When I first switched to a raw diet six years ago, it was out of desperation. My immune system was so weak, pneumonia was an annual occurrence. My bones were leaching calcium. Although I was a faithful Ashtangi, I was constantly sore, and any improvement in my practice cost me days of extra extra soreness, and I just couldn’t keep on muscle. My doctor was baffled. After informing me that I had early signs of osteoporosis, she suggested I try a raw diet. Why not? I thought. Nothing else had worked.
It worked. My energy increased. I spent my very first winter ever without getting sick. Retests six months into the diet revealed I had stopped losing bone mass. My good cholesterol soared above normal. My low blood pressure had normalized. Anemia was gone. And I’d gained muscle mass and lost fat.
Then, when Steve decided to go partially raw, the whole system got taken up a notch, since we could do raw for two. Fruit really dropped off the radar. Steve saw great results as well, but he wasn’t satisfied. He decided we should stop eating grains, either raw or cooked—wheat in particular.
Things have been going swimmingly since, right up to about three months ago, when I started practicing the complete Second Series. I started feeling a bit…peckish. Especially after practice. Sometimes I would wake up hungry in the middle of the night. I was gaining strength and endurance very, very quickly. And I felt like I couldn’t eat enough.
On a raw diet, “more” can be difficult to maintain, since quantities are high to begin with: Our refrigerator would be stocked with Costco-sized bags of spinach and broccoli. The VitaMix was working like the workhorse it is. Still, I felt peckish.
You might be thinking “duh” right about now. But try to remember I don’t have any experience with this sort of thing. I’m nearly 48. How is it possible that I’d be getting stronger?
The mystery was solved in one almost tossed off comment by Tim Miller during his last teacher training. Someone asked him about diet (which someone inevitably does). He said when he started Ashtanga, like the rest of us he became immediately aware of what he was eating. He tried a “no mucus” diet, which involved increased intake of vegetables, no grains, no dairy, etc. But when he started a more advanced practice, he started to feel like that wasn’t enough. So he asked around, and started a “strengthening” diet. Nothing extreme, he said, but First Series is about purifying and cleansing. Second is about strength.
I thought immediately of Nancy Gilgoff, and the week-long adjustment workshop I’d had with her months before. The workshop was at Jodi Blumstein’s shala, which is also Jodi’s house. Every day, after practice and during our breaks, Nancy would go into the kitchen an have eggs in ghee.
So I started asking my fellow practitioners, who had way more experience in Second Series than I do, “What do you eat?”
“I have to eat meat, but it’s mostly fish.” “Lots of kicheree. I follow an aruvedic diet.” “I’m raw, but I eat raw dairy and meat.” “No starches, no grains, no dairy.” “Pretty much a normal diet, but no red meat.” “Lots of meat, all kinds.”
Tim described the diet as “strengthening,” but I learned that means something different to everyone.
The answers were all different, but everyone I asked could go into great detail about their diet choices and how they got there. The lesson I took away from this was a little painful. In becoming more aware in our practice, we become diet dilettantes—mini-experts in our own food intake. As you may be aware, this can make for some tedious conversations. You might even be thinking that it can make for some tedious blog posts. I know I am.
So, what does this mean for my own diet, and the food I share with Steve at home? I still believe that modern hybrid wheat is a very bad thing, and alternatives (“gluten free” processed products) are just as bad. Relatedly, processed foods (even “raw” ones) are bad. I still believe in mega quantities of things with color that come out of the ground, and I’m lucky to be able to afford them. But, I’m going to once again tune in to my body when I walk through the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. Goat milk kefir? Why not. Chick pea curry? Sure. But the VitaMix is still working overtime.
Posted by Bobbie