‘This Lifestyle Helps Me to Be Much More Connected with Earth and Humanity, and I’ve Felt More Present Spiritually Since I Started Eating This Way.’
Born in Estonia and now living in Croatia, Reny Kattel, 37, grew up “relatively healthy and slim” while eating a “simple Soviet diet” and playing sports. She started to gain weight at 16 because she traded sports for computer use and eating junk food that had just started coming into the Soviet Union. She began dieting, ending up on a “high-protein Atkins diet” after modifying this diet, excluding much of the fat.
“So all I ate was low-fat cottage cheese with aspartame (the worst poison ever), some yogurt and raw cabbage, which probably saved my life,” she said. “After about one year on this diet, I got really slim but also really sick. I got kidney and liver inflammation, a messed-up colon, very dry skin, broken capillaries, hypertension and a few other troubles.”
By this time, at age 27, Reny focused on regaining her health, not slimming down. She discovered raw veganism in spring 2005. “It resonated with me so deeply that I instantly went raw vegan, as raw as I could at that time,” she said. “I never really looked back.”
It would take Reny three years to go fully raw, however. She maintained a 95 to 99 percent raw food diet, eating cooked foods out of fear that she might not get all the nutrients her body needed on a 100 percent raw food diet. In August 2010, once Reny met Jesse Bogdanovich, who overcame a poor immune system, juvenile diabetes and stomach issues after experiencing an allergic reaction to a live polio vaccine, she went completely raw.
“I found Jesse on Facebook, and he invited me to come to his retreat in Croatia,” Reny said. “I invested all the savings I had at the moment into coming to his retreat, and it was the best investment in my life! We fell in love with each other right away and have happily lived together since autumn 2010. I feel totally blessed working with and being supported by such a beautiful and loving being like Jesse!”
Reny also fell in love with a raw food diet. “I absolutely love the raw vegan lifestyle on every level!” she said. “Fresh fruits and veggies are super delicious and make me feel happy and vibrant. This lifestyle helps me to be much more connected with Earth and humanity, and I’ve felt more present spiritually since I started eating this way.”
There’s lots to love, especially when you thrive after experiencing compromised health. Reny reported that she began to feel better “right away.” Her kidneys ceased aching and liver began healing. Reny became increasingly relaxed. Her digestive system delivered three to four bowel movements a day, and her energy level soared.
“I started feeling even better than in my teenage years,” she said. “Finally, I could feel satisfied without gaining weight. My teenage dream came true!”
Since she started her raw food journey, Reny has eaten simple, well-combined foods, focusing on sweet fruits, lots of greens and a small amount of fats. She usually has eaten two fruit meals and one salad with a single kind of overt fat. She said she never tolerated nuts or seeds well and mostly avoided them.
“I love living food because it’s so juicy and gives me such a fresh feeling inside,” Reny said. “I can feel the vitality in every bite of raw food—that’s how I can recognise that food is truly raw. This is especially important to know when we eat nuts, seeds, dehydrated fruit, seaweed or green powders.”
In Croatia, however, Reny began consuming more vegetables and seeds. This experience made her miss her “high-fruit days,” so she started following the “carbing up” trend, eating over 2,500 calories from sweet fruit per day.
“The results were not quite what I was expecting,” Reny said. “I started gaining more extra weight again. I noticed that every time I would indulge on high-sugar fruit for a while, especially bananas and dates, my teeth would become more sensitive. I also got a blood sugar monitor and discovered that my sugar was not very stable and getting pretty high at times. It was still in the normal range but fluctuating a lot, and I felt a little dizzy sometimes.”
In February, Reny embarked on a 40-day water fast. She said she is an experienced water faster—cautioning for no one to dive into fasts of such long lengths—and was under the supervision of Jesse. After the fast, Reny discovered that she still didn’t crave sweet fruits the way she once had.
“Fasting helped me to get more in tune with my body,” she said. “I also went through a lot of emotional cleansing, but I feel that there are still a few old blocks and fears to work on. I also felt that my physical cleansing and healing is not done all the way, so I am planning to do another long fast next year.”
These days, Reny is drawn to eating fruits that are high in nutrients and low in sugar along with lots of greens and other vegetables. Beyond the local, non-hybridized fruits in season she gravitates toward, Reny enjoys eating small Estonian apples that are pink on the inside as well as wild and garden berries such as black mulberries, raspberries, wild blueberries, tiny wild strawberries and black currants. “I love to try new fruits that are high in minerals and vitamins, especially wild fruits. I feel that variety and quality are the keys to success on a high-fruit diet.”
Reny also enjoys eating wild greens such as nettles and wild grass. “I love to juice them, but it’s much quicker to blend them into a smoothie or a nice dressing,” she said. “I found out and feel it myself, too, that grass is one of the most edible greens on the planet. … If you blend fresh grass in a high-powered blender with fruit or juicy vegetables, it comes out surprisingly tasty.”
Since she’s been eating less fruit, Reny has turned to a greater amount of salads. “I enjoy eating more salads now, but my favorite veggies are still coming from the fruit kingdom: cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis and pumpkins,” she said. “I also love avocados and olives, so, technically, my salads are made mostly from fruits and greens.”
Reny and Jesse grow greens and other vegetables and reap the bounty from fruit trees. Last summer, she planted greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons and other melons. They plan to build a greenhouse that would enable them to grow more fruits and vegetables and prolong their growing season. The couple relished eating the first four peaches from a small tree they planted three years ago.
“These peaches had incomparably richer taste than any other peaches we ever tried!” she said. “I love gardening—it’s so much fun!”
A welcomed effect of eating a raw food diet is experiencing a heightened spiritual connection, Reny said, and this connection took hold right away after adopting this diet. “When I met Jesse, this spiritual connection grew even more and turned my life into a whole new direction. I left my career of graphical designer, illustrator and translator behind, joined Jesse in his mission and devoted my life to supporting people on this beautiful journey to health and happiness.”
Reny’s favorite forms of physical activity are dancing (“meditation through movement in the most spontaneous and the most natural way”) walking, practicing yoga and engaging in high-interval intensity training.
“Walking is so simple yet so powerful,” Reny said. “It gives us opportunity to move our bodies and meditate at the same time. I feel so free and I can listen to inspirational audios during my walks. I often hike high into the hills, and this kind of walk can be actually as intense as light running.
“… I absolutely love to practice yoga,” she said. “I love to learn new flows and asanas, but even more than that, I love to intuitively explore different movements to discover new energy flows in my body. I also love to work with other people, helping them to intuitively find the right movements that are unique and helpful for their body.”
Reny said raw vegan foods enable her to be more flexible and raise her desire to move and stretch. “It’s like my body pushes me to burn this quick and abundant fuel.”
Reny said a key way for our bodies to utilize more nutrients is to maximize absorption by keeping our meals simple. She eats brown or sun-dried mushrooms for additional Vitamin D, unwashed garden greens for Vitamin B12, sauerkraut made with special culture for Vitamins K2 and B12, seaweed for iodine and minerals, grass juice powder and chlorella for a “crazy boost of chlorophyll and minerals and whatever [other] raw vegan foods I intuitively crave.”
“My favorite supplements are sunbathing, deep breathing and connecting with my energy,” she said. “I also love to have some wild edibles in almost every meal I eat. I feel that wild foods and sea vegetables are just so much richer in minerals than modern fruits and veggies. My main guidance system to supplementation is my own intuition. And I feel that fasting, eating fully raw and meditating is helping me to develop it more and more each year.”
Reny has had her blood tested three times—once early into her nine-year raw food journey, once last year and just recently. Her mineral levels were low years ago but are now in the normal-to-good range, just as most of her levels fall. Reny reported that her B vitamin levels are slightly below the norm and cites stress as being a factor. Additionally, her omega-3 levels were low, so she started adding some hemp and flax seeds to her salads.
Reny began fasting when she was 16, doing one-day fasts and slowly building up on them over the years. She completed a few seven-day fasts, a 14-day fast and some dry fasts, in which no food or water is consumed, with one dry fast going a remarkable nine days. All this led up to February’s 40-day water fast.
“This was a really powerful experience,” Reny said. “I cleaned out a lot of toxins, and it helped to rebuild and strengthen my kidneys, liver and colon. I reconnected with my intuition on a much deeper level. My eyesight improved a little, and my skin became cleaner. I burned a lot of fat, including some toxic fat from my teenage years. Now I’m planning to do another long fast because I feel that there are still some toxins and emotions to clean out.
Watch Reny Talk about Her 40-Day Water Fast
“The most amazing part of this fasting experience was [feeling] an incredibly deep connection to the Earth and the spiritual field of humanity,” Reny continued. “I started feeling the deepest calling in my life to start supporting people on their journey to health and happiness as a full-time job and mission. And to let go of my stable job and income. It feels scary and insecure at first, but this wonderful feeling of giving people hope and joy of becoming healthier is so worth it!”
At the family’s retreat in Croatia, held from June to October, guests are treated on an individual, couple or family basis. “It allows us to give our full attention to each of the guests and adjust the program for their own unique needs and preferences,” she said. “We are intending to grow our retreat a little bit next year, but it will still stay very small and personal.”
Dr. Ruza Bogdanovich, Jesse’s mother, who practices iridology, reflexology and holistic healing, offers her services as well. “Of course, with all his 16-plus years of experience being raw vegan and supporting hundreds of people, Jesse has one of the most amazing baggage of raw vegan knowledge and wisdom in the world,” Reny said. “So if somebody is really ready to upgrade their lifestyle, I think our retreat is one of the best places to start.”
Reny and Jesse teamed up to create Simply Vibrant Recipes, a lavish, comprehensive recipe book featuring dozens of fruit salads, sandwiches and cakes; smoothies; juices; flavored water; and veggie salads, soups and party dishes. The book won a 2014 Best of Raw award.
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“When we were creating our Simply Vibrant Recipes book, we basically just continued making our food like we always do: well-combined, high-fruit and low in fat,” Reny said. “I just took a little more time to make our food look nicer and took pictures of whatever we would eat. So it is essentially our normal daily food. All the recipes are quick to make, and all the ingredients are super easy to get because here, in Croatia, we can’t really get much exotic ingredients. I think this book is very real and down to earth. Maybe that’s why so many people are loving it so much.”
Reny recommends transitioning raw fooders seek out solid support, citing Jesse as one of two raw vegan coaches she’s aware of who supports clients by donation. “Also, listen to your body,” she said. “If you feel that the advice you’ve been given doesn’t feel right, be open about it and ask what experienced raw foodists think about it. The more you ‘put yourself on the table,’ the quicker you will succeed, and the easier it will be to stay on this path. Because the pull of the regular eating crowd is still extremely strong. That’s why we need to stay together, and thanks to the modern technology, it’s so easy to do these days!”
In visualizing the future, Reny sees herself with Jesse, “effortlessly inducing huge waves of happiness and lifestyle upgrading across the globe,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter how exactly we will do it—giving talks, travelling around the world or online, supporting people over the Internet or in our retreat—the main thing is to spread our message of health and happiness to as many people as possible.”
And then there is Reny’s wish: “My deepest secret wish is for the raw vegan community and the whole humanity is to keep our energies together,” she said. “To accept our differences and embrace our similarities, to explore and research the ways to optimize our health and happiness. To stay open to all the new knowledge and possibilities, but, at the same time, trust our deepest intuition the most. We are all very similar and very different at the same time. I think we need to learn to listen to our body. This is the only way to really know our own deepest truth.”