Wednesday 20 March 2019

Time to join the celebs who live life in the raw

Emerging from a raw food retreat, a slimmer Victoria Mary Clarke finds her energy levels noticeably increased

Can you eat a raw potato? I am harvesting my spuds and would usually boil them, but myself and Shane are experimenting with a raw food diet, hence my question.

I think it extremely sporting of Shane to attempt it, especially as he has very few teeth. We are in good company. Many other luminaries -- including Gwyneth Paltrow, David Bowie, Sting, Alicia Silverstone, Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore are raw food enthusiasts, and are benefiting from the radiant health that the diet is supposed to bestow.

Of course, the celebrities all have food gurus to answer their questions, and thankfully I have my very own guru in the form of Irish gourmet raw chef Darren Maguire.

You can't eat a raw potato, Darren says. But you can eat raw porridge. He tells me to soak whole oat groats until they ferment, and then whizz them in a blender. My porridge is foul, but Darren's porridge is delicious.

I clearly have some stuff to learn about being a gourmet raw-foodist, but, having done a little research, I can see why it makes sense to try. According to Matt Amsden, an American raw food guru, 80 per cent of the vitamins and minerals and up to 100 per cent of the enzymes in our food are destroyed in the cooking process, which accounts for the prevalence of obesity, bowel and digestive disorders and lack of energy that we as a society are experiencing.

So when you eat raw food, you get all the nutrients in that food, and you also digest it easily, resulting in clear skin, weight loss and more energy.

It sounds good in theory, but it's not so easy to switch from meat and potatoes to carrot salads. Which was why I enrolled on Darren's 'Whole Person Healing' Retreat.

I had just been shopping for clothes and the only trousers that fitted me were the size large. I was horrified. They don't have extra-large. So even though I suspected that a raw food retreat in Drogheda would be at best depressing, I forced myself to try it.

A handsome chap with huge biceps and startling blue eyes relieved me of my suitcases upon my arrival and bounded up the three flights of stairs to my room. A better advertisement for raw food I could not imagine.

For the evening meal, I was served a most delicious mushroom soup. Over the next few days, it was a surprise and a delight to discover that the meals were not only satisfying, but quite tasty. Especially the wilted kale, which I learned had been massaged with lemon juice, salt and olive oil.

I am regarded as a health freak by my more conservative friends. But even I don't normally feel inclined to leap out of bed at six, down a wheatgrass juice and do a couple of hours of yoga before breakfast. And I would normally load up on potatoes and pasta if I intended to spend the day hiking and dancing and walking up and down stairs. But, amazingly, not only can you do all this and more on a diet of raw vegetables and a few nuts, but the purity of the diet makes it feel like a short stroll around the park.

It probably helped that the level of enthusiasm and commitment that Darren and his colleagues brought to the experience made it seem as though one was being pampered, rather than tortured.

I spent only four whole days at the retreat, because I dodged the first two. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I tried on my jeans and they were hanging off me. I was beyond thrilled when I went clothes shopping, and had gone from a size 12 to a size 10, and was able to fit into a size eight.

Obviously it's easy to follow a healthy diet when someone else is in charge of the kitchen. It's when you yourself are in charge that the real test occurs. For the first couple of days I was more zealous than Madonna, running around grating beetroots and fermenting porridge and juicing wheat grass, convinced that there was no going back to cooked food, and wondering if this would be a good time to open a gourmet raw restaurant.

Now, after a bit more time, I am not quite so fanatical. The other night we had linguine with scallops for dinner and I even had a glass of wine, and I have to confess that it was nicer than Darren's soup. But Darren suggests that the best way to make changes is in small steps, not trying to go the whole hog overnight. He also says that once you have experienced the benefits of the raw food diet and you know what its like to feel in the best possible health, you can't ever go back to the way you were. And he is right. You may want bread or pasta, but you find yourself craving a nice, juicy salad as well. And, undoubtedly, even the wheatgrass will one day taste delicious.

Darren Maguire's next retreat is in October. He can be contacted on 086 6644430

Sunday Independent

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