Places like Nation Towers’ Organic Foods & Cafe, pop-up fairs like RIPE Market and boutique shops such as The Raw Place have certainly made it easier to clean up eating habits in Abu Dhabi, but it’s still no easy task living here if you’re after a fully raw food lifestyle.
Needless to say, we love having met Marilyne Defer, Reem Island’s new Raw Queen, as she is relatable in her approach to the seemingly restrictive regime.
In fact, Defer – who has just started running hands-on workshops on going raw for rookies – was very recently not a raw foodie at all, and is still taking the steps to better health while introducing raw living to others in her Abu Dhabi kitchen.
“I changed my food lifestyle around two years ago after I had put on a lot of weight since moving here,” says the French expat. “Prior to that, I was always checking my weight daily and regularly on diets. I tried so many times to organise balanced weekly meal plans but nothing worked! I can honestly say that I was mostly frustrated around food.
“I started to hear and take an interest in raw food through a couple of friends back when I was living in London. I discovered that eating raw is what my body needed. I was finally enjoying new recipes, new techniques and truly enjoying my food without feeling guilty or frustrated, or going through cycles of restraint and then abundance as I had for so many years before. I lost weight naturally and felt so much better.”
Admitting to being only about 70 per cent raw at present, and not intending to go the full distance for a sheer love of food (in particular, bread and the occasional healthy cooked meal), Defer is still reaping so many rewards from the shift, and it has extended to her husband and two children too.
“Soups, juices, smoothies, lots of desserts and complete mains… I am now so happy in the kitchen. Even more happy getting to ditch all processed foods, chemicals, additives and mass food production items that are so full of so many bad things for us.”
She adds: “So, today I would like to help others, not to change everything in one day, but to add more easy raw food recipes into their daily lifestyles. I would like to show you how simple it is to prepare raw meals and how the whole family can enjoy eating raw food.”
Defer’s highly-interactive, two-hour raw food workshops offer an introduction to raw food equipment, local farmers and resources, and of course teach you a range of meals right in her kitchen, with takeaway recipes for juices and smoothies, wraps, dips, pasta and lasagna, ice cream and energy balls for those with a sweet tooth.
The best bit is getting to eat your way through the morning and see for yourself just how tasty and inventive fresh, unprocessed, plant-based eats and treats can be; and how easily they can be made.
“No one wants to spend hours in the kitchen to get a good meal. In a raw food diet you are eating without any sort of heat source, cooking or frying, it’s so fast and enjoyable, and in return you access huge amounts of vitamins, minerals, essential nutrients, amino acids, oxygen, enzymes and antioxidants,” says Defer.
“The consumption of fruits and vegetables and their juices contributes to the hydration of the body. Raw fooding also increases vitality and energy throughout the day, reduces fatigue, improves sleep, memory and concentration, and just generally improves you physically – you’ll have a firmer face and body, brighter skin and hair and stronger nails.”
Alongside delaying the ageing process, the Abu Dhabi mum says the lifestyle will improve circulation, drastically reduce any allergy symptoms, stress, anxiety, and naturally fight against infections, diseases and digestive problems, leaving you with a bulletproof immune system.
“It basically provides radiant, glowing health,” assures a transformed Defer.
To test this for yourself before taking the big leap, she simply suggests taking two of your busy work days and eating lots of your usual meals on one day, then going fully raw the other day and comparing the two.
“You will see the difference,” she guarantees.
In general, the key to introducing, and sticking to, a raw food lifestyle is slow and thoughtfully planned integration. Marilyne tips: “Breakfast can be a good starting point – easy recipes for big green smoothies, smoothie bowls, chia pudding, overnight soaked porridge, and fruit platters can be found on my blog.
“If you are hungry later on in the morning eat another fruit-based meal, and always drink lots of water. The following week you can introduce a raw lunch such as raw zucchini pasta, big salads, raw wraps, and then the following week add some raw snacks.
“It is absolutely fine if you are feeling for a cooked meal in the evening. In that case, go for a light soup, steamed vegetables or a light stir-fry with quinoa, lentils etc.
“A very good tip is to learn to make nutritious sauces such as one that is avocado or tahini-based. The salad might be light but by adding a sauce you will feel full.”
She adds: “If you have headaches at the beginning, this may be due to the effects of detoxification. Consume everything slowly and allow your body time to pass the toxins. Be gentle to yourself and always take the time to listen in.”
Marilyne’s next workshop, March 7, is specifically geared towards healthy and vegan packed lunches for kids, with more raw tutorials planned in the coming months.
Keep up to date via her website www.fhttuae.com or follow her on Instagram (_HEALTHY_ KITCHEN_).
WHAT: Marilyne Defer’s two-hour raw food workshops
WHERE: Reem Island, Abu Dhabi
VERDICT: Excellent guidance which shows eating clean doesn’t have to be boring.