My fondest childhood memories all seem to include food: me and my sister enjoying a juicy ripe mango after school, baking fresh apple cake with my mom, diving into a huge pile of homemade American pancakes with brown sugar or devouring a mouth-watering chocolate dipped cone of coconut and hazelnut gelato in Italy… I have always had a major sweet tooth!
I became a vegetarian around the age of 15 following the example of my younger sister Caroline. My mom prepared us the most delicious plant-based dishes with spices and flavors from all around the world. Living a primarily plant-based lifestyle, I lost quite a lot of weight and I felt more vibrant than ever.
As a college student, my eating habits began to change. I ate a lot of bread and dairy – I was completely addicted to full fat yogurt and cheese! That’s when my health problems began: I suffered from sudden panic attacks, I felt really tired all the time and my immune system had never been so weak before. I started visiting one doctor after another, but none of them seemed to discover what was actually wrong with me.
My mother was determined to find a cure and decided to take me to a macrobiotic nutritionist. When the nutritionist had a look at my food diary, she immediately saw that my diet wasn’t doing my health any justice. She advised me to change my eating habits in order to restore the healthy balance of bacteria in my intestines and give my body the possibility to heal itself.
I started by cutting sugar, bread, dairy products and pre-packaged foods out of my diet. Instead, I adopted a diet high in fresh and steamed vegetables, whole grains, sea vegetables, nuts and some local fruit like apples or pears. Those first weeks were tough! Eliminating almost all sources of sugar from my diet was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It required never-ending determination and discipline.
After about a month, I started to notice the changes that accompanied my new diet: slightly higher energy levels, much less sugar cravings and a clearer mind. However, I still felt tired most of the time. How could this be?
After a long search, I finally found the right doctor who discovered the cause of my constant fatigue. For the past six years, I had been suffering from chronic glandular fever caused by the infectious Epstein-Barr virus. Since my body had never recovered from the glandular fever in my teenage years, the virus had been able to continuously copy itself. As a result, my immune system had been mass-producing antibodies in order to destroy the virus. This continuous process had led to extreme fatigue and a weakened immune system. Moreover, the virus had seriously affected my body’s ability to obtain enough vitamins and minerals. Although I had been consuming more vegetables in a day than most people eat in a week, I still suffered from severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
I immediately began treatment to optimize my vitamin and mineral levels, as well as to overcome the Epstein-Barr virus once and for all. After intensive intravenous therapy, my energy levels went up and my digestion improved immensely.
That’s when I decided to give the raw food lifestyle a try. I had read about it in the past, but I had never really considered trying it for myself. I started eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and drinking plenty of vegetables juices. I immediately felt the results:
- I lost 10 stubborn pounds that I hadn’t been able to drop,
- I only needed about 7 hours of sleep to feel truly rested,
- my skin cleared up and started to glow,
- and I finally found a way to enjoy my favorite foods and desserts with feeling guilty about it.
However, I made two big mistakes along the way. First of all, I didn’t keep track of my daily caloric intake. A lot of beginning raw foodies tend to under-eat, since they’re not used to eating huge amounts of food. That was certainly the case for me. Therefore, when you go raw, it is crucial that you get enough calories every day, so that you:
– Have enough energy
– Maintain a healthy weight
– Don’t lose muscle tissue
– Are not constantly tempted by uncontrollable cravings!
The second mistake I made during my “raw transition” was directly linked to the ecstasy I felt when I first went raw. I felt so good during those first weeks that I switched my diet too fast. I thought that detox wouldn’t affect me that much, since I had already cut sugar, dairy, grains and pre-packaged foods out of my diet for several years. Detox should be a piece of cake, right? Boy, was I wrong!
After the first few weeks, different detox symptoms popped up. My energy levels went down again, my digestive problems re-appeared and I suffered from mild but recurrent skin eruptions. I decided to transition from a fully raw vegan diet to a primarily plant-based lifestyle with plenty of fresh fruits and salads right there and then. This way, my body would have plenty of time to adjust to this new lifestyle. My digestive problems slowly disappeared, my weight stabilized and my worries vanished.
The effects of this primarily plant-based lifestyle on my body and mind were so overwhelming that I almost immediately went looking for raw vegan culinary schools to become a professional raw food chef. Simon had been experimenting with juices and smoothies too, and we both decided to enroll in the Raw food Chef and Instructor Training at the Living Light Culinary Institute in California. There we learned how to prepare delicious gourmet raw food, how to organize culinary workshops and how to educate people about the science behind raw food nutrition.
We also had the chance to travel through California and enjoy delicious raw vegan meals at well-known restaurants and cafés such as
- Palm Greens Café in Palm Springs
- Evolution Fast Food in San Diego
- Sunlife Organics in Malibu (Baywatch Hometown!)
- Juliano’s Planet Raw in Hollywood (LA)
- Suncafé in Studio City (LA)
- Café Gratitude in Berkeley (San Francisco)
- And Gracias Madre in San Francisco – the best Mexican plant-based dishes I have ever tasted!
It was during this travel through California that I founded Julie’s Lifestyle as a raw vegan travel blog. It has now grown into a raw food company where we offer eBooks, raw food culinary workshops, raw vegan catering and more.
In 2014 Simon and I also co-founded Essence Cuisine in Ghent, a raw vegan pop-up restaurant that offered juices, smoothies, lunch and high-end dinner. It was great fun serving you our favorite raw vegan dishes!
After our restaurant adventure, Simon and I launched Belgium’s first raw vegan product line ALL GOOD: cookies, crackers, granola and more – all homemade, raw vegan, and gluten & sugar free. You can check it out right here.
In September 2015 I've published my first cookbook 'Vegan & Raw', where I take you through the best ingredients and methods for preparing delicious and easy raw & vegan meals.
I hope my recipes will inspire you to have fun in the kitchen, stop calorie counting and just enjoy delicious food that will nourish your body and mind!