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Dr. Stefania Licari - Ultra Marathon Runner and Raw Foodist

Dr. Stefania Licari, M.D. is a shining light among the drug-happy medical community.

The Italian-born ultramarathon runner is inspiring everyone to escape mediocrity with her endeavour go4extremes, which she uses to showcase her impressive feats of endurance: A 2-week 500km run through the wastes of Morocco, and the Jungle Ultramarathon to name a few.

The 31-year-old practices a healthy low-fat raw vegan diet, and says she's never felt better.

Think you have a lot of cultural pressure to eat unhealthy food? Sefania grew up in Italy where divorcing cooked food is paramount to cultural rebellion.

The following interview was conducted in February of 2009.


Andrew Perlot - Please tell us a bit about your past and how you came to start a raw food diet.

Finish LineStefania Licari - My name is Stefania. I am a happy, peaceful soul. I believe in respecting all the living beings and our marvellous planet. I eat raw fruits, vegetable and nuts. I am qualified as a Medical Doctor.

I enjoy adventure running, my true self gets a big buzz when I run ultra-distances in extreme and remote environments. I make love to the Nature. I also believe that a strong mind will take you anywhere.

I hope that the following interview will be of help for anyone who wishes to take further steps in their health and fitness, and may my experience and words inspire you to get away from the common mediocrity and decide to give yourself the well-deserved chance to be the best you can be. It’s a wonderful journey, don’t miss it.

Stefania Licari - Prior Diet

I ate a Mediterranean diet for 28 years- I used to eat loads of fish, occasionally meat and very often cheese, bread end chocolate. I never had junk food nor fried food.

I have always been a moderate drinker. I gave up sugar at the age of 20 but unfortunately I substituted it with the dangerous artificial sweeteners aspartame and sucralose.

I was a heavy coffee drinker. I thought overall my diet was healthy: apart from the coffee, I was persuaded I was doing quite well and after all I was managing a hard core faculty (Medicine) and a weekly running training. I looked very pretty and felt good.

Stefania Licari -The Turning Point

http://www.raw-food-health.net/images/StefaniaRunning.jpgWhat was the turning point? In most people the turning point is a health issue, or a friend or a doctor’s advice. None of these for me; I became vegetarian in 2006 because I “felt bad energy coming from meat” as simple as this.

I was feeling upset every time I was passing by the meat sector in supermarkets. I was confused at first, why would that happen? I was not even a strong animals’ fan (now I am indeed…) but it became progressively more difficult to ignore the feeling that “something was not right”. I had no vegetarian friends and nobody to ask for advice or to take as role model.

Soon the feeling became unbearable and I made the conscious decision I would not have bought meat until feeling “better” (I never bought meat again….) and I opted for fish and cheese.

That didn’t last long- after a month or so I gave up fish. I clearly remember the day: I had bought a big fish to grill as special treat for the coming Sunday lunch and I kept it for 2 days on the fridge, I was hesitating…until at some point I took it out of the fridge and I stared at it, I was immobilized, I could not touch it, cut it, let alone eat it. I saw a soul in that fish, a living being. My inner self was screaming at me “this is not right”. I listened to it finally, I threw the fish away and I never had a piece of meat or fish again.

That moment I had became a vegetarian. Two months later I turned vegan.

Cool- so now I was all ethical and spiritual and I felt this new compassion for animals was really a true expression of my self- but lets face up: what about protein?

Stefania Licari - What About Protein?

What a misleading question. First of all, every time I am asked this, I answer: “You tell me how much protein we need” and I have never received an answer. The truth is that there is so much misconception about protein. We don’t need the big amount that most of my colleagues with their out-of-date medical charts promote. The standard diet is overloaded with protein and this explains the huge amount of kidney related diseases.

There are enough protein in fruits, veggies and nuts.

Few months after becoming vegan I took up the raw food diet almost overnight. It was just the natural answer to my question: what’s the best diet ever?

Andrew Perlot - What benefits have you noticed since going raw in terms of the physical, mental, athletic, or in any other side of life.

Stefania Licari - Going raw is like going back to the basics.

I believe that a frugal diet not only is the key factor for optimum health but also lets people unfold their true potentials in all areas of their life: spiritual, emotional, self-realization.

It works like this: you get rid of all the junks in your diet and sooner or later you will crave a cleaner emotional life. You will feel the need to master your emotions and your spirituality. With all the junks clogging your systems, you can not even see what your inner true self is and what it needs.

This is the most miraculous aspect of a raw diet: it’s the emotional cleanse you experience. Its like at this point you can not lie to yourself any more and you clearly see where you are, who you are, where you want to go and you are warned now, if what you suddenly see is something you don’t like: you are in trouble.

That’s why so many people go back to a junk diet if they try to eat simple for a while. Not everybody is brave enough to face up to who they really are. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t like who you are there are only two options: either you stay there and keep suffering or you take a giant step, get out of your comfort zone and change it!

Sefania Licari - No More Clogs

No More Clogs

In my case, a raw simple vegan diet helped me to get rid of all the clogs in my body and in my mind. I have a strong belief that what we eat becomes who we are, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

Its scientifically that clear: what we eat becomes our cells, our DNA. Can’t you not see this? Are you sure that you want that those smelly fries or that half decayed piece of burger to turn into your skin, your organs, your brain? One of my previous flat mates eats a very unhealthy diet and is badly addicted to sausages and diet coke- well, he is also moody, aggressive and irritable.

I bet that if he had given up his junk, his attitude would have changed dramatically. But he didn’t. He as well as plenty of other people prefer to keep their body clogged. At the end of the day if you have a junk body, would you not expect a junk mind?

Sefania Licari - The Physical and Emotional

Going raw not only gave me a better athletic performance, lower blood pressure and pulse rate, better skin and hair, a younger and prettier look, a higher endurance and a better breathing capacity, but mainly it made me confront with the truth, it gave me the chance of many reality checks: no more junk barrier walls to confuse the perception of myself.

Going raw gave me the unique chance to see who I am and who I want to be. Its like a free ticket to a trip where your true self and who you appear or act to be get closer to each others until they become the same thing. Isn’t this worth it?

Sefania Licari - What Mother Nature Has to Offer

When you eat what Mother Nature is offering you, when you respect all the living beings and the environment (don’t we all know that cooking is the number one cause of green house effect? How can we keep ignoring this?) when every single meal is a feast of joy, when every single bite is nothing but truly nutritious, don’t you just get a fantastic body, a happy soul and a wonderful karma?

Don’t you see that in this way you are filling your self with love and pure energy? Is not this the way to become the best you can?

Sometimes people come to me and argue “yes, but you know, just a bit of this and this and this does not harm, after all I could be worse” and I reply Of course you could be worse, good on you - but why choose mediocrity when you can have excellence?”

I won’t state that the vegan raw diet is the diet for everybody, I would prefer all of you decide that for yourself, and I like to offer a moderate approach. But when I am asked, I can confidently say that to my scientific-medical understanding and from my personal experience the raw vegan diet is the best diet I am aware of, and I have seen miracles happening in me and others.

Stefhania Licari - What the Family Doctor Says

Would it be enough if I was saying it's highly recommended?

I know most of your family doctors won’t agree with this, but you know, if you are reading this article you are probably questioning the standard medical approach anyway and after all don’t I come from the same background of your family doctors?

Andrew Perlot - Did you find the transition hard? Do you have any particular tactics for overcoming cravings, or does a low fat raw vegan diet keep you satisfied by itself when you're eating enough calories?

Stefania Licari -Yes I found the transition to cooked vegan to raw hard- for a few months, although my transition from a “standard diet” to a vegan diet was the simplest thing that has ever happened to me, it was like going back home.

Stefania Licari - A few Missteps With Raw Gurus

Becoming raw 100% took me several months. It felt right but I had very little knowledge and the raw food literature can be quite confusing. Loads of rawfoodist pioneers behave like gurus and promote a diet based on very little food and super food (powered food: maca, spirulina etc. or dried food like goji berries).

I don’t believe there is such a thing as super food. But I fell in that path and for few months I was eating all this junk raw, which made me wonder if the raw diet was really sustainable.

Thankfully I carried on in my search and I read all the possible books and articles available on the topic and slowly started making my own ideas. First of all a diet of little food, and super food is not sustainable for athletes and I soon realized that most of the rawfoodist gurus out there are NOT athletes at least not in the way I consider athletes should be.

Stefania Licari - The Right Path

So I gave up super food, and I increased my calories and fruit intake and it felt right. After 3 months of this new raw diet I had the honor to come across a great raw foodist, Doug Graham, whose knowledge about raw diet and fitness is of very high value.

I am very grateful to him for sharing his experience with me and kind support. Not only is he a dear friend but also the most knowledgeable rawfoodist I have met or read about so far.

In my raw vegan diet fruits are the biggest part of my meals and veggies and nuts represent a small portion, except during long distance multi-day running events, where I increase my intake of nuts.

Stefania Licari - A Diet For Athletes: Fruit

This all makes sense- at the end of the day I am an athlete, I could not possibly get fuel from veggies smoothies or juices and powered dehydrating stuff like maca or spirulina etc. When I spend time in the tropics I really experience that human beings are naturally drawn to fruits.

Its such a great pleasure to pick a ripe fruit from a tree and it feels so emotionally and spiritually right to do this. The digestion is great and the desire to move around, run or experience great life and joy is just the natural consequence.

I don’t feel this if I eat bread or tofu; I might feel better than eating fries or meat or dairy, but at the end of the day, the question is: do you want to feel just ok, or good or absolutely amazing?

Go back to the basics in your life, start from a big clear out in your diet, and you will feel better physically, emotionally, spiritually. You will feel this is the way human beings are supposed to feel.

Andrew Perlot: I understand you're a medical doctor. Could you tell us a bit about why you became one and if going raw changed your perspective on the drug-heavy medical system? How do your colleagues view your diet? Have you changed any of their minds?

MDStefania Licari - I became a doctor because I felt the vocation to help people, since I was a child I have always had great pleasure from helping others.

I loved every single second of my medical training. Lately my perspective changed a lot about western medicine and now I am exploring alternative methods of treating patients (Ayurveda, Pranic healing, shamanism, mind-coaching etc.)

I want to become a more complete doctor so I can be better for my patients. First of all I realized that as doctors we don’t cure people but we offer instruments to them to cure themselves.

I can see a great potential in the human beings in healing themselves without drugs or surgery by just letting Mother Nature take care of them.

After all, Mother Nature’s operating table is most powerful one, isn’t it? There is nothing that a well-taken-care-of body can not heal. The potential for healing is infinite.

Stefania Licari - No Miracles. Just You.

I have always been fascinated by those mysterious spontaneous remissions, now I am clear that the secrets for healing are there. These are probably not miracles from an external source but the result of that person being able to access the healing power that is within all of us: the power of the mind and the remedies of Mother Nature.

Western medicine is a great gift of our society and sometimes is the only way to go, especially when it's too late or in case of traumas.

I love my job (I do anaesthesiology and critical care, and I have seen many people saved) but it is very much abused, especially for chronic diseases.

Stefhania Licari - Blame Doctors?

The general public tend to blame doctors, and I am afraid but I have to say in most cases the real blame goes to the general public.

People don’t want to listen to something different than “yes take this drug”. People don’t want to take responsibility for their health. They have a junk diet, a junk lifestyle, they don’t master their emotions, they don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.

They expect pills from doctors or unnecessary surgery. They would rather go for surgery than make a change in the quality of their life, and then they blame us? Please don’t.

Stefania Licari - A New Perspective

Open your eyes, learn your self, take up changes and use western medicine when it's really needed. You will find friends in us, medical doctors, not enemies. As doctor I like to tell my patients: I will help you in such a way that you will never come back to me, and I want you to understand that its you healing and only you, I will only offer you some tools. You are the miracle.

Andrew Perlot -What might you eat on any given day? What is the most calories you've eaten during a race, and what did you eat to reach that number? Do you drink "sports drinks” of fruit and water to keep fueled? Why don't you eat a high-fat diet like many other raw foodists?

Stefania Licari - I eat fruits for most of my meals. I love mono-meals, i.e., one single type of fruit per meal. My calories intake varies from 1500 Kcal to 3500 Kcal a day depending how much I am training.

The most I reached during a race was 3000 Kcal in one day taken from dried fruits and nuts. I don’t believe that eating loads of nuts is a good strategy during races, but for some logistics it might be the only option.

If I ran 100 km non-stop I would not even think of nuts, I would take fresh and dried fruits with me, but during a self-sufficient multi-day race, nuts become very convenient since they offer loads more calories compared to the same amount of dried fruits.

Stefania Licari - High Fat Doesn't Work

Also I found by experience that running long distances for several days consecutively as I did in Morocco in November 2008 (500km over two weeks in challenging environments) make me crave nuts more than usual.

I guess this sounds familiar to many ultra-runners. But generally speaking I am against the everyday high fat approach: to me it’s the perfect way to clog your arteries.

At the end of the day eating too much good fats is better than eating too much bad fats, but this still does not make it a healthy habit.

Stefania Licari - Sports Drinks

Regarding sport drinks, I make a drink from soaked dates in distilled water. I don’t use conventional sport drinks or supplementation.

Andrew Perlot -When did you start running and why?

Stefania Licari - I started running when I was 11. My first run was a 5km at 6 am in a small village in Sicily, Italy. I got immediately addicted. Since then I have been running for a very simple reason: it is great fun and I feel alive and that I am expressing my true self.

Andrew Perlot - Tell us about your experience running the Jungle ultra marathon in 2007 (a brutal 200km foot race through the Brazilian Amazon, where she placed 3rdin the women's category).

Stefania Licari - I ran the Jungle Marathon in 2007. It’s a brutal self-sufficient multi stage footrace in the Amazon, where the terrain and the general scary environment makes it more a survival experience than a simple race.

It was my first ultra- nobody (except my coach, Ray Zahab and the race organizer, Shirley, believed I could make it. The other competitors felt very concerned for me especially when they saw that my food was dates, dried bananas and nuts!!!).

Well I made it and yes I got a trophy as 3rd place for the women's category.

It was the most life-changing experience of my life. It completely changed my internal beliefs of what is possible and what is not.

I learnt a lot about self and I can proudly say I realized I have a very strong mind. Even during the worse times, quitting was never an option. I don’t think the word is in my vocabulary. What does that mean by the way? ;-)

Mental SideAndrew Perlot - How do you manage the mental side of your training? Do you do specific meditations or set intentions?

Stefania Licari - I do get into a meditative state when I run long distances. Also I use visualization technique and affirmations. I am a strong believer in the power of the mind and I am currently studying further this field.

Andrew Perlot - With your project go4extremes you're trying to show people that anything is possible. Please tell us about that project.

Stefania Licari - Goforextremes.com just started. I am very excited about it. The idea is to collect my adventure running stories, races and expeditions in order to entertain and inspire my audience. If somebody like me- “the next door girl” – can do that, you also can.

Impossible is a relative concept. If you think its impossible you are probably right, but if you think its possible, you are also right. So what do you think?

I believe that the limits to your success are only the limits of your imagination.

In my website there will be a blog service where to discuss topics related to fitness, nutrition, impact of diet on the environment, mind-coaching.

I'll make it scientific and interesting. Also I will invite guests to give contributions. Later I will set conference calls.

I'll start to offer a service of coaching from 2010. I will take up a UK-based charity as well. My vision is to do big expeditions which will inspire people and give contribution to good causes. At the moment go4extremes is like an infant but I am confident it will grow fast. I am currently looking for sponsors for my next ultra race: The Trans-saharienne a 250 km non-stop in the Algerian desert in March 2010.

Andrew Perlot What advice would you offer someone interested in making their life morehealthy?

Stefania Licari -First of all I would suggest a reality check. Please look into the mirror and ask yourself: am I really happy with who I am?

Its only when you see the gap between who you would like to be and who you are that the drive for a change fires up inside you.

Then I recommend learning about health and nutrition.

Books are the most precious human invention, and all the knowledge is available. Get informed, find your way, don’t give up. Why would you give up anyway? If you give up on yourself, would you then expect others keep loving and supporting or helping you?

Tony Robbins, famous motivational speaker, says: “If you want to achieve a goal, find somebody who has got what you want and learn from them”.

Books, teachers, seminars, coaches are all compulsory parts of a learning curve.

But mainly, decide if you want to settle for “just ok” health or if you want to strive for your best. Every single choice you make at every single moment will have an impact and will direct you either to the loser’s circle or to the winner’s circle. Go out there and be a winner.

May your runs take you wherever you wish to go, Faithfully in the endurance, Stefania Licari, M.D.

Following Up:

Read about a healthy raw food diet here.

Other raw food success stories can be found on this page.

Follow the blog of Stefania Licari here.


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