Bella Mahaya Carter is an author, writing teacher, developmental editor, and empowerment coach with a lifelong passion for creativity, health, and healing. Her new book is Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy.
The title Raw has a double meaning. Bella adopts a raw diet in order to heal chronic stomach problems, but she also shares raw emotions in the book, which is about her journey from agony to inner peace.
Raw is divided into three sections—Body, Mind, and Spirit—and it chronicles Bella’s healing journey. Many of us have had to deal with health issue that doctors couldn’t solve for us (I know I have!), so we’ve had to become our own doctors in a way. I could relate to Bella’s health issues and frustrations with the medical system.
While a raw diet did help with her stomach problems, her anxiety continued, so Bella experimented with different modalities and holistic remedies. She learned that anxiety was the root of her stomach issues, and after a years-long quest, she was able to find relief, which brought her into what she calls “spiritual adulthood.”
I recently had the chance to chat with Bella. We talked about Raw, being vegan, and dealing with anxiety.
Chic Vegan: Tell me a little bit about your new book Raw and what inspired you to write it.
Bella Mahaya Carter: My memoir, Raw, is like a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of holistic healing. It’s divided into three sections—body, mind, and spirit—because healing on one level led naturally to the next. I wanted to explore and share ways in which I took responsibility for healing my chronic stomach problems. Responsibility is an interesting word. If you break it down like this: response-ability, it means the ability to respond. When I realized my doctor’s solution to my discomfort was to prescribe medication to manage symptoms, I knew I needed to heal myself. I wanted a cure, not a cover up. I had no idea how I’d heal myself, only that I knew I needed to do it. Some part of me felt like I had everything I needed inside me to accomplish this. I’ve since learned that this is true for us all. We have innate mental health. When it comes to anxiety the only thing that keeps us from good mental health is our own thinking. When I started writing Raw, I didn’t realize anxiety played a role in my physical discomfort. My anxiety had to erupt into a disorder before I knew what I was dealing with. The instinct to write Raw was a healing one.
CV: What motivated you to become a raw vegan? Was it an overnight switch or more gradual shift?
BMC: My stomach pain motivated me to become a raw vegan. I figured if there was something wrong with my stomach it made sense to think about what I put into it. I read dozens of books on health and nutrition and was amazed to learn that people were curing a wide range of diseases by adopting a raw, vegan diet. My switch was gradual. Over a period of about six months I cut out chicken and fish (those were the only meats I ate). Then sugar. Then dairy. I upped my fresh fruits and vegetables, and juiced a lot. So by the time I made up my mind to go 100 percent raw, it wasn’t hard. I was motivated by a powerful desire to feel well.
CV: What changes did you notice in yourself after adopting a raw diet?
BMC: I felt incredibly well-nourished. After eating I’d feel totally satisfied, but also energetic and light. I never felt tired or bloated like before. I discovered that the test of a good meal is how you feel after you eat it. I also had lots more energy, needed less sleep, and I lost 30 pounds. There were other changes, too, that seemed remarkable: my toenail fungus disappeared, the lines on my face faded, and I felt more awake and alive in my life.
CV: What were the downsides to being on a raw diet?
BMC: The biggest downside to being on a raw, vegan diet was the social aspect. Food is a sensitive topic. It has to do with survival. People like to “break bread” together and they want to be sharing the same (or similar) foods. More often than not I’d bring my own food to people’s homes, restaurants, and other places. It was awkward at best, and sometimes threatening to others, and emotionally painful for me. When I first started my raw, vegan diet in 2004, you couldn’t buy prepared raw foods the way you can today. I made my own flax crackers, pizza crusts, desserts, and more. It was time-consuming and my learning curve was steep. It’s so much easier to eat this way today, although gourmet raw, vegan food is expensive. I’m hopeful the money I spend on “clean” food now will prevent me from having doctor’s bills to pay later.
CV: At the end of the book, you mention that you’re still vegan, but you’re no longer 100% raw. What changes did you noticed when you began introducing cooked foods back into your diet?
BMC: The first time I ate cooked grains—quinoa—I felt sleepy, as if I’d been drugged. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling; I felt tranquil. Sedated. Aside from that experience, which I found amazing at the time, I didn’t notice other changes when I began introducing cooked foods back into my diet. I think this is because 1) I did it gradually and slowly. 2) I paid attention to how foods made me feel and let that wisdom guide my eating.
CV: When people learn that you are vegan, what is the number one question they ask and what is your response?
BMC: If you’re a vegan reading this I’m sure you’ve heard what I’m about to say. The number one question I’m asked when people learn I’m a vegan is: How do you get your protein? I tell them there’s plenty of protein in nuts, seeds, legumes, and dark leafy greens, and that most people in America get too much protein. The protein myth is deep and huge. For a closer look at this subject, read the Chopra Center’s recent article “10 Plant-Based Protein Sources for Vegans.”
CV: In the book, you talk about a raw food feast that you prepared for a dinner party with friends. What type of foods would you prepare for a dinner party today, now that you eat cooked foods?
BMC: We usually offer a variety of foods at our dinner parties to accommodate vegans as well as non-vegans. We have assorted cheeses (dairy as well as nut-based), crackers, olives, and fresh veggies with dips. We serve vegan homemade soups, lasagna (with gluten-free noodles), veggie (no cheese) pizza, stir-fried Tempeh, chili, tofu and veggie Kabobs, zucchini noodles, and more. My husband is a great cook. I prefer working with raw foods. Together we make wonderful, healthy dinners.
CV: Raw is about your journey to heal stomach issues as well as debilitating anxiety. What advice would you give to someone who also suffers from anxiety?
BMC: I’d like people to know that they do not have to suffer! As much as I’ve found therapy helpful, I’ve also discovered that sometimes dwelling on the content of our thoughts is less helpful than understanding how we think. For me it took a combination of therapy, time, and insight, but I cured—and created a new relationship with—my anxiety, which is a human emotion we all experience. If I could do this, anyone can. I want people to know that anxiety doesn’t have to run their lives! I encourage people to reach out for help. I was ashamed of what I was going through. Even so, I tried dozens of therapies and holistic healing modalities, which I describe in my memoir. I’ve continued to deepen my understanding of anxiety—where it comes from and how I innocently created it. I work with clients using a variety of coaching modalities, including but not limited to instruction, guidance, and conversations around the Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness, and Thought. Also, I want people to know that if they need medication, that’s okay. I struggled with this and had to relax the rigidity of my belief system and be willing to accept that medication was a viable tool, if used properly. It was the last tool I reached for, but there were times when it was necessary. And beating myself up over it only exacerbated my anxiety. But there is freedom from anxiety and the fear that creates it.
CV: You tried many different modalities in order to heal yourself and overcome anxiety. Which do you think was the most powerful?
BMC: Working with an anxiety therapist was very helpful, but cultivating an awareness of the Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought, as defined by author and visionary, Sydney Banks, added to my healing dramatically. Check out the 3P Global Community for information, webinars, videos, and more. It’s a wonderful resource.
CV: In your wildest dreams what will your life look like in 5 years?
BMC: I don’t have “wild” or grandiose dreams about the future. I want to keep growing and learning. I hope that in five years I genuinely will not care what anybody thinks of me. I’ll have such clarity about who I am and why I’m here on this planet that other people’s opinions of me simply will not matter. I also hope my relationships will continue to be loving and kind; my family will be alive and well; the universe will continue to support my work. In five years I hope to have another book (or two) published. I’ve got several manuscripts in process. I’ve learned so much about navigating anxiety since writing my memoir that I’m chewing on a self-help book on the subject. I’ve also got a spiritual psychology guidebook for writers percolating. And I’m expanding my teaching and coaching practices to work with students and clients worldwide. I’ll continue teaching writing, which I love, and I’ve recently started working with people suffering with anxiety. I have a life coaching practice in which I support and empower people to take risks in service to fulfilling heartfelt dreams. I’m excited about working with writers and non-writers alike both in groups and individually, in person and online. I also plan to teach workshops at retreat centers, where I’ll offer creative writing, creative movement, guided meditations, and other practices that enhance personal well-being, healing, creativity, and growth. But mostly I expect things to be much the way they are now: to have the freedom and joy to learn and grow—and to share my discoveries with others.