Balance Summer 2005

Super Model Turns Super Healthy Role Model

You’ve probably seen Carol Alt in the national media lately, promoting her new book, Eating in the Raw , and revealing the bizarre fact that for the last eight years she’s eaten almost no cooked food. Huh? Come again? A life devoid of bread and pasta and baked potatoes and steamed vegetables and chocolate-chip cookies straight from the oven? No candy, gum, or even a hot cup of coffee on a cold winter’s day (or a chilled beer or soda in the blistering sun)?! How is that possible ? Besides extolling their virtues and eating them, is this woman NUTS?

My current starch-rich diet fails to come close to resembling the vibrancy of Carol’s diet, but my past makes me uniquely qualified to delve into this little-known subject with the still stunning cover girl–a German raised, bread-lovin’ woman for whom starving herself prior to photo shoots for Sports Illustrated (swimsuits), Cosmo, orVogue was for many years a source of all-encompassing agony. Being named “the most beautiful woman in the world” by Playboy magazine, or “the next million dollar face” by Life magazine only increased her stress of having to stay rail thin. “I hated being hungry and was miserable to the people around me,” she says. “No wonder fat people are called jolly; it’s much easier to maintain happiness when you’re not starving! But we all know that doesn’t last. Personally, I didn’t come from a long line of thin people. My grandmother was 300 pounds when she died and my sister is a large size model. As gorgeous as she is, it’s not in our nature to be thin. Weight was a battle for me every single day.”

No longer an issue, Carol now eats “all day long,” with dramatic side benefits, including easily keeping her model weight, and even more importantly, experiencing that her food actually gives her energy rather than depletes it. “I used to sit down to a big plate of spaghetti and sausage and fall asleep in front of the TV,” she says, going back in time and sounding suddenly sad. “I had no awareness of the concept of food as actual fuel .” Carol reveals that stumbling across this way of eating is the greatest miracle of her life. “I think all across the board, most raw food eaters consider making the switch to an all-raw diet the most momentous thing that’s ever happened to them. Whenever we get together we never talk about what we miss. It’s all about how much better our lives are. We are all so incredibly grateful.” When I ask her if she’s seen what I saw–that raw foodists appear more calm and peaceful, she laughs. “Definitely! There’s a serenity that’s so different. Whenever I go into a raw-food restaurant, the waiters are all so damn happy!” But Carol wants to add that you don’t have to go to a raw restaurant to eat. “I can eat anywhere,” she says. “I can be social, go out and have dinner with people, and if what they have at the restaurant doesn’t suit me for some reason, I have a little bit of something and then I go home and I eat. It’s no big deal.”

Reading Carol’s book was like coming home, instantly transporting me into memories of a lifestyle I once embraced, but had somehow–in the hussle-bussle to meet deadlines and the accompanied frenzy to fuel their completion with handfuls of sugar–nearly abandoned. Fourteen years ago, just prior to getting pregnant with my son, I chose to temporarily eat an all-raw diet in an attempt to cleanse my body of years of junk food indulgence better known as the “eat anything that isn’t nailed down” college years. The impact on my energy and health was immediate and I never felt so alive, so thin, or so beautiful. My newfound verve for life made me suddenly want to have a child and I continued eating an all-raw diet once my husband and I watched our home-pregnancy testing stick turn baby blue soon afterward. Determined to support my decision to be the healthiest mom I could be, my husband also began eating almost totally raw; together we wholeheartedly kept it up during the following nine months.

My experience of being “with child” on an all-raw diet was so totally heavenly, with none of the common complaints of edema, nausea, fatigue, fluid retention, or mood swings that I didn’t even miss my once obsessively treasured goat cheese pizzas, angel-hair pastas, and oatmeal pancakes. As if by magic, everything tasted so much better and more fulfilling, and I somehow found all-fruit meals or fresh corn (on the cob), red peppers (eaten like an apple) and macadamia nuts blissfully satisfying. Doesn’t sound like much to get excited about, I know (and Carol’s version is far more alluring, I promise), but all exaggeration aside, my husband and I both contend that the experience is not to be believed until you’ve lived it. Not for a day or even a week (although you’ll notice the benefits right away), but for months on end, where it becomes glaringly obvious that you really are what you eat. In other words: without crap in your system, you no longer feel like crap! What a concept! Say goodbye to popping pills to mask your disorders, as Carol had to for years–for everything from her incessant sinus infections, hypoglycemia, headaches, allergies, insomnia, to indigestion. “I can hardly believe what I used to put in my body when I look back!” she says. “I ate Tums like it was candy, and I actually got in the habit of starting off my day with scotch and coffee to wake me up! I believe that I would have had a much bigger career if I had had the energy to do more outside of modeling. As it was, I barely made it through my days because I was so hungry and tired, desperately trying to stay between 120 or 125 lbs at 5’11” (Carol’s current weight).

Our experiences may not be everyone’s. While a doctor wrote the forward to Eating in the Raw , and there’s loads of scientific data to back up her work, we encourage anyone contemplating making the switch to consult with his or her doctor, and to introduce raw food in stages. (Certainly pregnancy is a good time to add more whole, raw foods into your diet, but it’s not the time to go cold turkey on all cooked food, as the sudden clean-out effect could be too difficult on your baby.) While most doctors spend precious little time studying nutrition in medical school (some as little as an hour or two in total–one of the great ironies of the medical field), your doctor knows you and can help keep tabs on your individual health concerns.

You’re Doing What?!
According to Carol, it’s more than a cliché to say that nothing tastes as good as health feels, and I agree because the only thing I gained while being pregnant (other than eighteen pounds) was nine months of nausea-free joy and endless get-up-and-go. Thus, the worries of others about my “freakish” diet and the health of my unborn baby were none of my concern. “I know all too well how people worry when you forgo ‘normal’ food and start ‘grazing greens like a cow,'” jokes Carol. “That’s one of the reasons I decided to write this book–to dispel people’s unfounded fears.” Friends and loved ones fret (“Where will you get your protein? What about germs?”); they poke fun (“My grass out back needs mowing… you hungry?”); and sometimes they become downright irascible (“You’ve got to have your head examined. Have you joined a cult?”). Carol has heard it all, and is grateful for the opportunity to address these issues. I, too, remember being plagued by people’s paranoia, especially from my midwife, who shrieked, “You’re going to bleed to death during delivery!” (For the record, I was the ONLY client she ever had who didn’t bleed a drop while giving birth.) Carol has learned to have patience with people who have never been introduced to this practice, although she can’t help but notice the irony. “You know,” she says shaking her head, “somewhere along the line we’ve failed to realize that human beings are the ONLY living species that cooks its food. The ONLY one in the history of the planet. If cooking was so very important, maybe we wouldn’t be the only ones doing it.”

A Little History Lesson
This brings up an interesting point, and one that Carol’s book discusses in depth–food spoilage. There was a time not too long ago–before advances in refrigeration and transportation–that our food didn’t last as long, and cooking, or pasteurization (developed by Pasteur nearly a century ago), was a way to eliminate harmful bacteria. “The tradeoff,” Carol explains, “is that in doing so, we also started killing the essential, living substances–the enzymes and proteins in food that are necessary for long-term health. Doctor Nicholas J. Gonzales speaks more eloquently about this in my book than I ever can, but enzymes, without which health is impossible, are sensitive to heat and begin deteriorating at around 106-107 degrees (and become completely inactive above 116 degrees), which is why fevers above 107 degrees often kill because at that point our enzymes start self-destructing throughout all our tissues.” There have been widespread and radical advances in maintaining the quality of what we eat, Carol explains, “and pasteurization has become more of a low-cost way for companies to keep their food longer without spoilage.” While many raw-fooders are vegans and refuse to eat animal products, Carol loves fish and meat and dairy and has found ways to enjoy all of the above without ever getting sick, especially raw fish in sushi and raw milk (straight from a local farmer). She uses the milk in raw milkshakes and also pours it over her raw granola, sweetened with raw honey, “which is good for the pancreas” she says.

If She Only Knew Then…
Carol and I both have parents who died in their fifties of cancer–a disease that has or will touch everyone reading this article (and we believe her father and my mother would still be alive if they had followed this regimen), thus we’ve chosen here to focus mostly on this topic. But, even if fending off disease doesn’t concern you, maybe your weight and beauty do. Let’s face it: It’s swimsuit weather, ladies, and you may be looking for a sure-fire way to shed those excess pounds you’ve been carting around all winter–like you actually needed those extra reserves!

Amazingly, Carol’s longtime boyfriend is also a professional hockey player (as her husband was) and chose to follow her lead and become a raw-food eater. “You know what? I didn’t even have to push it on him,” she says. “He just watched me, and studied other people eating this way and made the choice for himself. We met when he was 25 and I was 38. I thought he was older than his 25 years, and now people think he’s younger. He says it’s the easiest thing he’s ever done because he can eat as much as he wants and doesn’t have to worry about his weight.   His muscle tone is much better and helps him recover from injuries much faster.   And because his blood is so alkaline, it carries a lot more oxygen, and he doesn’t have to worry about being tired. There are just so many fantastic things to eat. We’re real sashimi eaters, although we try to keep fish to 3-4 times a week.”

Birds of a Feather
Carol isn’t the first celebrity to make the headlines for her passion for raw-food. Demi Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Woody Harrelson, Sting, and Bill Cosby are just a few of those who can afford any food in the world, but have often chosen to keep it simple the raw way. Woody is perhaps the most famous, or infamous, for his choice of raw, organic foodstuffs, and having interviewed him myself at a raw food restaurant years ago, I asked Carol if she had ever met the Woodrow. “Oh, sure,” she says. “He eats at Quintessence here in New York–one of my all-time favorite raw-food restaurants.” (Carol has included several of their recipes in her book.) I ask if she thinks he is as beautiful in person as I found him to be. “His skin is amazing!” she squeals. “I met Woody maybe 15 years ago and he still hasn’t aged at all. Aging is normal when you eat cooked foods, but people who eat all raw age much more slowly. But, weight and looking fantastic aside, this for me was all about my health. I’m so filled with gratitude. I really, truly believe that we are a three trillion dollar a year health industry because we are definitely doing something wrong. I think the plethora of diseases out there are a wakeup call from God. We have made great strides in terms of curbing viruses and plague, but we have gone too far in stripping our food of its vitality and have shortchanged our quality of life. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, Cancer? It’s horrifying. We are living longer, but we’re more miserable. Not to mention how the mass production of our food is quickly poisoning our planet as well as our bodies.”

Carol is now an actress and has just finished filming her third film of the year. She owns a line of skin care products, Le Mirador, that are selling around the world, and she was just asked to do a part on Broadway, so she’s enjoying her options. When I ask what she most hopes for in the coming years, she answers, “I hope to have what you have: a healthy, happy child. It’s just never happened for me and I think that was because my health was so bad. I was married for 15 years and never got pregnant; I truly believe that my body wasn’t healthy enough to hold a child. I think that’s true for a lot of women today. So, I’m hoping and praying that one day it will happen for me, and this is one of the reasons I keep eating raw and I stay so faithful to it, because if it does happen, I want to have a beautiful house for this child to grow into.”

Before departing, I want to know, as always, if this enormously busy woman has any thoughts to share on the topic of balance. “Of course!” she replies. “It’s so important, especially when you’re extremely busy, that you have a balance between your work, your health, and your personal life. I was always working so hard that I didn’t care about my health. Therefore everything else fell by the wayside–my family life, my spiritual life, everything.   But in order to be healthy, you have to have energy to nurture all of the areas of your world. Otherwise, when one area starts failing, it’s like a domino effect. If I could say anything to you about what I’ve learned, it’s to start adding more raw food into your diet. And, if you can even try going all raw for a time, it will definitely touch your life if you give it half the chance.”

Yes, I say to her. But, it takes a very strong mentality to stick with it, knowing all too well how easy it was to stray from my once all-raw regime (although it’s so enjoyable that I could never imagine dropping it completely and have maintained approx. a 40% raw diet ever since). “Well, sure,” Carol agreed, “because so many people are afraid to be different. But you know what? I like being different! If ‘different’ means that I’m going to be healthy and happy when all the people around me are moody and tired and feeling older than their years and getting diseases, then hey, sign me up!”

Postscript: It’s been over a month since my interview with Carol and my life has already changed. I haven’t eaten sugar since, and I’ve incorporated things like Thai coconuts (a must try) and many more fresh juices to curb my sugar cravings, and raw nuts into my diet. I have to say, I feel decidedly better! My swimsuit and I are grateful for the reminder.

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