How To Ditch The Fatigue For Unlimited Energy
Raw Food Chef and Instructor, Julie Van den Kerchove, used raw foods to become her boldest, happiest self and you can, too.
This is a transcript of the live interview between Sara Grove and Julie Van den Kerchove. To enjoy the audio version, click here.
Welcome! My name is Sara Grove, co-founder of Raw Food Magazine, and today we have Julie Van den Kerchove with us all the way from Belgium, so we’re so excited to have her. She is a certified raw food chef who graduated from the Living Light Culinary Institute of California, which is a very renowned raw food institution. Many of our chefs have been trained there; it’s a pretty spectacular place. She has been teaching raw food for some time now and decided after healing some of her own health challenges to pursue this passion, and started her own business as a raw food chef with her partner, who is also a raw food chef. They co-founded and ran the kitchen at a restaurant called Essen’s Cuisine in Gent, and now she offers workshops and catering, and she’s written so many recipe e-books at julieslifestyle.com, which is kind of her online home—I mean you are constantly updated with recipes and recipe books and many amazing things—so we are so happy to have you today Julie. Welcome.
Julie: Thank you, I’m very excited to be here and looking forward.
Sara: First of all I’d love to hear from you: when did you start gaining an interest in raw foods? How long have you been a chef?
Julie: I graduated as a raw food chef four years ago, but my interest in a healthier, plant-based lifestyle began when I was 15. That’s the age when I turned vegetarian thanks to my sister, and my diet has been evolving since then.
Sara: Was it an older sister, younger sister?
Julie: A younger sister, actually. She adopted a vegetarian lifestyle because she loves animals a lot and she cares about the planet, but also because she couldn’t digest meat easily, so it was a consequence of different factors.
Sara: What was your experience going vegetarian? Did you have any noticeable shifts or changes?
Julie: It’s really hard for me to remember since it’s been 13 years. It came really naturally to me. My mom experimented in the kitchen with macrobiotic and ayurvedic cuisine, she’s a brilliant chef, so I learned a lot about her. I think the biggest difference to me was my weight didn’t fluctuate any longer so I was able to maintain a healthy, stable weight and move away from the constant dieting.
Sara: That’s wonderful. So from there, just bring us along the journey a little bit. Where did you go from there, from being a vegetarian?
Julie: My mom obviously cooked when I was still at home, then I moved out because I went to study at college. I wouldn’t say I was lazy but I ate a lot of bread, cheese, yogurt, fruit and salad— so it was still mainly healthy, but mostly convenient and quick. It was during that period that I got a candida yeast infection, mostly because of all the pasteurized dairy I was eating, so that’s when I shifted my diet. I moved away from the classic vegetarian diet that is really high in dairy; basically, I was forced to cut out all the pasteurized dairy, all grains and sweet fruits from my diet because of the candida.
Sara: Wow, was that a challenge for you?
Julie: Yes it was. I think the most difficult thing to cut out of my diet was bread. I loved bread, I had it several times a day, it’s also an essential part of our culture here in Belgium, to have a lot of bread and cheese so yeah, that was quite difficult.
Sara: I was going to ask about that. Is that a typical or traditional meal that your friends or family would have?
Julie: Most Belgians start their day with bread and some sort of chocolate or gingerbread spread, marmalade, cheese, so mostly a sweet breakfast, but a lot of bread. Then for lunch, if people go to work, it’s usually bread as well, but if they stay at home and cook, a typical Belgian meal consists of potatoes, vegetables—cooked vegetables—and some kind of meat or fish, so always the combination of animal-based protein, potatoes or some kind of pasta, and vegetables. But vegetables are always the smallest portion; most of the plate is filled with potatoes and the meats.
Sara: Right, of course. So when you were cutting all these things out of your diet, the bread, the cheese, the sweet fruits, were you in college at this point?
Julie: Yes I was studying journalism at school.
Sara: What did your friends and family say about it? Were they supportive, were they worried about you?
Julie: If I’m honest, I lost a lot of friends along the way. I had the candida yeast infection then, and I also had a chronic glandular fever because of Epstein-Barr; I don’t know if you know it, but it’s really common, it blocks your immune system, it really eats away at your immune system and your energy. So those two things came together and I lost a lot of energy. I was always tired, and at that moment I wasn’t aware that it was because of that virus, so I went from one doctor to another and I didn’t have energy to go out any longer, to exercise. A lot of friends that I used to go out with didn’t really understand what was happening. I was really lucky to have my sister, my mom, my boyfriend; they were really supportive and they also saw the results in my energy and my health when I did adopt my diet so yeah, they were really happy.
Sara: Yeah, I imagine that would be so emotionally challenging for you. When you didn’t know why you were so tired, what was that like emotionally?
Julie: It was really hard. I had a lot of panic attacks. I even thought at one point I had depression. I felt so sad, I felt so alone as well because every doctor said “Sorry, we can’t help you, we can’t find a cause to your problems. You’re absolutely healthy.” I don’t know how you say the expression in English, but in Dutch it’s “between your ears, it’s in your head, you’re imagining things,” so yeah, I cried a lot. It was a difficult phase in my life.
Sara: How did you end up finding out about the Glandular Fever?
Julie: I kept persisting, kept searching with my mom for the right doctor and we finally found him, someone who took my blood and immediately saw the virus, and that was the turning point in the whole story.
Sara: Up until then, at any point did you start thinking “oh, this must be the way I am,” or did you always know that there was something bigger going on?
Julie: I think I knew that something bigger was going on because as a teenager I exercised a lot, I had a lot of energy, I went out every weekend with my friends. I was always happy and positive and since I got ill I had a lot of doubts, a lot of anxiety, and I knew it wasn’t in my head. I was convinced I would be able to find a solution, it was just a matter of time.
Sara: That is really wonderful, and I hope for people listening who might have similar symptoms, I know there is a lot of pressure on us and a lot of Americans that if you’re tired or fatigued or depressed you’re not trying hard enough or you just need to do more or be more—when there really could be other things going on that are affecting that, so I’m glad that you stuck to the search.
Julie: Yes, absolutely.
Sara: So initially, after you found out you had the Glandular Fever and candida, you cut out the
bread, and cheese. Did you cut out all dairy at this point?
Julie: I cut out all milk by then, yes, all pasteurized dairy. Now I’ve incorporated a tiny bit of raw goat cheese once in awhile but not a lot; at that point, all grains and all refined sugars.
Sara: What were your most immediate results. Did you notice anything change quickly?
Julie: Yes, absolutely. The most important result I experienced was that I had more energy, a lot more energy; also improved concentration and performance, both at work, while studying, and even during exercise, so yes, a big difference. And then maintaining a healthy weight and having better sleep was a big one as well.
Sara: It’s so wonderful that you had your support team of your mom and your sister and your boyfriend. Did they notice these things happening? What was their reaction?
Julie: They were really happy because they followed me throughout the whole journey and they were really supportive, but at times they felt they really couldn’t help me, so they were relieved that I finally found something that worked for me—especially my boyfriend Simon, and who is still my partner; he was really amazed by the results. It was at the point that I discovered raw food and we immediately decided to go to California to become raw food chefs, so yeah, he was amazed by the results.
Sara: That’s so neat. He was inspired by you so you both went and did the training together?
Julie: Yes, exactly.
Sara: That’s so wonderful. Let’s talk a little bit about that. So you’re having these changes, cutting out processed sugar, bread and dairy. What was the next step, what made you keep searching?
Julie: Even though I was able to improve my digestion and had more energy, I still felt more tired than I should, so I basically decided to dive a little deeper and look for answers online, and that’s when I discovered raw foods. I had read about it in the past but I never really considered trying it for myself, so at that point I just started to experiment, eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking a lot of fresh green juices. The results were amazing, and my energy levels went up, even more than before I got sick. My skin cleared up and also, what was a real turning point for me, was that I finally discovered a way to enjoy my favorite desserts and comfort foods but as a healthy alternative, without feeling guilty afterwards. I have always been, not a yo-yo dieter, but very conscious of my weight, about how I looked and about what having a dessert for instance would mean—I would have to run for 30 minutes to burn off the calories—so I was really amazed at the possibilities of raw vegan healthy desserts.
Sara: Out of curiosity, what are some of your favorite desserts and comfort foods?
Julie: Wow, so many. If we’re talking about the more gourmet raw vegan desserts that I have once in awhile, for a party or holidays, raw vegan cheesecake is my favorite. But day-to-day even the smallest things like banana ice cream or just ice cream made from frozen fruit was such an eye-opener to me. I’ve always been a real ice cream addict, and when I had to cut out dairy I felt really sad, if felt like I would never be able to have ice cream again, so yes, fruit ice cream. Then just the simple energy balls made with dates and nuts, then to have something chocolatey and comforting in the afternoon without having to go through the spikes in my blood sugar level and the lows as well.
Sara: Did you notice or experience a detoxification period once you started changing your diet so dramatically?
Julie: Yes, mostly when I cut out the sugar, the gluten and the dairy, not really because of the raw food. It was more like the phase before that. I experienced headaches, emotionally it was difficult as well because my health really forced me to cut out all of those things at once. It was really drastic, and people around me were still eating anything they felt like, so the first four weeks were very difficult emotionally. I even felt angry at times, like, “why can’t I have that?”—but after those first four weeks it became easier and it really became a lifestyle instead of a diet.
Sara: Then I imagine once you started feeling so much better there’s a desire to keep doing those things that make you feel so good.
Julie: At first it required a lot of determination and discipline but after a while yeah, because you feel so good, both emotionally and physically, it becomes a lifestyle, it becomes a habit.
Sara: At this time, you didn’t know anyone else who ate raw food, did you?
Julie: No I didn’t. It was really new here in Belgium, not like in California or New York so no, I didn’t know anyone who ate raw food.
Sara: So when you were experimenting on your own who did you have? Teachers or mentors? Who did you look to to learn what to do?
Julie: The first raw foodies that introduced me to the lifestyle were Karen Nolar—she was one of the first from the UK—Shazee as well—also from the UK—Russell James, David Wolf and Fredrick Patinough. Those five were the first to influences that I read a lot about and bought their books. I also love raw food dessert chef Heder Pace; she has the best raw desserts through her website Sweetly Raw. And then there was our raw food chef training at Living Lights Culinary Institute. I became friends with one of the teachers, Brenda Hinton, from Rossen Creations. She’s an incredibly talented chef and such a nice person, so she became my mentor and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
Sara: That’s so wonderful. At what point did you decide you wanted to turn, because so far you’d been making these lifestyle changes as a way to address your own well-being and your own health, so at what point did you decide to seek out the culinary institute and become trained? Was that purely to learn more personally, or did you have a desire to make it a professional avenue as well?
Julie: I definitely had a desire to make it a professional avenue. I studied journalism then linguistics, so I studied for seven years thinking that I was going to become a communications specialist or a journalist. but I really knew deep in my heart that I wanted to do something with nutrition and healthy food. When I got sick and recovered thanks to raw food I was so amazed with the results, I think I finally found the courage to follow my passion and follow my heart, and that’s when I decided to go to Living Lights. After that, it just came naturally to start the blog. I started it when I was in California. and a lot of people kept asking questions about raw food and kept asking for recipes and workshops, so we started with small group workshops, then we got some questions about catering, so it really happened step-by-step. Simon was still working as an engineer at that time when we came back to Belgium, but when we had the restaurant he joined me in the business, and it’s been really taking off since then. But that was four years ago, so it really happened step-by-step.
Sara: That is so neat. What has the reaction been since you came back? It sounds like there was a lot of interest and intrigue about what you’d been up to. Do you find that people are receptive to raw food and to you?
Julie: Four years ago there was a lot of curiosity, but I think many people associated raw food with salads or carrot sticks, or there were a lot of people who thought it was about raw fish and raw meat, so there were a lot of misconceptions. But the last year, interest has really increased. and I think a lot of people are searching for healthy alternatives, especially free from gluten and dairy. I was surprised that so many people were looking for healthy alternatives, especially since a lot of Belgians eat a traditional diet primarily of meat, dairy, and bread, but it seems like more and more people are open to the raw food cuisine, so that’s wonderful.
Sara: Yeah, that is really wonderful. So now, how do you feel with your body, your skin; what’s changed for you?
Julie: Great question. Physically, I have a lot more energy. Also, I lost a lot of weight and managed to maintain that healthy weight throughout the last four years without really trying, without having to count calories. Emotionally, it’s as different as night and day. I used to have a lot of panic attacks and anxiety, and as I said there were times when I was crying a lot and I felt depressed, especially when I wasn’t aware of the Epstein-Barr Virus, the glandular fever—but raw foods really helped me with that and still help me feel happier, to feel lighter and take on the world as it is. Everyone has good and bad days, but in general I just feel happier now.
Sara: Do you still struggle with the food guilt that you used to have, like “oh I ate this and I have to exercise this much”?
Julie: Not really. It’s basically disappeared, and that’s such a relief. I think the biggest challenge these days is having to be careful about certain nutrients like vitamins and B12, K2, zinc as well. I do need some supplements now, because those are just hard to absorb from plant-based sources. I’ve also dealt with teeth sensitivity in the past, like many raw vegans I think, but eating less sweet fruits helped me. I’ve also stopped drinking tons of lemon water because it really hurt the enamel. the outer layer of my teeth.
Sara: Yes, starting the day with lemon water is definitely popular one, but it is hard on your teeth. So what supplements do you take now?
Julie: At the moment we’re going into winter and it’s quite dark here, so vitamin D. I also take a 12, but the whole vitamin B range, and then once in awhile I take some zinc and selenium.
Sara: And have you found that helps you maintain a healthy raw diet?
Julie: Yes, it helps me maintain the diet and lifestyle, but it also it really helps with my energy because I don’t have to take an iron supplement if I make sure the other nutrients are in balance; it really helps in maintaining that energy. Since I was a child I’ve had trouble absorbing iron, even when I still had meat and dairy and traditional foods, so it’s something I need to be careful with.
Sara: How would you suggest people find out? Did you have your blood tested? How did you find out you needed certain supplements?
Julie: I did have my blood tested, and I try to have it tested at least once a year just to make sure. I eat mostly plant-based diets and it can be difficult to get everything you need from plants, especially if you have a busy job or you’re stressed, so I would suggest that you have your blood tested once a year.
Sara: I think that is great advice. So for someone who is brand new to raw food, what advice would you have for them? How would you recommend starting to experiment with raw foods?
Julie: Well, I always advise people to start slowly, to see what works for them, because some people will immediately thrive on a higher lifestyle, but others may have a harder time digesting raw foods and vegetables because of the fiber. So start slowly; for example, start your day with a green smoothie or juice before you have anything else; you can enjoy more fresh fruits as a snack, you can experiment with some easy raw vegan desserts like chocolate avocado mousse or just the banana ice cream. I think what’s been really important to me is incorporating more leafy greens and vegetables in general into my diet, like simple salads; just adding a simple salad to your lunch or dinner will make such a big difference. It really doesn’t have to be dehydrated recipes and all complicated things; the simpler the better. Also, make sure you are eating enough calories. I know that might sound strange, but if you’re adopting a higher lifestyle, it’s very easy to undereat, because raw fruits and vegetables are high in water content and lower in calories compared to other foods like bread or meat or dairy, so you need to eat more in order to have the energy you need and to avoid cravings for sweet snacks.
Throughout the years my diet has evolved. I personally like to combine raw and cooked food nowadays, because you can get a lot of nutrients from cooked quinoa, steamed vegetables, beans, chickpeas, seaweed—this really helps me adjust my diet to the seasons and also to eat out with friends or family without having to worry about meals.
Sara: I love how you pointed out how important it is to be eating enough. Again and again I hear stories or talk to friends who are so excited to try raw food and they do and they feel amazing, a week or 10 days in they feel so great, so fresh and clea—and then they just crash. I ask them to describe what they are eating and it always comes down to that; they simply aren’t eating very much, they’ll have like one pear. So they feel great right off the bat, cleaning out the system, but you do need more to sustain yourself when you’re not getting such dense calories. I also love your including cooked grains and vegetables. In my mind that’s what this is really about: starting to clear out some of the highly addictive, clogging foods so you can actually discover what your body really needs. That might be different for different people, and that might be different, like you said, with the seasons and weather changing.
Julie: Yes, absolutely. It really depends on where you live in the world, what your job is like, what stress you experience, and what your body constitution is as well. Some people do really well, for instance, with beans and chickpeas, while others don’t digest them, so you just have to experiment and see how your body responds.
Sara: I love that. Do you have a saying or quote or mantra that has helped motivate you, especially at the beginning when it was so hard and you had to cut so many things out all at once?
Julie: There is actually. There is a quote from Akatoll that says, “You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.” To me, that’s turning inside and really finding the joy and the power that is already within you.
Sara: Does that feel like what you’ve been doing for the last four years or more?
Julie: Yes it does. It really helped me during those difficult moments when I felt alone and I felt like a victim, like “why is this happening to me?” But playing that victim role really didn’t help me, so that quote and his teachings really helped me to see it’s not about what happens to you, it’s about what happens and how you deal with it. It’s really empowering.
Sara: That is so wonderful. That’s a great piece of encouragement right there. But when someone is trying to get healthier, and I’m sure you’ve run into friends and family and people around you who are eating your creations, what do you say to them when they’re discouraged or they’re not sure it’s going to work for them? I’m trying to think about people in the New Year who are taking this on and make some dramatic changes to their lifestyle. Do you have a few tips, like the most important things to get started? Or a little bit of encouragement for someone who wants to take the leap but maybe they don’t have a diagnosis, they don’t have someone telling them they have to do this to keep them committed.
Julie: Diet is very important, but I think good sleep and plenty of movement is just as important. It doesn’t have to be exercise, but just movement so you can benefit from the sun, the fresh air and just moving your body; that’s one thing that is so important. Good sleep as well: get seven hours of sleep a night or more; that will really help you with detoxifying, having enough energy, concentrating. And if someone wants to adjust their diet, wants to start with one simple change, I always recommend adding a green juice or smoothie to their diet. It’s a simple step but has a huge impact on your health, energy, and your clarity of mind. It will instantly help your body detoxify and you will really notice that you start craving healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. That’s how you can evolve and adjust your diet even more. Don’t try to change everything at once; just move away from the processed foods and incorporate more fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, all those things, the purest ingredients, and give yourself time. Don’t be too hard on yourself; just go into this with a certain goal, a clear goal, and give yourself time.
Sara: Yes, time and not being hard on yourself. I really like that. And the green smoothie and green juice is such a simple one that can have such dramatic effects. We’re actually encouraging people this January to do a week-long smoothie challenge with a new recipe every day; they’re so easy and fun and delicious and different. That’s what you hear over and over again, and we still don’t do it. Maybe if we all do it together it will help having that support. But for you Julie, what’s next for you? What are some of your goals for 2016?
Julie: I’ve got a lot of goals, but for 2016, I recently published my first cookbook with a combination of raw and vegan recipes, but it’s in Dutch, so I would love to have it translated in English and French, especially English. I’d also love to reach a wider audience in Belgium and beyond, because I feel like the raw and vegan lifestyle helps so many people, even if they only adjust a few things in their diet. And it’s so important for children too, because they are the adults of tomorrow, so if they can adopt a healthy lifestyle now, I think they’ll have a bright future ahead of them.
Sara: I imagine that if you adapted when you were small it wouldn’t seem so challenging, it would seem more normal or natural.
Julie: Yes, exactly. It would just be part of your lifestyle. It wouldn’t feel like something you had to do.
Sara: Right, I love that. So for anyone who wants to learn more about you or see some of your delicious creations, where should we send them?
Julie: My website is julieslifestyle.com. There you can find all the recipes I share each week and if you subscribe to the mailing list you will get a free eBook with smoothies and shakes and a weekly free recipe. At Instagram I’m at rawfoodjulie.
Sara: I actually have that eBook and it is great, you don’t want to miss it; it has some really amazing recipes.
Julie: Thank you.
Sara: You’re welcome, and congratulations on your new cookbook. I’ll have to start learning Dutch so I can read it.
Julie: Let’s just hope it gets translated into English.
Sara: That will probably happen faster than my learning Dutch. Thank you so much for being here. Any final words, any final thoughts, for our audience or to sum up your experience with raw food and what it’s given to your life?
Julie: Wow. Don’t feel afraid to just give it a try. Don’t think about it, just do it. Try a green juice, try a green smoothie each morning and see how your body responds. It’s by taking action that you will feel if it’s right for you, so just do it.
Sara: Put the fears aside and just go for it and see what happens.
Julie: Don’t think too much, just take action.
Sara: I love it. Thank so much Julie for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure and I look forward to keeping in touch.
Julie: Definitely my pleasure, thank you.
Connect with Julie
We invite you to connect with Julie and let her know what you learned from this interview! Follow Julie for more recipes and inspiration!
What did you think?
Let us know by clicking HERE to send us a quick e-mail.
And, to make sure you don’t miss any wonderful upcoming interviews, be sure to subscribe to Raw Food Magazine today. Click here to start for FREE!
Thanks for reading and have a beautiful day
-your rfm team