In September, I was given the task by my Ayurvedic practitioner to avoid cold, raw foods in my diet until spring. That meant no more giant green smoothies bowls for breakfast (gasp!). As a former raw food chef, I would have protested this request and refused the notion that the very thing I believed to be most nourishing could actually be creating imbalance in my body!
I first began my raw food journey the summer before I turned 17. I was on a quest to heal the painful digestive issues I had been struggling with for years and couldn’t seem to solve. It started in middle school, where each night I had to sleep sitting propped up because my acid reflux was so bad I would throw up in my sleep if lying down. I took prescription antacids daily and lost my appetite entirely. Then by high school, it had evolved into IBS-C where I would sometimes go weeks without having a bowel movement. I was ravenously hungry, but bloated and in pain from all the pressure on my abdomen. I was downright miserable, crying all the time, and the worst part was I felt completely helpless and no one seemed to have any answers. I had upper GI’s and lower GI’s – the doctors found nothing. I took herbal supplements and drank laxative tea, finding only inconsistent relief.
Admittedly, I didn’t have a stellar childhood diet. I grew up on Hamburger Helper, Lunchables and whatever strange packaged snacks they sold to you at your school snack bar (ie. otter pops, animal cookies, frito lays… you know, the things you shudder at the thought of now). But my parents were busy pilots and didn’t know any better at the time, I don’t blame them. By 16, my parent’s professions had evolved and my mom had opened a sustainable seafood restaurant where we moved to in Alaska. I worked in the kitchen and learned to cook more, starting to understand the concept of eating local from the early farm-to-table movement that Slow Food was starting. That summer, I came across Juliano’s Raw “uncook” book, filled with bright farmer’s market produce and plenty of pictures of him frolicking in the ocean in skimpy shorts (you know what I mean if you’d seen the book!). The book boasted that eating raw was the answer to health. I was intrigued and decided to spend the rest of the summer seeing how I would feel on a raw food diet. I was engrossed in the process of sprouting, learning juicing combinations and how to make mock-everything, like tuna from sunflower seeds. Over time, my parents bought me a juicer and dehydrator. I became the girl with the “weird lunches” at school, but I didn’t care. I loved the experiment and the promise that I would someday feel better. And I did, as I eliminated inflammatory ingredients and introduced probiotic and enzyme-rich foods into my diet my digestion started to improve. I had more energy and felt generally better.
In college, I traveled more and when abroad always assumed cultural respect and authentic experience over being strictly raw vegan, but when home I’d always returned back to the principles of the raw lifestyle I’d learned. Being raw and conducting regular cleanses heightened my senses and fine-tuned my awareness of how food and how it affected my body, mind and emotions. It gave me a new foundation of self-knowledge to operate from.
But as I went deeper in my journey, I started to realize that perhaps raw all the time wasn’t right for me. When I moved to Oklahoma to work at the Matthew Kenney raw culinary academy and restaurant, I suffered through some cold winters slurping down icy superfood smoothies and gnawing on my raw kale and cashew cheese salads. Working full time in the gourmet raw world, where your days are spent grazing on one cashew-based food to the next, I started to lose touch with the very reason I turned to raw – healing. Sexy raw food didn’t seem so sexy anymore when you were bloated, cold and tired all the time. What was going on? I shunned the idea of cooked food, because at that point, I was sipping so hard on the kool-aid that I believed anything raw was better than dull cooked food that had lost it’s life-force and live enzyme content. How crazy is that?!
I found myself back to square one again, swinging between acid reflux and chronic constipation as I walked the tight-rope trying to balance a stressful job and diet/lifestyle that were creating imbalance in my body, mind and emotions. Even though I had already begun to study Ayurveda when living in India, I just wasn’t getting it in practice yet. Sure, I knew I had a predominantly vata dosha, and like increases like. But I was still clinging to the theory of raw foods and chasing the belief that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and a chalice to drink from the fountain of youth waiting for me, if I could just perfect an all raw all the time diet. I was living in maya, (illusion) with a thick layer of avidya (false perception) clouding my mind.
It was a bowl of soup that lifted that veil. That’s right, a nurturing filled-with-love-and-local-ingredients soup made by my boyfriend at the time. I was reluctant at first, since I was full from the weeks of food I still hadn’t digested, so I started with a small bowl. Then went back for a little more and a little more, until three giant bowls later I was satisfied. And the most amazing part? I felt amazing! I felt better after I had eaten then before, a rare feeling and new experience for me. It was one of those giant light bulbs going off above your head moments, that big “AH-HAH!” where it all made sense to me. I had been fighting nature itself trying to be as close to natural as I could be, ignoring the vital energy of the seasons and the rhythms of the earth to follow a to dogmatically follow a practice that was no longer serving me. I had been ignoring my own inner wisdom, my vidya, on what my body needed to find healing through balance.
I came back to Ayurveda, understanding how its basic principles were founded in alignment with nature, seeking to balance the body with the elements. I now enjoy my favorite raw food recipes and smoothies in Spring and Summer, when the lighter, cooling energy of raw foods balances the fire elements of the hotter months. In fall and winter, I’ve moved towards warming, soupy cooked foods to bring balance to light, dry and cold elements present. I found that naturally, my digestion began to function better as I began to address the vata imbalance in my body and mind. I began to notice how the intention and energy you put in your food is just as important as the ingredients themselves. I still incorporate raw ingredients alongside cooked sometimes, because there is a certain prana (lifeforce) that comes with living foods. I add fresh greens to my kitchari, sprouts to my yogi bowls, and even juices as long as they’re strained to avoid the pulp and a little warming digestive aid added to them.
There’s much more to this journey to share, but for now, I’ll leave with you a new winter breakfast that emulates this beautiful balance of cooked and raw for the winter months…
MAPLE MACA AMARANTH PORRIDGE
1 cup dry amaranth
3 cups water
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp ghee or coconut oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp maca powder
Splash of goats milk kefir, coconut kefir or almond milk
Handful of pomegranate seeds or fresh berries
Sprinkle of hemp seeds
Bring the water to a boil in a small pot or saucepan. Add the amaranth and bring let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Stir in the oil, cinnamon, and maca and cook another 5 minutes, or until the amaranth has reached a thicker porridge consistency. To serve, pour a splash of kefir or milk of your choice onto the porridge and top with a handful of pomegranate seeds or fresh berries.
ROSEMARY RED JUICE
1 small red beet
1/2 inch fresh ginger
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Cut the pomegranate in quarters, use a citrus press to squeeze the juice of the pomegranate out by hand. If you do not have a citrus press, remove the seeds from the whole pomegranate and use fine mesh strainer and a spoon to press the juice out of the seeds – a bit laborious but totally worth the effort! Pour the pomegranate juice into a glass. Next, process the apple, beet, ginger and rosemary through your juicer. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into your glass for a smooth, rich juice experience. Enjoy immediately or store in your fridge in an airtight glass container for up to 24 hours.
Do you struggle with digestive issues? I offer one-on-one coaching programs where you’ll learn physical, emotional and spiritual tools to create a healing diet and lifestyle. Over the course of 6 weeks, 12 weeks or 6 months we work closely to identify the emotional root of your digestive disorders and integrate practices that help you find loving balance in your health. Each package includes weekly or bi-weekly meetings either in person or by phone/skype, your own personalized wellness plan, seasonal recipe books, helpful planners and worksheets, guided meditations and breath work practices, product giveaways, and loving support and guidance to reach your health goals. I’d love to visit with you more about working one-on-one, email me firstname.lastname@example.org for your free consultation.