Alisa/ ON THE ROAD TO RAW
Diets, Donuts and Rheumatoid Arthritis
I wish I could say that my introduction to raw foods came as a result of a party and a dream; however, unlike Marie’s introduction, mine came as a result of being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I know, I know, Marie’s beginning was intriguing, exciting and fun; whereas, mine was shocking, scary and uncertain. Literally, my body forced and propelled me into the raw food world. I can only say now, 9 years later, that it was the best thing my body ever did for me and it changed my life forever just as it has now changed Marie’s. So, although, as you read on, you will see that our initial stories vary greatly, what is most important and powerful is that where we’ve ended up is in the same magnificent place and we both agree that it is a dream and we have made it come true together.
Back in 2002, while I was practicing law, my diet consisted of 2 thirds white processed sugar (M & M’s, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Milky Way Bars, Kit Kats and Snickers Bars) and 1 third meat, potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, cheese, pizza and French fries. I am of Italian decent, so pasta, pizza and bread were a mainstay in my diet.
I grew up on Long Island in New York in the suburbs with my two wonderful sisters, a fabulous brother and two of the most magnificent parents anyone could ever ask for. Don’t get me wrong, my childhood definitely had its moments as does anyone’s in any given family and you will learn more about that in a future blog because all of our experiences throughout our entire lives contribute to the creation of our habits including, but not limited to, eating, sleeping, exercising, spirituality, thoughts, etc. For now, let’s stay focused on food. In our house, I thought we ate a “normal” diet. Only later did I find out it was what we now call the Standard American Diet or more accurately termed the SAD diet. I was blessed and lucky to have a mother who was a magnificent cook. She prepared breakfast, dinner, school lunches and afterschool snack every day for us. For breakfast we ate such foods as pancakes, waffles, French toast, cereal, eggs, toast, bagels, English muffins, ham, bacon, sausage, an assortment of cheeses and spreads. Lunches consisted of cold cut sandwiches on nothing but the infamous Wonder Bread (Here is a little secret that I will share with you. When I was young, I used to sneak into the bread drawer and take ½ of the loaf of Wonder Bread. I would hide in my room, remove all of the crust and roll the dough into a huge ball and eat it…yes, I did that at least once a week. My mother could never understand where all the bread went). Sometimes I voluntarily ate cafeteria food and we all know how nutritious they were. Afterschool snacks consisted of yodels, ring dings, devil dogs, cupcakes, Duncan Heinz cakes with icing, Entemann’s cakes and donuts and more. I developed and today continue to have a huge sweet tooth. Dinners consisted of meat, potatoes, and a veggie. Occasionally we ate out. Growing up we loved to eat at McDonalds, Burger King, Chicken Delight, Wendy’s, Carvel (ice cream shop), Dairy Queen, Steakhouses, Seafood Restaurants, Pizza joints and Chinese takeout.
As any “normal” child I suffered from “normal” childhood illnesses: regular colds, viruses, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other common diseases like the chicken pox and mumps, even though I had every vaccine known to man.
Right now, I must interject a side note that, all by itself, really means nothing but, by the time you get to the end of this story, you will understand its irony and significance in my life today. Growing up, my mom tried to get all of us to play a role in preparing our meals. I had no interest and did not enjoy cooking food. Everyone else didn’t seem to have a problem with it. I just did not like the kitchen. The one part of a meal, however, that I was drawn to prepare was the salad and salad dressing. I loved, absolutely loved, to prepare and eat salads. I used to love eating at Wendy’s salad bar. Over time, I was called the “Salad Queen”. It became a standing joke in my immediate and extended family. I became famous for my salads. I even created a dressing that everyone agreed no other dressing could match. We’ll get back to this note later and you will understand its irony.
Once again, unlike Marie, I was not well endowed and was only 5’ 5” and weighed in at 128lbs. I was average height and weight. I was not beautiful by any means. I was described as maybe pretty but usually just attractive. Interestingly, up to and through high school, even though I ate like a pig, I did not have to watch what I ate. I ate everything and anything I wanted and stayed at that weight. I was never considered thin or skinny but, on the other hand, I was never considered overweight or fat. But that all changed when I got to college. I gained the typical “freshman” 10 - 30lbs. Looking back, even though I was eating the SAD diet, the weight gain was probably due to the fact that there were no more home cooked meals mixed in with sweets, but rather, lots and lots of junk food and more and more sweets. As soon as I gained the weight, my quest to lose weight began for the first time in my life. I knew being overweight wasn’t healthy, but that was not what motivated me to get thin. What motivated me was that I wanted to look my best and, at that time, being thin was what I thought was best. All of my friends were thin. All of the women in the magazines that I loved to read were thin. Thin women appeared to get the men they wanted and men seemed to want thin women. From that point on I was always dieting because my weight never remained the same.
Although I was a cheerleader one year in high school and jumped into the aerobics craze popular at that time, I didn’t really get obsessed with exercising until after I graduated college. At that point I went wild trying and doing everything and anything that was advertised to help you lose and control your weight. I did aerobics, running. step aerobics, jazzercise, biking, weightlifting, power walking, etc. They all seemed to help somewhat but without starving myself and dieting on and off, they didn’t seem to work by themselves. I took diet pills. I skipped two meals a day and ate whatever I wanted on the third meal. I tried every new diet book that came onto the market. I tried vegetarianism and veganism but never stayed with them long enough to see if they worked. During all of this however, I never, never, never gave up my sweets, particularly anything chocolate. I would rather give up 3 square meals just so I could keep my weight down if it meant I could eat an entire box of chocolate donuts. I even took up smoking cigarettes in college so I could keep my weight at bay. Yes, cigarettes cut your appetite. Whenever I tried to quit, I would gain 10lbs or more. As soon as I couldn’t fit into my “skinny” jeans, I would start smoking again.
Have you noticed that not once thus far have I talked about my health??? Up to this point I was obsessed with food and exercise but not for health reasons, per se, but rather, for weight control. From the time I graduated high school up until I discovered I had Rheumatoid Arthritis I continued to get sick just like I did throughout my childhood. I thought that was “normal”. Everyone around me was experiencing the same thing so I never questioned it. It never dawned on me that my illnesses could have been related to what foods I ate. No diet book ever discussed or linked health and food, only weight loss and food.
I kept up this eating, dieting, and exercise routine throughout college, law school and into practicing my law career. It wasn’t until my body decided to rebel that I was forced to look at what I was eating and that it may be having a direct effect on my health. Up to then, I never ever thought that was a possibility and I considered myself an “educated” person; a crazy thin obsessed educated person.
So, finally, we get to the question of the hour, the question you are probably asking yourself: how and why did I go from law to raw? One day, while I was at work sitting at my computer working on a deposition, I noticed that my wrists were feeling stiff and slightly painful. At that time, I chalked it up to too much typing and perhaps was developing carpel tunnel syndrome. I was practicing workers compensation law at the time and saw ions of carpel tunnel cases so I was very familiar with the symptoms. I shook it off and didn’t think much of it and continued to work.
As the weeks began to pass not only did I have stiffness and pain in my wrists but now I felt it in my fingers (they were swelling like balloons including my knuckles. I couldn’t even see the delineation between them any longer); then it moved to my elbows, then my neck and finally into my knees. Within six months from first noticing my wrist pain I was in severe pain and had severe inflammation in my fingers, wrist, elbow, neck and knees. Upon arising, when I tried to brush my teeth, I couldn’t even hold my toothbrush without being in excruciating pain. I couldn’t move my neck to either side. I couldn’t straighten my elbows and I could no longer do a squat with my knees. I was in trouble.
I was now scared out of my mind. I knew there was something more serious happening. I had to find out what it was but, at the same time, I was petrified to find out what it was.
Now you have to understand that, except for when I was a child, I refused to go to a doctor b/c although, back in the day, I didn’t know much about what we now term alternative health, holistic health, integrative health, intuitively, I knew that conventional medicine fell short of finding healthy ways to treat illness. Taking pharmaceutical drugs never sat well with me, but as a child one had no choice. That is not to say they do not still serve a purpose today; they do in certain circumstances. They are a last resort for me. It is my belief, that each individual must decide what is best for his/her body.
So, first, I went to a conventional doctor to get “diagnosed”. I wanted to know what I was dealing with. He told me that I might have arthritis. I was shocked. It made no sense to me. I was too young; that became my mantra. Then I went to a center that specialized in arthritis. They examined and tested me and they confirmed that I had rheumatoid arthritis. Immediately, they wanted to put me into an experimental program that was testing new immunosuppressant drugs. They were chemotherapy type drugs. Again, I was scared and shocked.
Entering such a program wasn’t even something I had to think about. It wasn’t even an option for me. I would exhaust every other healing possibility before doing something so severe to my body. I didn’t know what I was going to do or what might work but I was going to try everything I could to heal naturally.
I went to a chiropractor. I saw an acupuncturist. I had therapeutic massages. Although I felt some relief after a treatment, it was only temporary and, well, none of these healing modalities could abate the swelling or the pain for any great length of time. Nothing was working and the pain was excruciating.
Now this is going to sound very weird but what I am about to share with you is what changed my life forever. And remember even if it wasn’t true or you don’t believe, it lead me to what eventually healed me and created my life as it is today. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you get there - it is just that you get there…right?
So, here is what happened. I had a very good friend who was a psychic, yes, a psychic. I went to him to see if he could shed some light on what was going on with me. He told me that I should call a friend of his that lived in Utah. She was a “medical intuitive”. Allegedly, a medical intuitive is someone who can tell you what is going on with your body without seeing you and without performing the typical conventional medical examination. I know it sounds crazy, insane, and impossible. I was desperate though so I wasn’t about to say “no” to anything or anyone. I wanted to get well. I don’t do “sick” and, when I am, I don’t do it well. Immediately, I scheduled an appointment. We spent at least an hour on the phone together. She knew nothing about my health, past or present. I told her nothing. My psychic friend knew nothing about my health. He just knew I was presently ill. She was able to tell me about every childhood illness I had ever had. She was able to tell me everything that had ever gone wrong with my body up to that date. She told me that I could heal myself. These words were magic to my ears. She said all I had to do was eat raw. I said “o.k.” I thought how hard could this be?? I didn’t bother asking her what that meant; I assumed it meant that all I had to do was to eat salads (which I was already the master of creating). However, being the attorney that I was, I thought I should do some research because even though I’d always loved to eat salads, I couldn’t imagine eating just salad the rest of my life. To my surprise, I found out that there were actually books on how to eat raw; that eating raw was a lifestyle; that it was an actual way to prepare food; that there were recipe books and other people eating this way and that it wasn’t just about salads. What really got to me though was that not only did the information say that raw food was delicious, but, most importantly, it said that people were being healed by eating this way and that it changed their lives mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually forever. Although I had no idea what they were talking about, I wanted some of what they had. I was on board. In addition, when I read this information, intuitively, I knew it was the truth. I knew I would be healed. Once again I was shocked, but this time in a good way. I was no longer scared, but excited beyond belief.