On a visit to California, I heard about them. Foreign and exotic and impressive, inspiring the sort of reverence due to a shaman – they were called Raw Foodies, and, for health reasons, they ate all of their food raw. They argued that cooking food eliminates good nutrients, and that it’s better for the body to eat things in their most natural state – uncooked.
Not that they were eating raw chicken or bread dough, of course. They just ate things that could be eaten raw – nuts, fruit, vegetables, spices. The idea of people denying their bodies things like pasta, meat, cheese, and pizza! My body and my mind have waged some epic battles over what I should eat. Could there actually be people disciplined enough to say no, not only to butter and grease, but even to bread and rice? The impossibility of the task was intoxicating.
Overwhelmed partly by the physical benefit but mostly by the sheer challenge of it, I decided I had to do it for a month. Certain that it would benefit my body, I wanted to discover if I had the mental capacity to deny its little whims. I set up some parameters: I would eat cooked food if I was with friends (so as not to limit time spent with community) and if that food was coffee (there are some bounds best not transgressed). Otherwise, for the last month, I was a raw foodie.
And, boy is my body a whiny, pampered, spoiled little brat. After the first week of salads, smoothies, and walnuts, my body won Panera soup by way of reward. Then, I “needed” to get a microwave dinner. I whined my willpower into Panda Express one Wednesday, just because I felt down. I even accidentally ended up on a date because I was so eager for the excuse to eat cooked food that I didn’t assess the situation.
However, when it worked, it worked. My skin was healthier, my body felt more energetic and vital. The longer I went without chocolate or cheese, the easier it got. The more creative I got with my raw food, the more exciting it became. When my mind won, I felt an overwhelming sense of strength, as though overpowering a little 5 foot 2 inch body was a masterful accomplishment.
I expected to start out strong, and weaken as I went along. Sure enough, for the first week, the novelty of it carried me through. But, the second week proved harder; it wasn’t exciting, I’d run out of creativity, and I wanted toast. However, by the third week I had started experimenting with different non-cooking recipes and enjoying the challenge of moderation – granting my body its desires with tasty, healthy raw food. Throughout the month, the more consecutive days I went without cooked food, the easier “no” became. The more I habituated my stomach to listening to my mind, the less it fought – exactly the opposite of what I expected.
I tend to think of will-power as an on/off switch, but experiences like this make me think it’s more like a muscle. It isn’t that I simply have to decide once on a course of action and hold to that action; I have to decide on that course of action over and over, every day or every meal or every minute. This leads me to wonder if it actually does me some harm to think that I can flip the self-control switch on whenever I want to. I wonder how weak those muscles become because I always assume they will be there when I need them?