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Sharrhan Williamson
My search for friendly dietary fuel:
from low-carb to all-raw and back again
after 20 years.

Sharrhan is a musician who records and performs her own original
meditation music of improvisations for electronically altered flutes
and voice. She is also a silk painter/watercolorist and a
long-time meditation practitioner.

Copyright © 1998-2001 by Sharrhan Williamson. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

For me, the road to "Wellville" has been paved with many bumps, twists, and turns.

The early years: a time of illness. I have a clear image of my early childhood as a time of constant visits with the family doctor and an endless series of hypodermic injections of antibiotics--winter after winter--for colds, flu, and earaches. It seemed I was always sick in bed. By the age of 9, I'd had both my tonsils and my appendix removed, and I was a walking yeast organism from all the antibiotics.

In third grade, I developed some sort of exotic eye disease that the opthalmologist couldn't identify, for which I was given a course of twice-weekly chemotherapy for several weeks, as the doctor feared I'd soon be blind otherwise. Luckily the condition eventually cleared up completely. The only visible residual effect of the medicine was that I suddenly had really hairy legs and I became quite chubby. No one told me that these anomalies weren't "my fault," and it was only years later that I learned I'd probably been administered testosterone and cortisone.

It was a difficult time in my life, but one which I survived, and by the time I was in high school I was a normal and reasonably attractive high school girl. I only mention my childhood medical history to show why I became disenchanted with allopathic medical care fairly early on in life, and why I began to have a fascination with both physical and metaphysical healing from my high school years onward. Because of my sickly childhood I have jokingly told friends who worry about "old age" that I've already had all my health problems, having used up all my karmic bad-health chits already, and that I hope from here on in to sail smoothly into old age, living another half-century at least (I'm 49 as of this writing).

Genesis of my diet awareness. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I really started to think about the food I put in my mouth. For years I'd been aware that I was hypoglycemic; I clearly had all the classic symptoms. I began to take a great interest in diet as I slowly became more and more conscious of food's effect on body and mind. By this time in my life I was distinctly aware that starchy foods like grains, breads, pasta, and potatoes had an enormously negative effect on my energy level, mood, and metabolism, and I already was consciously trying to steer away from them.

Ketogenic diet. I had always been just about 20 pounds overweight no matter how I tried to lose, so I was utterly amazed and thrilled at the age of 27 when I lost 15 pounds after only 2 weeks on the ketogenic high-protein diet. I felt marvelous, like a totally different person; I felt like the person I was "meant" to be, as I reveled in newfound energy, vitality, mental clarity, and high spirits--and when I looked in the mirror I saw someone who appeared healthy and fit.

It was not long, however, before I abandoned the diet because of numerous reports in the press that it was considered "dangerous" by the A.M.A. (American Medical Association). Also, as I was deeply interested in meditation and Eastern philosophy at the time, I was increasingly influenced by vegetarian dietary regimes.

Introduction to raw foods and vegetarianism. Not long after that, I discovered Arnold Ehret's book Rational Fasting. I became enthralled with the idea of eating raw foods and juice-fasting for a time, but encountered a great deal of difficulty in getting started. In the next few years, between about 1978 and 1983, I experimented with various approaches to vegetarianism with occasional lapses into protein-dieting when I became too frustrated with the difficulties I had--I realize now, in retrospect--in assimilating all those dense carbohydrates. At times I would juice-fast for 3 days or more--once I fasted on carrot juice for 10 days and felt quite good--but upon returning to solid food I'd experience an enormous letdown as depression, lethargy, hunger, weight gain, bloating, etc., set in once again.

Fasting and food-combining: hype vs. reality. Finally, in 1983 or 1984 I somehow rallied and disciplined myself to accomplish a 28-day juice fast which left me feeling totally rejuvenated. And for about a year thereafter, I did quite well, though I remember eating quite large quantities of food at times. I ate only raw foods--vegetables, fruits, sprouts, nuts, seeds--almost all of the time, and only resorted to cooked food when I was overcome by hunger, which happened every once in awhile.

I didn't feel particularly energized anymore; nor did I at any time experience the thinness most people associate with raw-food eating. In fact, I never at any time reached my ideal weight, even on a juice fast, despite my consistent working out and walking everywhere. Neither did my cellulite magically disappear as raw-foodists are told it should. (Water-fasting, which I did later, dramatically reduced my weight temporarily, but with consequences that were detrimental to my health, such as muscle wasting, a slight increase in nearsightedness in one eye, and a "what's the use" kind of lethargic mental outlook.) I can remember slowly sliding into a pattern of eating more and more cooked food, and increasingly having a difficult time controlling the need to binge on carbohydrates like dates, dried pineapple, and baked potatoes.

I practiced food-combining fanatically and really believed in the diet--with an unquestioning faith that I now, in retrospect, find rather amazing, given my penchant for analyzing information in other areas of my life! I read and was deeply inspired/influenced by such books as Blatant Raw Foodist Propaganda, by Joe Alexander, and Conscious Eating, by Gabriel Cousens.

Rationalizing the negative effects of raw vegan diets. I think the thing that kept me on the diet more than anything else was that from 1991 on, my husband and I went camping by the ocean in July and August every summer for a total of about 25 days, during which time I was always on one sort of stringent regimen or another such as a modified fast, which would get me back on the "straight and narrow," from which I had invariably strayed during the year. This allowed me to rationalize a great deal about the negative effects of the raw-food diet I experienced.

Soy Zone-style diet. Nevertheless, as time went on I was becoming increasingly unhappy with my progress. At one time, in 1993 I believe, frustrated by the way I felt totally burned-out and mentally obliterated after work each day--as I'd listlessly push my cart around the co-op to pick up my groceries--I switched for a time to a sort of "soy and salad" type of diet, at which time friends started remarking that I seemed to have much more energy and be more "alive." At that time my hair, which had been thinning out somewhat, became thick and shiny again, and my complexion, which had become dry and flaky, regained its moisture. My muscle tone also improved.

However, even though I felt great on this modified "Zone"-style diet of mostly vegetables and soy burgers without bread (which I enjoyed, and was not hungry on, by the way) I eventually returned to the raw-food diet, which I was still convinced would benefit me if I would just "do it more perfectly," which meant yet more "purifying" and "cleansing." I hardly even questioned that it was MY fault the diet was not working properly for me. I would only go so far as to admit to myself that certain aspects of the raw-food diet, such as too much sweet fruit or too much fruit juice, fermented seed sauce, etc., were not tolerated by my system at all. And even this, I was half-convinced, might clear up if I just did more cleanses, more fasting, etc.

Return to raw diets and fasting. Speaking of fasting, I did a 7-day water fast one year--1991, I think--and a 10 and then a 17-day fast in subsequent years. The 17-day fast was definitely a mistake, and was during an unfortunate period of short duration when I believe I became somewhat obsessed with my weight and anorexic. (Prior to this time I'd been quite happy to be a little overweight by society's standards and I was more interested in simply being healthy and fit.)

During the time in question, however, I had a conversation with my mother, from whom I've never gotten a great deal of positive reinforcement, in which I told her happily that I'd lost some weight. My mom, who is very thin and weight-conscious, only responded by saying, "Well, now maybe you'll get to work and get your 24-inch waist back."

Somehow this odd, perhaps outrageous, comment triggered an emotional response in me that led to my rigorously fasting and trying to eat too little for several months. I became quite thin; the fast, naturally, left me in a somewhat weakened condition and not feeling well at all. I finally realized the need to stop trying to please my mom and honor my body's natural balance. I let myself regain some weight, and my waist returned to 29 inches.

Negative health effects of fasting. Still I plodded on in my quest to be a raw-foodist. In 1997 I did a 40-day juice fast. (For health reasons mainly, not to lose weight--I only lost a few pounds, which by the end of the fast were piling back on again.) I DID feel absolutely ecstatic when I was on this fast, no doubt about it. (Though my husband reminded me later that I'd been very moody and spacy at many times, as I rode the sugar highs and lows.) At times I had a lot of energy and felt great "joy."

However, I discovered shortly after it was over that my gums were very soft and were receding from some of my teeth, most alarmingly. I had gingivitis. Also, I could clearly no longer ignore my hair--which was getting finer and finer (it had originally been very coarse)--and my nails, which were almost as soft as paper. My complexion was once again incredibly dry and flaky. Worst of all, over the coming weeks I became increasingly alarmed about the state of my mental processes. My thinking was confused and muddled. And I was very depressed, feeling "flat" and joyless.

Problems: due to lack of purity, or lack of nutrients? So what was going on? Was I really just "not pure enough" or was this diet deficient in nutrients? I needed answers. I turned to "living nutrition" (again) for answers and plunged into another (!!!) raw regime one last time, after a brief period of both cooked and raw food. I should add at this point that at various times in my "raw-food career" I have used "green" supplements such as barleygrass, wheatgrass juice, blue-green algae, etc., and also colloidal minerals, seaweed, and enzymes.

I was in the midst of a terrible low-blood-sugar response to juices when I stumbled onto Ward Nicholson's three-part interview on the internet at this time, in which he outlined some of the fallacies and dangers of a fruitarian or raw diet. This was in June, I think, of 1998. I will always be thankful (thank you, Ward!!) that I found that article when I did, because I finally SNAPPED OUT OF IT! I finally GOT IT that I needed to change channels and get on with it, and that this extreme way of eating was never going to be truly healthful for me.

The amazing thing is that I really already knew (subliminally) what to do, had I only followed my dream messages. I had recorded several dreams in my dream journal over the years that told me over and over again clearly in unequivocal, undeniable terms that I needed PROTEIN and that I was supposed to eat some MEAT and also stop doing so much "cleansing."

I finally gave myself "permission" to go back and investigate protein diets once again and to acquaint myself with the wisdom and vital information available on "Paleolithic diet" websites about our genetically encoded dietary needs and intolerances, all of which made sense to me now.

Seeking a diet that works for me. At present, I'm working out a suitable diet for myself that is low-carbohydrate but incorporates plenty of plant fiber. I started out ketogenic for a couple of weeks, but my diet, which is based on the Protein Power plan of Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, is now stabilized at a level of 40 to 60g of carbohydrate a day. Right now I'm eating fish, beef, and turkey (no hormones), soy burgers, tofu, raw or cooked organic eggs, raw organic cheese, nuts, salad, and green vegetables. I drink a little decaffeinated coffee. I drink a lot of sparkling spring water. I don't eat any fruit at this stage of the game. Later I hope to eat occasional berries or other low-glycemic-index fruits that don't wreak havoc with the blood sugar, and I also plan to add lots and lots of raw vegetables (mostly greens) to my diet.

I feel better than I've felt in years, like I've switched my life "ON" again after a period of utter stagnation. My thinking is clear, I don't get depressed, and my creative drive (I'm a professional musician and artist) has returned with great force after years of Iying almost dormant. I'm waking up happy every morning and am experiencing a clear sense of spiritual, mental, and physical well-being that I can truthfully say I haven't enjoyed over the past few years.

I don't recommend my way of eating to anyone else; I only recommend that each find their own way, treading very carefully and searching with both logic and intuition to find that which truly suits their own unique needs.

[Editorial note: the bio above was written in late 1998.]

Update: Fall 2000

My diet has not changed very much since I wrote my original bio, but I do think it has changed somewhat for the better. I eat a lot more greens now, spinach in particular (actually because of a dream I had that "instructed" me to eat more of it). And I have removed most (but not all) soy products from my diet, as I find them hard to digest. Also I am not drinking as much coffee--I was getting a bit of a coffee habit there for awhile, but over the last year that's been diminishing. Now it doesn't taste too good to me and I like to drink tea instead.

Low-carb, low-soy. I sometimes drink a protein shake that contains only a very small amount of soy, and there are a few types of protein bars I sometimes eat, also low- or no soy. I am a bit less concerned with "low carb" now than before and more concerned with getting an equal balance of nutrients. I still eat meat, usually at one or two out of three daily meals, but I am wanting much smaller portions of it now, and occasionally I'll just have a large salad, some egg salad, etc.

I still shy away from starchy things most of the time, often opting for raw salads and raw low starch vegetables, usually with an olive oil and lemon dressing or salsa and avocado. And I love celery with peanut butter. Nuts and fats in moderation are totally okay in my book (no hydrogenated oils, of course), as I believe my body wants and needs them. I think of them as my satisfying "substitute" for the starch and sugars I generally hold at very low levels in my diet.

Occasional fasts and indulgences. I still like to juice fast about once every month or two, for a couple days or more. Actually, I'd like to go a little longer, but haven't gotten there lately. No big deal--I know I'll do it when I really want to or if really feel I need it. I no longer feel the need to strive for "heroic" dietary feats anymore; in fact I consider them unbalanced. If something is very hard to do, it's probably not very good for you! (Exception: quitting smoking or a wicked sugar or alcohol habit, of course, none of which is a problem for me, thankfully.) When I juice fast, I try to stick with fresh juices from my juicer or a juice bar, but at work I sometimes end up going out and resorting to prepared juices and fruit juices, and before I know it I'm wanting to balance with protein and vegetables again because of too much fruit.

Occasionally I do go a little bonkers nutritionally for an hour or two and have a muffin or a couple of bagels, party food, chocolate pudding, Haagen Dazs [ice cream], baked potato, chocolate candy--whatever, but it's no big deal anymore.

Invariably I come back to my senses within a few hours and want something more in line with my body's needs, and with little harm done. I don't really think as much about what I eat now as I did before. I'm still experimenting a bit with diet, but I find myself focusing much more on my creative pursuits and metaphysical interests than diet books and theories. That's a major gain for this former raw food fanatic whose goal at the age of 36 was to become a fruitarian!

So, in summary, I'm not following closely any of the following diets: Paleo, Instinctive, raw, low carb, low fat, high protein, 40-30-30 or whatever. And as Stuart Smalley says, "And that's okay!" I'm just finding my own unique way in this, and feeling very positive about no longer being a slave to food gurus or food neuroses. And I finally have the good sense to realize that my dietary needs are evolving and changing slowly over the years and nothing is set in stone.

--Sharrhan Williamson, Fall 2000

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