Five years ago, Dave Conrardy was 430 pounds and ready to die.
The Seattle truck driver -- who could devour five Double Quarter Pounders in one sitting -- had Stage 1 colon cancer, defective kidneys and often relied on an asthma inhaler to take a breath.
That's when he met David and Judith Whiting -- an unusual couple who wanted Conrardy to teach them how to drive a big rig.
"I told them I was dying. I was hoping to live long enough to see my son and daughter graduate from college," says Conrardy. "I'm talking about a year away. I was hoping to live long enough for that."
The pair told the father of two they had a diet that would help him.
"I could lose all the weight I wanted, I could eat as much as I wanted and some of these conditions would clear up," recalls Conrardy.
"About all I heard was I could eat all I want. I processed the rest of it about a week later."
The diet turned out to be the so-called raw food diet -- consisting of uncooked, plant-based foods -- mainly organic vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Conrardy admits the concept, at first, was hard to grasp.
"When they said they were raw -- 'We can't eat anything cooked' -- I said great. We'll swing by McDonald's and we'll order the hamburgers not cooked."
The couple explained they didn't eat meat, eggs or dairy.
Conrardy was stunned.
"This is a mind-blower. I thought, 'These people are freaking crazy.'"
Fast-forward to today. Conrardy, 56, weighs about 200 pounds -- 230 pounds less than he did in 2007. He says since adopting the raw food diet, his kidneys have stopped leaking protein into his blood and his Type 2 diabetes has disappeared.
"I taught them how to drive a big rig and they taught me how to literally live," says Conrardy, who was to be in Winnipeg Tuesday to talk about his weight loss and health reformation.
However, due to issues at the border, the talk will have to be rescheduled.
Known in raw food circles as Dave the Raw Food Trucker, Conrardy has carved out a niche for himself as a motivational speaker. He's traded in his big rig for a Honda and is currently on a North American tour, giving seminars about his new raw-foodist life.
He says he has stopped taking 18 out of 19 prescription medications doctors said he would need to survive.
"This is what I do now. I've dedicated the rest of my life to getting the word out about what I call the healing power of raw, organic, vegan foods," says Conrardy from a hotel room in Des Moines, Iowa, where he had given a talk the night before.
Pure raw foodists eat only items that are raw -- or cooked to a temperature no higher than 48 C. The diet excludes all animal products including meat, dairy and eggs.
Proponents of the vegan diet argue these unprocessed, "living" foods reflect how humans are meant to eat. The rationale: Heating food higher than 48 C destroys its enzymes, forcing the body to work unnecessarily hard at breaking it down.
The theory also says cooking food diminishes its nutritional value. Raw foods, on the other hand, are full of phytochemicals that ward off disease and extend life.
Raw-foodism can be extreme, but it has surfed a wave of popularity for a decade, thanks to a handful of Hollywood followers. It has been reported that while shooting the movie Charlie's Angels, actress Demi Moore took up the diet, which apparently helped her drop 15 pounds. Woody Harrelson and Alicia Silverstone are also said to be devotees of raw food.
But the radical diet has also been subject to negative publicity. In 2003, police investigators linked the diet to the death of a six-month-old Florida baby who died of malnutrition. The infant's parents were reportedly raw-foodists.
Conrardy says the general public has the wrong idea about raw-foodism. One of the biggest myths, he says, is that people can't get enough protein from plant-based foods. Conrardy disagrees, saying that much of the protein in cooked meat isn't easily digestible.
And even though he hasn't consumed meat in years, he says not "morally opposed" to the idea.
"I'm not 100 per cent raw-organic vegan and I really try to explain that to people," he says. "I'm high raw, high organic and high vegan."
A typical day's worth of food for Conrardy includes a cucumber, a few handfuls of nuts, a bell pepper, some olives, a large tomato and several stalks of celery.
He hates green salads, so he also juices a lot of his veggies -- and often consumes two litres a day of juiced greenery.
"I still, to this day, eat whenever I'm hungry. I stop when I'm full."
He says even meat-eaters can give his way of life a try just by incorporating more plant-based foods into their diets.
Conrardy -- one of five children -- grew up in Washington, where he spent his childhood hunting, fishing and enjoying life. Eating meat was big part of his upbringing, although, he says, he was never overweight.
He became morbidly obese, he says, without realizing it -- seemingly overnight.
"Every one of us made the mental decision that 'there is something wrong with me. I am not normal.' And you just give up. Once you give up, you just go and you eat whatever you want and that's that."
His two raw-foodist friends who introduced him to the life used to keep a computer in his truck and check the Internet for organic markets nearby. When they found one, the threesome would grocery shop together. It was then that Conrardy learned how to read food packages and look for foods that were raw, organic and plant-based.
They would eat salads (Conrardy dislikes salads to this day), either in the truck or at a rest stop picnic table.
He also would eat whole melons at a time.
He lost 98 pounds in the first three months, but his Type 2 diabetes was out of control owning to the sheer amount of fruit he ate (fruits are high in natural sugars).
He finally figured out he needed to eat lower-glycemic fruits such as avocados and olives.
"My tastes changed," he says, noting he no longer craves sweet or processed items.
Even though Conrardy dropped 230 pounds in less than two years, he admits the journey into raw foodism hasn't been easy.
He had to avoid mall food courts for two years before he was over his addiction to them.
He would avoid family social functions that took place at eateries.
Three months into his new diet -- after he lost nearly 100 pounds -- his friends staged an intervention for him, saying they were worried that his already weak heart could fail from the rapid weight loss.
"I never felt better in 35 years. I never had any heart murmurs or anything."
In 2010, he did suffer a mild heart attack and major stroke that left one side of his body paralyzed. Conrardy says years of carrying excess weight probably weakened his heart.
But what put him over the edge, he says, was when a new doctor refused to refill a prescription for one of his heart medications -- the only medication out of a handful that he continued to take, despite his doctors' recommendations.
"Four days after I ran out of it, I had a mild heart attack. And the next morning, I had a major stroke," says Conrardy, who was let go as truck driver because he refused to take all the medications that doctors recommended after his 2010 heart episode.
He recovered from his stroke in six months and now exercises -- something he never did before.
He swears that sticking to his raw food, vegan diet is why his body recovered so quickly from his stroke.
"I never graduated from high school. My reading equivalency is ninth grade. My math equivalency is eighth grade. I only speak from the experiences of what has happened to me," says Conrardy.
"This is the most healing diet on the planet."
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