chicken and fish for protein. What more can I do?”
When I was told that my cholesterol was 242, I first wondered how that could be. My doctor said that if I couldn’t get it down by eating better I’d have to take medication. I said I already am eating better. (This was before I started eating raw.) Then I went online to satisfy myself that 242 wasn’t all that bad after all and it was just the drug companies trying to sell more drugs. It wasn’t until my blood pressure became hypertensive that I finally admitted to myself that I had a problem.
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”
Besides resistance, precontemplators are often demoralized. Since there is no possibility for change, they feel hopeless. “How can one live on just raw food? Where will I get my protein? What is the use in living without the enjoyment of a good steak, or lobster, or hamburger?”
Most people, when approached with the proposition that a raw food diet would be good for them, and the planet as well, will be in this stage. (You, the reader, are most likely not. If you are reading this book you and have gotten this far, you are at least at the contemplation stage.) What to do?
There are two processes of change that work for helping the person in the precontemplation stage—consciousness-raising and social liberation. (Yikes, what the heck is social liberation?) The goal of consciousness-raising is to increase information about the self and the problem. The goal of social liberation is to increase social alternatives to the old ways of living and eating.
You have discovered the joy of raw food and the health that comes with it. You want to share this with friends and family. Heck, you want to save the planet. Why not? So, how do you do this? First, assume that everyone you meet is a precontemplator—at least as far as raw food goes.
In psychology we talk about making the unconscious conscious. Mental health is all about this and increasing awareness. (It is no coincidence that meditation practices and spiritual development also center around consciousness-raising. I strongly believe that our eating habits affect our spirituality.) When we increase the level of awareness, we are bringing new information to ourselves and others, increasing the possibility of making better choices regarding what needs to be changed.
"Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up."
— James Belasco and Ralph Stayer, Flight of the Buffalo
In short, in this stage we are increasing knowledge about nutrition, the differences between cooked food and raw food, the health benefits, the joy of eating raw food (and all the available options); we become informed or we inform others. This is the goal.
The first step in change at this level is to bring into awareness the defenses of precontemplation—denial, minimization, rationalization, projection, and internalization. The second step is to simply provide information about what happens when we eat the Standard American Diet and what happens when we begin eating more and more raw food.
That being said, it is essential not to rush anyone, including yourself, toward action. The research on successful change makes it clear that change must proceed through the stages. A raised consciousness about raw food does not mean we are ready to change. It means we may be ready to think about change. So let’s be patient with ourselves.
Part of sharing the newfound joys of raw food involves sharing the alternatives that are available. The idea of just eating raw food sounds so utterly boring. I remember meeting my first raw food person while I was away at a colloquium beginning my Ph. D. studies. I thought, “What in the world is there for him to possibly eat?” Eating raw was the last thing that I wanted to do.
However, several years later, along comes my daughter Gina. She was the first person to tell me about the benefits (consciousness-raising) of raw food and the first person to invite me to a raw potluck dinner party (social liberation). Gina made me a number of tasty raw food treats. At the potluck dinner I was able to experience and enjoy foods that were totally satisfying and were every bit as tasty as the old cooked foods I was so used to eating.
Besides the excellent food at these raw dinners, I enjoyed talking to other people about their experiences. Being part of a small community like this also makes starting out on the raw journey seem not so crazy. Talking to my daughter nearly every day about some aspect of being raw helps to keep me motivated.
We reach the contemplation stage when we realize that we have a problem. In some way we become aware that maybe the food we are eating is not all that healthy. The evidence is too strong to deny, or minimize, or rationalize away. We may have a health crisis. Or, we might see something positive that awakens us. For me, seeing my daughter and son-in-law after they had been on a raw diet for one month, made me stop and think—they were literally glowing! (Even today, the sight of my daughter looking so healthy and beautiful makes me smile and thank God for the raw food movement.)
Openness is the essence of contemplation. We become curious. However, while we may want to change, there remains resistance and ambivalence—fear of the unknown. There is a sense of wishing we could change, but not quite enough motivation to change. Sometimes we try to change prematurely, and that can lead to failure and guilt.
The key to contemplation is that the contemplator begins to acknowledge that there is a problem. Faced with the facts of my high blood pressure, I had to admit that something was not right. It is in the admitting process that the emotions kick in, and that is the necessary requirement to begin work in this stage. This leads us to the next process of change—emotional arousal.
Emotional arousal is the impetus to push along the change process. It is the motivating force, the fuel that gets us ready to prepare and then take action. For many people, coming face to face with a health crisis jump-starts our interest in raw food. Nothing gets you emotionally aroused liked pain, the fear of death, or even just looking fat. The loss of youthful energy can inspire people to consider making changes in their lives.
Fear is not often a good motivator—it is easily dismissed by our defenses—so I do not recommend focusing on that. Instead, become involved emotionally with the positive side of changing your diet. The thought of losing weight, fitting into better looking clothes and, having more energy can be inspiring. I like to think about not supporting the meat and dairy industries, reducing the suffering of animals, polluting the planet less. The feel of my clothes and a slimmer body motivate me still.
In a sense, emotional arousal is consciousness-raising but on a deeper, more personal level. At this stage it might be good to watch movies and documentaries about the effects of an animal-based diet or the benefits of eating raw food. Even better, go to a raw food festival. Emotional arousal comes with whatever motivates you. Consciousness-raising will only take you so far; if you remain at the intellectual level you will never take action. Learn how to become motivated.
Self-reevaluation also involves the emotions and deep personal feelings. It involves an honest look at the life you are living and determining if how you are living corresponds to your personal values. Self-reevaluation is a time for asking tough questions. Do I really want to contribute to the suffering of animals? Is that the kind of person I am? Do I really want to contribute to the unnecessary waste of natural resources and the harming of this planet? Is eating so much cooked food worth an early death, or a life with barely enough energy to get by?
“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
--W. Edwards Deming
If we are in the contemplative stage we will use this time to consider the pros and cons of making the change. What is the cost of change? Some of the cons of increasing the consumption of raw food are: having to learn new ways of preparing meals, dealing with temptations at restaurants, not eating all of the foods we have grown up loving and, having to think about and plan meals in advance.
What, then, are the benefits and rewards of change? Some of the pros are: having more energy, a better physical appearance, clearer thinking, less pain from disease or worry about getting an illness. These are all ideas that arise in the contemplative stage of change. Considering these tough questions will prepare one for the time of action that is coming.
But more than looking at the pros and cons, we take stock of ourselves and honestly examine who we are and if we living in accordance with our values. This need not involve beating ourselves up for what we have been doing. Instead, we can look at the future and how we can make our lives better. We think about the consequences of eating differently.