Our journey with raw food began in October 2007, but the seeds had been planted long before.
How It Began
We had each been vegetarians off and on over the years, but in the mid 2000’s, stressful jobs with lots of time in hotels had seriously comprised our health. We were each about 30 pounds overweight and suffering from the consequences of stress and bad food—a vegetarian diet that included lots of pasta, pizza, and cheese! Something had to give.
One day at the end of a long meeting at work, Leigh had a grand mal seizure. She drifted in and out of consciousness for almost 30 minutes before waking up in an ambulance, unable to recall her address, her date of birth, even her last name.
Doctors had no answers, other than to hand Leigh a big bottle of anti-seizure medicine which left her feeling listless and confused. For 2 weeks, she sat on the couch wondering what was going to happen to her life. How could she hold down her job—running 500 literacy programs in 17 cities—when she couldn’t make it to the kitchen without getting tired?
The Moment of Truth
One afternoon as Leigh lay limp and draggy on the couch, a large package arrived at the door. Inexplicably, it was full of about five cookbooks, along with a card from her friends at a partner organization. The card read:
“We love you and want you to care for yourself as much as we do for you.”
Living on Live Food
Intrigued, we opened the most interesting looking one first—the cover had a photo of a cheery-looking woman sitting on top of a tomato (Alissa Cohen). As we flipped through the pages of the books, we realized that Leigh had been sent a package full of raw food books. As Leigh wrote in her blog:
Coincidentally, the raw food movement was something that Helena had been talking about for months and I had heard about through our friend Tiana who owned a raw food restaurant in Rio. Until then, I’d successfully resisted its flax-covered claws, writing raw food off as a kooky, extreme diet for granola-heads…definitely not for me. But page after page, I was taken in. By the time I’d finished reading the testimonials of people whose lives were transformed simply by eating fruits and vegetables, I was willing to be convinced. Anything had to feel better than where I was—all I could do was try.
You can read the full story about what happened next in Leigh’s blog.
BEFORE RAW: Leigh and Helena, 2006
On January 1, 2008, we went for it–100% RAW. We began the process by attacking the kitchen, tossing anything that wasn’t a fruit, vegetable, nut or seed into the trash. We knew that any form of temptation would make it too difficult, so out went the coffee, the secret chocolate stashes, cookies and crackers, milk, eggs and ice cream. We replaced the microwave with a food dehydrator and used the oven as storage for our new equipment.Then we went to Whole Foods and stocked the fridge with enough produce to feed a planet of ravenous guinea pigs for at least six months.
After just one week, our moods became what Leigh came to describe as “unreasonably happy.” Our cheeks developed a rosy, healthy glow—noticeable enough that after just one week, people actually began commenting about how different we looked. (We now see this with our retreat clients!)
- After two weeks, Leigh’s skin (which had become prone to breakouts) was completely clear. We were amazed at the fact that we were eating more food than usual, with lots of snacking throughout the day, but we didn’t feel hungry.
- After three weeks, we noticed that we only needed 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Each morning, we woke up refreshed and energetic.
AFTER: Helena and Leigh, 2010
- In four weeks, we had each lost 10 pounds and fit back into jeans that we hadn’t worn in years.
After six weeks, blood tests revealed that Leigh’s thyroid had become active again, and her doctor reduced her medication.
- In two months, the chronic menstrual cramps that Leigh had suffered through since the start of her menstrual cycle had virtually disappeared.
- In three months, we each lost another 10 pounds (20 each!).
- In four months, our hair became thicker and fuller, and Leigh actually began losing grey hair. (At 47, Helena still only has THREE!)
- In five months, we had each lost 30 pounds. Combined, we lost a total of 60 pounds.
- In six months, a blood test revealed that Leigh no longer needed thyroid medication. To her doctor’s amazement, her thyroid was functioning on its own. She discontinued all medication, including seizure medication.
Welcome to Viva Institute!
In August 2008, full of more energy than we knew what to do with, we launched Viva Institute so that we could begin teaching small classes and workshops around the US.
In June 2009, we sold our house. In February 2010. we moved to Brazil. In June 2010, we bought the small organic farm in the mountains above Rio de Janeiro that is now Viva Institute’s raw food and spiritual retreat center.
As Leigh wrote in her blog:
Leigh with Viva's Brunch
My transformation was all-encompassing and soul-deep. The only way to explain it is that by cleaning up my insides, I made room for a new version of me—a person whose company I greatly preferred to the anxious, over-achieving caffeine addict of the year before. It granted me the belief that if I could so completely change my physical and emotional self, perhaps my life had possibilities that I had only just begun to discover.
Tell us your story.
- Why are you here, and what prompted you to join us here? Better health? A medical condition? Weight loss? Curiosity?
- What do you hope to learn or gain from this program? What are your goals?
- Tell us more about you—including anything from where you live, to your personal background, to what makes your heart happy.
Want more inspiration? Check out the other amazing stories in Viva Institute’s Before and After Gallery on Facebook!