Over the last few years, in great part because of this blog and like-minded friends/enablers, my obsession with food and beverage has reached new heights. I also have a personality where I obsess over and immerse myself into whatever the topic of interest is that day, week, or year. Before food it was working out – first weight lifting, then running, then triathlon. I still do all of those to some degree (and am currently nurturing an addiction to Crossfit), but for the most part, where I used to read running articles and keep spreadsheet of training sets, I now read food blogs and maintain ever changing lists of restaurants and dishes I want to try on the forthcoming weekend. I went from intense calorie burning to egregious levels of calorie consuming. It’s not the most physically ideal transfer.
I tried giving myself small goals, like, “I won’t drink alcohol this week”, or would lie to myself and tell myself I would go paleo for a month, a diet of which I’m a partial believer. The goals were either too vague, without visible finish lines, or too long and I’d make little exceptions for my various social engagements. The “I’ll just have one” mentally quickly leads to a return to prior form. I managed to keep said form in decent enough shape – I didn’t have to purchase new clothes, but some of those pants were fitting a little tight. I hit a modern era low of 179 pounds while preparing for Ironman Florida, but an ideal weight for me is only five or six pounds over that, and there I was, a little more than a year and many food binges later, and I was creeping up on 200.
I decided something more drastic was needed, and I became intrigued after reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s article in Vogue on The Master Cleanse, the mother of all juice fasts. Developed by Stanley Burroughs in the 1940′s, but popularized in the 70′s, the regimen is simple – for ten days participants consume nothing but a steady dose of lemonade, comprised of two tablespoons fresh organic lemon juice, two tablespoons grade B maple syrup, and one tenth teaspoon of cayenne. No solid foods are allowed, and a laxative tea is consumed every evening, followed by a salt water flush every few mornings. The argument for doing the Master Cleanse is long, detailed, and quite suspect.
If you read one of the many websites on the cleanse, one will read various rationale for the diet – everything from caloric needs, weight loss, the alkaline balance provided by lemons, the need to flush out the body’s filter, to the harms of eating anything but raw vegetables. None of these were direct influencers on my decision to try the cleanse along with my daring wife, but I was interested. We knew it wasn’t a long term sustainable diet, that it would be boring and torturous, and that much of the weight loss would likely climb back on our mid-sections in no time.
In years past I would use my week long back country camping trips as a chance to reset – in just a week my view of food would shift from object of pleasure to simple sustenance. I’d get a much needed break from alcohol, eat whole foods, and I’d break the routine of jamming my body full of caffeine to get my day started. In the weeks before the cleanse I had developed terrible tension headaches, which I would attempt to break with handfuls of ibuprofin, a cycle I now believe was doing more harm than good.
In the days before the official start, I began to ween myself off meat, moving mostly to a diet of raw or gently cooked vegetables. And I didn’t tell many people about my plans. I didn’t want the assured onslaught of people telling me it wasn’t healthy (long term – it’s not), and I didn’t want to feel the need to explain my rationale, or appear that I was trying to draw attention. The day before the fast began, I stocked up on maple syrup ($18 for 16 ounces) and thirty dollars of lemons. The drink itself wasn’t bad. It’s tart, sweet, and just a little bit spicy, which Katie didn’t enjoy, but to me it kept the tastebuds entertained far longer. After a number of days I began to amp up the spice.
On day one I weighed 196 pounds, and felt pretty good. I kept busy at my desk – I was working from home all week, which certainly aided in avoiding temptation. Mental fortitude and the excitement of starting the diet pushed me through easily, with little worry or weakness. I had three glasses of lemonade by lunch, seven total for the day, which included a workout at Crossfit. Working out concerned me, as I assumed I’d have little energy, and particularly when it came to weight lifting, I feared my body wouldn’t have the protein for muscle recovery, causing my muscle mass to diminish with each workout. As such, I made a decision to alter from the plan and consume one scoop of simple whey protein powder with water directly after each workout. It was the only cheat I allowed, and I still think it was necessary, as I ended up working out six times during the fast – vigourous sessions of weight lifting, mixed with with intense bursts of metabolic conditioning.
While I often felt weak and ravenous post-workout, the protein, followed by a couple quick glasses of lemonade, always seemed to do the trick, and later on I actually felt better than before my workout. If I had been weak, or sluggish, of mentally unfocused, after each workout recovery I was renewed.
Day two I awoke easily after sleeping through the night (a trend which continued for both of us – and Katie never sleeps through the night) and had already lost three pounds, followed by another two after a wet and wild salt water flush, in which one must be certain they have a direct line of sight and clear access to a bathroom. Katie and I have never been so close in almost one year of marriage.
Day three was Saturday, and I drew the shades, and did anything to avoid thinking of food, which mostly consisted of watching Netflix. We tore our way through season four of Breaking Bad, which was fantastic. When we watched, I couldn’t help but notice the number of scenes which involved food. I realized it’s one of the most common reasons a group of people would happen to be sitting together in extended conversation. But for us, the whole ritual of meal was lost, and I missed that.
Over the weekend I did manage to pull myself out of The Hunger Cave and venture to the market for more supplies. I felt like I was in a daze. The fluorescent bulbs seemed to burn a little brighter, and I had a Zen moment where I meditated on the fact that I didn’t need food, and began examining the purchases of others. It was also the first time I had smelled food in days, and I believed my senses were heightened. Whether or not that’s physically true, or a food deprived state of mind, I found it fun to try to differentiate the aromas as I walked around. Coffee was easy, as was the rotisserie chicken, but hell, I swear I could even differentiate the smell of turkey and ham as I passed the deli counter.
It was that Sunday that I began to notice considerable changes in my focus and energy levels. Where I had been a little sluggish through the day a few days earlier, I found myself with a great deal of time and vigor. I finished a couple of books. I knocked a bunch of items off my to-do list. I redesigned this blog, which required many, many hours of uninterrupted programming, something I hadn’t found the time or energy to do for many months. As long as I focused on work and continued to force the lemonade down before I noticed my hunger, my concentration was unbroken and thoughts of food were kept at bay.
Days five and six the cycle continued. Physiologically, my energy was high, and my tongue was super white, with a constant dry and astringent texture. Also, I was cold. I realized I kept moving the AC a degree or two up, as I felt that 75 degrees was a bit chilly. As hot natured as I am, I found this to be really weird.
Mentally, we were getting bored. Katie and I fantasized about food. Before bed Katie would start in – “Do you know what I’m craving right now?” My mind screamed for her to shut her filthy mouth. How dare you utter the word gazpacho in bed, vile woman! I didn’t want to think about food, it drove my mind and stomach nuts. I basically had to stop reading Twitter and Facebook, as my feeds were filled with wet dreams of textures, flavors, and guilt. But as much as I tried to avoid it, and asked Katie to stop, I incessantly thought of food as well. And it was interesting what I craved. It wasn’t hamburgers, or pasta, or fried chicken. What I couldn’t stop thinking about were bright, fresh flavors, with crunchy textures. I wanted a beautiful raw vegetable spring roll, which was in fact the first food I tasted, on the end of the seventh day.
I had driven to Columbia for work on that morning, and originally I had planned on pushing to ten days, even though I was working on the road. But leaving my home office made things difficult logistically, and I was thrust into the outside world of temptation. Katie and I discussed it that day, and we decided to quit, though we decided we would call it finishing. We felt we got what we wanted out of the experience, a tough realization that took me some time as I felt like a quitter. But the improvement was visible, and we had hit our stride, making it through the toughest times of the cleanse. While Katie initially suffered worse side effects than I did, including a couple days of intense malaise, by the fifth or six day, she looked fantastic. It wasn’t simply weight loss, but her skin was glowing, and she had a striking vitality. For my part, I was almost fifteen pounds lighter, felt so full of energy, and had accomplished so many procrastinated items on my professional and personal to-do lists.
But the cleanse also had an emotional impact on my perspective of many foods. In the weeks since the cleanse I’ve become much more adept at portion control, and my cravings are not nearly as sinful. I don’t tear through food as quickly, gluttonous foods have become more of a special occasion, and I enjoy them sparingly. I day dream of tomato salads and green gazpacho, and today I’m actually two pounds less than when we finished our cleanse.
I’m a believer in physical and mental challenges, and months and years later, they become experiences from which I can draw upon. The memories fade for sure, and there are many personal improvements I need to address (less wine comes to mind), but these challenges remind me I have the ability to change, that I can push through when I’m not sure I can succeed, and that a fresh point of view is a beautiful thing.