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The Myth of Overeating on a Raw Food Diet

There is a myth currently being spread in the raw food movement , hurting people as it goes.

It is the myth of overeating.

The myth of overeating goes like this:

– The cause of all diseases is overeating

– Even when people eat raw, they still overeat, therefore that’s why they don’t do as great as they expected

 

– Try to eat less and less, and you will feel better. Eventually, you might even need to eat only tiny amounts of food, because your body is utilizing the calories better. Who knows, one day you might even become a breatharian, living on nothing but air?

Someone recently forwarded me a link from a popular raw food forum, where a raw-food author criticized my recent article on “Why I’m Mad at a Raw Food Movement.

The funny thing is that he didn’t want to say my name, but gave away the name of my book. Not so subtle…

In any case, the entire conversation revolved around overeating.

The author in question blamed me for promoting a diet that includes a lot of fruit, and said that under no circumstance should you eat 4 bananas in one meal, because that would be “overeating” and therefore “bad”.

Of course, nowhere in the article was “overeating” defined. So why not start there?

Here are several definitions I have found for overeating:

–    gluttony: eating to excess (personified as one of the deadly sins)

–    Overeating can refer either to eating too much at one time, or to eating too much on average.

 

–    Gluttony, the act of eating to excess (either to discomfort or more than required for proper health)

So basically, overeating is simply eating more than what the body needs to maintain proper health, or eating too much at one sitting, and therefore going over the digestive capabilities of the body.

So if everybody agrees that overeating is simply eating “too much”, then maybe we should figure out “how much” we need to eat, in order to know what’s overeating and what’s not.

Why Calories Are Important

The most important element we get from the foods we eat is energy, or calories. That comes in the form of carbohydrates, fats or protein.

Then of course our food provides us with the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that we need.

The calorie concept is still extremely valid even when we analyze raw food nutrition. Why? Because it is a fairly accurate evaluation of the amount of food a person needs to eat every day to meet her needs.

A calorie is simply a unit of energy. Because our cells need simple sugars to live, there is certainly a certain amount of energy that we need to get from our food every day. If we go under this amount, the body will break down its own fat reserves to meet its needs. If we go over this amount, the body will accumulate fat reserves for the future.

It’s best if you think of calories as simply “energy”.

The amount of energy (calories) that a person needs every day will vary greatly according to these basic factors:

–    Height, weight and muscle mass (each pound of muscles requires an additional 25 calories per day to “maintain”)
–    Gender (men will generally need more calories than women)
–    Activity levels (athletes need more calories than sedentary persons)

There are many ways to calculate how many calories you need per day. You can use simple calculators (for example, at www.fitday.com) to figure out your basic metabolic rate (the number of calories you need every day, without any physical activity).

You can even go to a gym and step on a special machine that will measure your body fat, your muscle mass, and your basic metabolic rate.

So you will get a certain number, for example: 1500 calories per day.

That will be your minimum to maintain your weight and muscle mass. Then you will need to add on top of that any physical activity you have for the day, and add in calories for that.

An easy but imprecise way to figure this out is to simply take your ideal weight, and multiply it by 10.

That’s your basic rate.

Then add to that basic activities (walking, working, etc.), and fitness training (running, yoga, etc.)

The online fitness calculators can help you figure out these numbers.

In general, a fit and active woman who doesn’t need to lose any weight will want to eat around 2000 to 2500 calories per day.

A fit man will probably want to eat anywhere from 2500 to 3500 calories per day.

If you have three meals per day, that means each meal could be between 600 and 1500 calories each.

–    One banana is 100 calories.
–    One apple about 60.
–    One large mango: about 150 calories
–    One avocado: about 250 calories (mostly coming from fat)

So if “overeating” is simply eating more than your body needs, why would it be “overeating” to eat 8 bananas at one sitting?

Is there any logical reason to think that this might be “too much”, other than the irrational fear of fruit?

8 bananas gives you about 800 calories. If a person has three 800 calorie-meals per day, they will get 2400, which is about what the average person needs.

But can you digest 8 bananas at one sitting?

Although this may seem like a lot of food for someone new to the raw diet, the body has the ability to digest a fairly large amount of fruit. It’s easy to see from how light you feel, even after a fairly large meal, and how easy it is to digest it.

So if your body needs it… and you can digest it, is it overeating? Absolutely not.

Undereating is the Real Problem

There is certainly a problem with “overeating” in the raw food movement, but it’s not what our raw-food author thinks.

The real “overeating” problem is the excess of fat, in the form of avocados, nuts, seeds, oils — which almost every raw foodist eats in rather large quantities, because they are not used to eating appropriate amounts of fruits and vegetables.

As they are overeating on these foods, which the body only needs in small quantities, they are also “undereating” on the real nutrient-rich foods: water-rich fruits and vegetables.

What tends to happen is a pattern of “undereating” on small, insufficient meals of fruits and vegetables, followed by binges on nuts, seeds and fats to compensate on the lack of calories.

For example, a lot of raw foodists eat ridiculously small quantities of food in one sitting, leaving them malnourished and hungry.

For example: a small salad containing lettuce, dressings, and a few fruits.

A few hours later, they are hungry… but they’re also afraid of overeating, so they try to eat this ridiculous small meals again. Eventually, the caloric deficit becomes so great that they binge on a 3000-calorie meal to compensate.

Stop These Anorexic Behaviors!

With a normal, cooked, Standard American Diet, high in fat and salt, it doesn’t take a lot of food to reach your maximum number of calories per day.

In other words… the food doesn’t weigh a lot, but is rich in calories.

So because of that, we’ve been accustomed to exercise a certain restrain when it comes to eating, because we know from experience that eating a large amount of food leads to digestive problems and weight gain.

That’s because the food is dense in calories. But another problem with it is that it’s also has a low nutrient density. For the same amount of calories, you get fewer vitamin, minerals and anti-oxidant.

With fruits and vegetables, it’s completely different.

The food is low in calories, but nutrient dense.

A pound of food doesn’t contain a lot of calories, but for the same amount of calories, it contains more vitamins, minerals and other nutrients than any other food!

Therefore… you have to eat more! And at the same time, you are better nourished.

For example, let me show you how you could get 2000 calories on a Standard American Diet:

BREAKFAST:

–    3 medium pancakes, whole wheat
–    1 cup of orange juice
–    1 sliced pear
–    3 Tbs. fruit jam

LUNCH:

–    1 mixed salad
–    3 Tbs. salad dressing
–    1 roll
–    4 ounces tuna fish
–    1 apple

DINNER:

–    Plate of spaghetti with sauce
–    No dessert

Now let’s take a look at the “raw” equivalent, while keeping our fat percentage fairly low.

BREAKFAST:

–    Smoothie made with 6 medium bananas, 1 apple, 3 cups of spinach

LUNCH:

–    5  big mangoes eaten with celery and lettuce leaves

DINNER:

–    Large salad with ½ avocado, three large tomatoes, and an entire head of lettuce
–    2 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice

So… what’s your reaction when you compare the amount of food in the first, pretty Spartan menu, and the second raw, low-fat menu.

It’s a lot more food! In fact, most people when they look at the first menu, will think they will starve on that amount of food. There are no desserts and no snacks, and the amounts are pretty normal.

Yet on the second menu, most people will think they cannot possibly eat all of that!

But the amazing thing is that both menus provide the same number of calories… with important differences.

Let’s take a look at the nutritional analysis for the first menu:

calories1.jpg

 

calories2.jpg

Now let’s take a look at the food from the second menu:

calories3.jpg

 

calories4.jpg

Here are some important differences:

–    The raw menu contains 4.5 times the vitamin A, twice the vitamin B, almost twice the vitamin E, 50% more copper,
–    Both contain the same amount of calcium (which is still adequate), almost the same iron
–    The cooked menu contains twice the fat
–    The cooked menu contains an amazing 4172 mg. of sodium, compared to less than 200 on the raw menu (which isn’t completely accurate because I didn’t add in the celery). The official recommendations for health are now less than 1500 Mg. per day!

Overall, it is clear that the raw diet is more nutritious, and also more balanced. Actually, I was a little lazy and didn’t put all the greens in. The actual values are even higher than what’s being shown.

And an interesting fact: the raw diet contains more than twice the natural water, even without adding any liquids. With a lower sodium content, this makes the raw diet clearly more hydrating.

BOTTOM LINE:

–    Fruits and vegetables contain more nutrition PER CALORIE. However, it is still necessary to consume enough food to meet your needs.

–    Overeating is consuming more food than your body needs or your body can digest. If you eat enough to meet your needs, you won’t be overeating.

 

–    A big problem in the raw food movement is NOT overeating, but rather UNDEREATING fruits and vegetables and overeating concentrated fats.

By the way, if that seems like too much food for you, don’t worry. You can eat more often at first.

ANSWER TO QUESTIONS:

Doesn’t eating raw foods require fewer calories?

Because fruits and vegetables are easy to digest, they do require less energy (calories) digest. However, This difference is probably less than 5%. Because raw-foodists tend to have more energy, they will easily increase their exercise and activity by at least that much, so in the end they require the same amount of calories or more than the average person.

How many meals should you eat every day?

Ideally, 2 or 3. But initially, to make it easier to consume a large volume of fruits and vegetables, you can eat 4 to 5 times. Overtime, you’ll be able to make larger meals that will last you several hours, without any digestive issues.

Why did every experiment on life extension found that restricting caloric intake was the only was to lengthen life?

All experiments on caloric restriction were done on animals such as rats, who have a short lifespan. Laboratory rats are not fed their normal foods that they found in the wild, and are not as active as well. So feeding them 30% less of the toxic, artificial food they normally received extended their lives. The same would happen if you would cut by 30% the food intake of the average American.

However, eating a natural diet of fruits and vegetables is completely different. Eating an adequate amount of it will not shorten your lifespan.

The greatest proof that caloric restriction doesn’t work is the fact that almost all life extension specialists end up living an average or below average lifespan.

Is it a sin to eat at night or before going to bed?

Ideally, you want to leave a few hours from your last meal until your bedtime. However, it is not necessary to avoid eating at night completely. To improve your digestion, exercising before meals will do a lot more than avoiding eating at nighttime.

If for whatever reason, your schedule only allows you to have a dinner rather late in the day, you’ll still be fine. Just make sure that last meal is low in fat and easy to digest.

In any case, lunch should be the largest meal of the day.

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Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.


Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.