There is an fascinating dietary experiment currently taking place in public view: Steve Pavlina, author of the leading personal development website bearing his name, has committed to eating a high-fruit raw-food diet for the entire month of January, and is recording his experiment in minute detail through daily posts and photographs.
Steve has committed to 30 days of eating a diet based on virtually nothing beyond uncooked fruits and vegetables, excluding dried fruits, spices, oils, and sauces. (The other type of raw-food diet revolves around nuts and seeds.) His intention is not to lose weight, but to eat a calorically adequate diet fulfilling these Spartan criteria. Having witnessed many such experiments during my studies of naturopathic medicine, when I was privy to classmates’ reports on their latest dietary experiment or cleanse, I find Steve’s diet impressive for its combination of strictness and length.
What can we learn from this experiment (without trying it at home)?
Steve’s best-known lifestyle experiment is his past foray into polyphasic sleep. If sleeping in short bursts round-the-clock rather than at night is not your cup of tea, then I’d suggest that raw-food dieting might not be, either. So I am sharing with you his latest experiment not in order for you to try his diet at home, but because of two things that we can learn from it:
1. The best way to know the effect of a dietary change is to experience it
Steve’s experimental approach to dieting is an extension of his trial-and-error method of personal development. This method especially applicable given the huge variety of diets in existence.
Adopting Steve’s 30-day trial method of new habit formation allows for the freedom to abandon a lifestyle change without a sense of failure or guilt, and therefore the courage to take on bold lifestyle experiments.
2. It is possible to eat complete meals consisting entirely of fruits and vegetables
In my work with patients I primarily address spiritual rather than material imbalances through the use of homeopathy. Nevertheless, I often provide basic dietary suggestions to patients if I feel that their especially poor diet might impede progress at the spiritual level, or when they enquire about the matter. One of the most frequent recommendations I give, not surprisingly, is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Among the most common reservations I hear from patients is that they remain hungry after eating this way.
While it is true that fruits and vegetables do not pack the same caloric punch as a steak, what has most impressed me thus far is Steve’s ability to eat fruit-based meals consisting of 500, 600, or even 700 calories, with no short-term ill effects or hunger. Admittedly, Steve has been a committed vegan for several years and is accustomed to a diet free of calorie-dense animal products. But perhaps the only sacrifice required for the rest of us to start receiving the many benefits of increased fruit and vegetable intake is to accept the need to chew through large quantities of food.
In other words, even if this diet is inappropriate for most of us (and we have yet to see whether Steve will continue eating this way past his 30-day trial period), this experiment demonstrates that it is possible substantially to increase one’s fruit and vegetable intake simply by incorporating raw-food meals into any ordinary diet.
What about the sugar?
A frequent concern raised about eating large amounts of fruit is the high sugar content. This reasonable concern is not shared by Steve, who is reporting prolonged satiety after his meals. I’d therefore recommend to experiment — why not have an all-fruit breakfast for the next few days, followed by a mid-morning snack as soon as hunger returns? — to determine whether eating this way causes, in your individual situation, a premature dip in energy or hunger within less than two hours following the meal.
High sugar intake, even when from healthy fruit sources, puts a stress on the endocrine (hormonal) system, which is charged with the task of maintaining constant blood-sugar levels under variable dietary intake; but the health benefits of such foods strengthen this very system, making the it more resilient and responsive to stresses of all kind. Therefore my hunch is that while high-fruit meals potentially could cause problems with sugar balance, the health benefits they provide, especially when combined with regular exercise and adequate sleep, might outweigh any such problems. A healthy body should be able to handle high sugar intake (so long as it is strictly from fruit sources) with no ill effects, just as an athlete handles unusual physical demands that could damage an untrained body.
If you decide to try this at home:
For those of you inspired to try out elements of the high-fruit raw-food diet, please remember that fruits should be eaten away from fats and proteins, either on their own or along with vegetables, and that any radical departures from your present diet should be discussed with a health professional who is familiar with your medical situation.
I will mention also that Steve is an ideologically committed vegan (no milk or egg products!) who persuasively argues that we should all eat an animal product-free diet. I would counsel against adopting such a diet uncritically, as it may be inappropriate for some individuals’ physiology or impractical under real-life conditions. My personal view is that, granting that most people eat a suboptimal diet, there is a range of optimal diets that are appropriate for different people depending on their constitutional, cultural, and behavioral traits. For example, according to the principles of Chinese medicine a raw diet is inappropriate for the winter season, during which warm rather than cold foods should primarily be consumed.
I would therefore encourage you to educate yourselves and experiment before making significant permanent dietary changes. Another of Steve’s articles on raw food addresses some of these issues, and there has been lively discussion at the site’s forums, especially here.
Further information on the vegan diet is available through VegFamily, a site founded by Steve’s wife. Further raw-food inspiration is available through a Google search on raw food recipes.