As a teenager growing up in southern California Debbie Thurber struggled with bulimia and digestive problems. At the age of 19 she left home and joined the Army; that’s where she met her husband, Marty.

“My health problems go way back,” says Debbie. “My 14 years of bulimia caused major issues with my stomach.” Debbie also experienced so much joint and muscle pain that she thought she had fibromyalgia and arthritis. “I was eating vegetarian, but looking back I can see that I was a very unhealthy vegetarian because there was a lot of sugar, bad fat and processed food in my diet.”

Two “c” words

In 2006 Debbie’s life changed forever when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “That day I came home and told my family I would never again be eating animal products,” says Debbie. “Research shows cancer cannot thrive in an alkaline environment, so I knew becoming vegan and eliminating processed foods was the way I had to go.” Getting off dairy products relieved much of her pain. But there would be more steps in Debbie’s health journey.

In March 2011 she was standing in her kitchen when the words Today is the day came to her and she knew it was time for what she calls a “clean” diet—100 percent raw with nothing artificial. So she got out her dehydrator and began trying recipes.

Doing her own research led Debbie and her two adult children, Kristy and Michael, to begin hosting their own YouTube series, Starting Out Raw. Today thousands of raw food eaters from all around the world tune in weekly to see what tasty treats Debbie and Kristy have to share with them.

Michael, the team’s technical coordinator, says, “It took us a few months to figure out how to do it and start getting people to interact and comment. But now our views are approaching 100,000 and we have over 2,000 subscribers.” Michael adds that they get comments every day from people around the world, including Japan, Saudi Arabia, Canada and England.

Kristy, who describes her role as “sidekick and provider of comic relief,” says that she spends several hours per week planning and preparing clean food to take for lunches at her fulltime job. “The whole health thing is a balancing act—not slacking and not pushing yourself too hard,” she says.

Big benefits

Three years later, Debbie says the biggest benefit of eating clean is her clarity of mind. “The brain fog is gone and I have no more migraines.” Getting off processed foods has also eliminated her joint and muscle pain. “A lot of chronic pain is from inflammation. Eating fresh foods can relieve that. The synthetics and chemicals in processed foods just wreak havoc with your body. It can’t handle those things.”

Debbie points out that what you’re looking for in raw foods is the live enzymes. “Eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies will give you this. And eating organic when possible helps eliminate chemicals and pesticides.” Debbie says it’s especially important for fresh greens to be organic.

More than celery and carrots

The Thurbers make all kinds of foods using fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. Debbie isn’t overly worried about the temperature settings on her dehydrator and sometimes uses her regular oven on low. “I just want to be healthy—not obsessed with food and weight like I used to be. I never even think about calories. I have so much energy and I’m so active I never gain weight.”

Debbie is determined to live every day doing all she can to stay cancer free.  She points out that people can have a great diet but a lousy lifestyle. Exercise, sleep and water are also critical. “You have to take control of your own health. You have to say no and be strong. I’ll never go back to my old lifestyle. Why should I when I have all this delicious food, no pain, and, at age 58, more energy than ever?”

Practical tips for eating raw

“My first appliance was a juicer. When I got cancer I started juicing because the nutrients go straight to your cells. We’re infiltrated with toxins in our world today.  Eating raw foods is a great detox plan, either short or long term.”

Debbie says she shops at local grocery and health food stores and online at She also recommends a good quality blender and a food processor.

She believes that everyone has to know their own body and what will work for them. “If it’s your first time trying raw foods go slowly and see how your body responds,” Debbie advises. “When your mind is clear you have a closer connection with God. Plus you have energy to do more than just work and come home and crash.”

Worldwide audience with local connections

Debbie adds:

“We have developed several relationships through our raw lifestyle message. One in particular has been a woman from the Ukraine who came to Lincoln to see her boyfriend—now her fiancé. She contacted me through our Starting Out Raw Facebook page and we met them at Starbucks. We had a great visit and I invited them to my home the next week.

We’ve also visited with other people here in town who contacted us through Facebook. People from all over the world have reached out to us and some of them, especially some of our YouTube subscribers, have become almost like family even though we’ve never met them in person. It’s been an amazing experience for us and one we’re all very grateful for.”

It’s a balancing act

Kristi adds:

“It took me three months to go vegan. Back then I was struggling with my weight after seven years of dorm life. Now I’m mostly raw, but not 100 percent. My main health goal currently revolves around exercise and strength training. I run a lot and go to the gym.

Being healthy is mostly about planning and preparing. I fix my lunch and snacks in the evening for the next day and take a cooler to work—I’m on my feet all day. I make green smoothies a lot and do some juicing.”

Wondering how to stock a “clean food” pantry?

See the healthy staples, fats and sweeteners Debbie uses! Bonus: nearly all Debbie’s recipes are vegan and gluten free.

Bonus: Watch this video to learn what’s working so well for Debbie and why thousands of viewers around the globe tune in to the Thurbers’ weekly show to see the new treats Debbie Thurber and her daughter, Kristy, are inventing.