As an American, it can be hard to distinguish between what is a temporary health fad and what could potentially be a lifelong health transformation.
I could sense I was not going down the right path when it came to my lifestyle, specifically, I was worried about my diet and the impact my environment had on me.
I have a very typical life when looking at the spectrum for 26-year-old Americans. I am a graduate student. I wake up at six. I make a pot of coffee for my whole family myself.
I drink two cups of coffee with a “natural” oat bar that oddly also has 15 grams of sugar. I get in my car; drive 15 minutes to the university. Drink more coffee. Go to class. More coffee. Write. Coffee. Sandwich. Coffee. Car. House. Netflix. Sleep. Repeat.
I felt there needed to be a shift in my life. It was a combination of emptiness, anxiety, and dread of the repetitive and unfulfilling nature my life was heading towards. The food I ate affected my thoughts and emotions, and I knew this. The place I lived and the schedule I had enabled this behavior and lifestyle, and I knew this as well.
My friend told me about a website where people can choose a country they’re interested in living, and then scout various opportunities to do short term work, and all of this while being fed and housed for free in exchange for working five hours a day.
I was nearing the end of my second graduate semester, right before summer, and decided- if not now then when? So I signed up on the website and immediately received a message from a lovely couple living in southwest Germany. They asked me if I was interested in living in an Ashram in the Black Forest.
I Google searched: What is an Ashram?
I eventually said yes, and made my way to the Ashram at the end of May. I could not believe the Snow White storybook I had just walked into. This Ashram is located in Sasbachwalden, Germany, which if you have not already Googled by now I highly recommend you do. The serenity and peacefulness of this village was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
The nearest town of a few thousand people was a two-hour walk away. It was exactly what I needed- a break from comfortable, toxic repetition.
I worked about five hours a day helping in the kitchen, taking care of the couple’s two lovely kids, and cleaning around the house.
In exchange, I spent my days sitting on the patio and looking over the forest in the summertime. The air smelt clean. I didn’t know clean had a smell until then. I would sit outside and read, and reflect on what an incredible experience and opportunity I had been handed.
However, it was not all sunshine and daisies. My first week at the Ashram, was also my first week as a raw vegan. I had not fully grasped what this meant. I didn’t even bother looking it up to see what I could and could not eat. I just shrugged and thought, it’s for a few weeks anyway let’s give it a go.
I spent the first few days with a headache and was slightly nauseous as my body began to detox. All the sugar, all the caffeine, and all of the artificial things I had been consuming for months and months were finally coming out of me, and comparable to a soft-core exorcism.
My seasonal allergies were so bad when I arrived, that I was sleeping with a wet rag over my eyes to avoid plucking them out in my sleep. I had to remind myself to get up slowly from my chair or from my bed, otherwise I would black out for a couple minutes.
The first week was intense, but I could not help but feel so sad for my body. I had mistreated it for years. Putting cheap, low-grade fuel in, and expecting it to run like a Lamborghini. I was seeing the affects of my decisions clearly now.
As I started my raw vegan diet, I had to do my own research of what this diet actually entailed. The raw vegan diet means only consuming foods that are not of animal origin or cooked.
My breakfasts and desserts usually consisted of pureed hemp seeds, cashews, dates and bananas. All of the vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc., were organic and locally sourced. Items such as cacao or hazelnuts were imported directly from Peru and Turkey.
Our lunches consisted of organic carrots, lettuce, greens from our garden, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and home made salad dressings using cashews or avocados. I was eating Grade A food and watching my body immediately respond to it.
Firstly. I saw the physical effects. After a few days had passed, my headaches stopped, my allergies were virtually non-existent, my skin was glowing- actually glowing, I was losing excess weight, and my bowel movements were arguably better timed than the Tokyo subway.
Secondly, I felt a shift internally. The best way I can explain this shift, is that my mind use to feel more foggy and cluttered. I would lose track of thoughts easily, get irritated quickly, and felt unable to concentrate at times, particularly the end of the day.
Physically, my body use to feel like a messy room where you’d shrug and think, I’ll just clean it up later? But now it felt so at ease. My anxiety had dissolved after being forced to cut off its essential supply of caffeine and sugar. I felt physically and emotionally lighter.
Two to three weeks later, my body had fully adapted to the raw vegan diet. I no longer suffered any side effects, and oddly enough, I did not miss anything about my old diet.
Anything is probably an exaggeration; I would say I did not miss about 90% of my old diet. I missed things like chocolate quite a bit, but as soon as I had a raw vegan substitute, such as dates, the craving would subside. There are even raw vegan chocolate truffles.
I left the Ashram six weeks later, and my body felt healed and I intended to keep treating it with the respect it deserved. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to keep the same simple lifestyle when you return to the real world.
As it stands now, I allow myself to consume 20% non-vegan food in social settings, or if I’m just craving it to be honest. However, I maintain a solid 80% vegan lifestyle. My previous issues with anxiety and irritability are virtually non-existent, and I have also managed to keep a few pounds off as a bonus.
I believe it is experiences like these that open our eyes and allow us to step back and properly see how much harm we do to ourselves on a daily basis.
It is difficult to see the long-term damage to our mental and physical health when we are essentially just slowly chipping away at ourselves on a daily basis. I met men and women who swore up and down that they had averted a fate of chronic illness and cancer through extreme dietary change.
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