I am not here to put down the raw food diet, or any diet for that matter. I want to spread the joy of being able to use your own body as a guide to whether or not your digestive system is happy with the diet of your choice. Your poop will be your number one, best friend in guiding you on this journey of healthy eating.
In Chinese medicine, food is truly your first line of defense when your body starts to show signs of illness and imbalance. The goal is to protect your digestive system first and foremost, as it is the main route of absorbing nutrients from your food and drink to sustain life. If your digestive system is not functioning optimally, then you are not getting all the nutrients from what you consume.
The goal is to keep your digestive system at its best. What does this look like? Well, Chinese medicine would say, that you would wake up, take your first breath in the morning, and then need to have a bowel movement sometime between 5-9am (the time that the most energy or qi runs through your colon and its buddy the stomach). You would ideally have 1-2 bowel movements a day that are banana or torpedo shaped and do not require more than a wipe or two to clean up. You would rarely have gas, even when eating beans or cruciferous veggies like broccoli. You would also feel hungry shortly after waking up and having the first bowel movement.
When your bowel movements deviate to the more messy and looser side of the spectrum from the ideal torpedo, then that means your stomach meridian and spleen-pancreas meridian are starting to feel fatigued. The spleen-pancreas and stomach in Chinese medicine are the combined powerhouses of digestion. They start the process of breaking down and absorbing food and direct the energy downward to fuel the proper function of digestion throughout both the small and large intestines. Symptoms that your spleen-pancreas is getting overly taxed are bowel movements that get looser and sticky or messy. This could start out as a fully formed, banana-shaped bm that has a squishy, sticky tail and requires some major wiping to clean up. Later it could turn into cow patty shaped bms, or completely loose stools with undigested foods. The frequency will also start to increase, going from 1-2 happy bms a day, to 4-5+ bms.
Things that tax your spleen and stomach are overthinking, overworking, overeating, sitting repeatedly, frequently eating greasy, rich foods, and eating too much raw or cold foods. Now some people can thrive on a raw food diet. Often it is a combination of stresses, overworking, and eating the wrong combinations of foods that will throw your body out of balance.
If your body’s digestive system is being injured by consuming too many salads, raw fruits and veggies, raw meats like sushi, and raw juices, then you will start to see your bowel movements drift looser and looser. I have worked with multiple patients that eat 66-90% of their fruits and vegetables raw or have switched to a raw food diet for 1-2 years, start to develop what we call a cold-damp digestive system. Their stomach will cramp, they start to loose their appetite in the morning, eventually during the whole day, and then they start to have frequent, urgent bowel movements filled with undigested skins and chunks of produce. If this starts happening and you have ruled out parasites or other bacterial infection in your intestines, then your body is being exhausted by the act of digesting those raw foods. Simply switching to cooked foods can help turn it back around. You do not have to cook your food to death. You can lightly steam your veggies and even retain their crunch, or you can roast chopped veggies, make soups with your hearty produce, make delicious roasted fruit dishes…Cooking does not have to take the life force out of your food.
Learning to shift your diet to bring your poops back to optimal, clean, easy to pass torpedo form, can be a bit complicated. We have really only covered the concept of too much cold-damp in the digestive system leading to looser, messy bowel movements.
The real take away point is that no one diet fits all individuals. The richness of Chinese medical nutrition lies in learning how to use different cooking styles, and different natural ingredients, like produce, meats, and spices to help bring your health back to a balanced, optimal position. A proper diet looks different for each unique individual.