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The Raw Truth: How Eating Fresh Helped Save One Woman’s Life

Article Linda Tzoref | Photography by Imagopix Daniel Whitefield Photography

Paula Branson is lean and attractive with long blonde hair and large bright blue eyes. She smiles often and has a sweet Southern drawl. It is difficult to fathom that only three years ago she was so ill she could not get out of bed and was scheduled for brain stem surgery. Paula credits much of her astounding health improvement to “raw food” and her immersion in lifechanging eating habits. The raw foods movement has been around for some time, especially in places like California, but only lately has it become more mainstream. Paula, a resident of Buckhead, began to explore this new lifestyle on the advice of a cab driver who was taking her to a doctor’s appointment. She was losing a battle with pain and ongoing illness since an automobile accident in the 90s, and her doctors had prescribed a long list of medications including anti-depressants, sedatives and stimulants. At one point she was told the pain she felt was “all in her head,” but eventually doctors suggested brain stem surgery, a very risky procedure with a high fatality rate. To prepare for surgery and feeling desperate, Paula went to the Hippocrates Institute in West Palm Beach, the place her cab driver had told her about. “My first reaction was that the people there were crazy,” said Paula. “The only reason I decided to stick it out was that I had already paid and the money was non-refundable.” The Hippocrates Institute believes that a pure enzyme-rich diet complemented by positive thinking and non-invasive therapies are essential elements on the path to optimum health. Within days, Paula felt well enough to walk. During her three-week stay, she felt well enough to ride a bicycle and confidently canceled the surgery.

Meet-ups bring it home
Since then, Paula has hosted raw foods potluck supper meetings in her home once or twice a month. She invites a speaker or provides a demonstration as a certified raw foods chef. Last month, more than 30 people attended a “meet-up” (a term to describe a gathering of like-minded folks coordinated through an online reservation site). Hers is a beautiful house with lots of natural light and oriental rugs everywhere. In the front hallway is a desk with name tags and a donations jar. There is a lot of commotion, people coming in and out, most of them carrying dishes of home cooked food. Everyone is sampling fresh coconut water and lining up for shots of wheatgrass juice. That evening, the special guest was a representative from Vonnie’s Greens, a local sprout and wheat grass supplier who brought large crates filled with bright green sprouts.

Paula teaches a youth course at the YMCA called “Catch a Healthy Habit” and promotes healthy eating and exercise.

The meet-ups at Paula’s house have been going on for over a year. It is one of six of its kind in the metro–Atlanta area. Currently there are 161 members. The raw foods philosophy is that heating food above 108 degrees destroys important nutrients, and the less processed your food is, the easier it is to digest, and therefore your body is able to expend energy towards other activities such as healing itself. Sprouts and other green foods have a “life force” filled with rich enzymes, and the chlorophyll in such plants is healing. “Your body can heal itself if you give it unprocessed foods,” says Paula. In addition to leading the meet-ups, she also teaches a youth course at the YMCA. The class is called “Catch a Healthy Habit” and promotes healthy eating and exercise. Paula also teaches a class that explains how to manage chronic illnesses.

Paula wasn’t always a raw foods aficionado. For many years she was a lawyer who guzzled a 12–pack of Diet Coke daily and ate a sleeve of crackers so she wouldn’t have to leave her desk. A self-described workaholic, she didn’t even contemplate changing anything about her lifestyle until she became very ill. “Now, I’m all about educating people in getting healthy.”