(cc: Integral Church)
Let me paint the picture of myself before the cleanse.
I’m a 36-year-old father of two — a performing musician for around 10 years, with an energy level that tended to naturally (or so I thought) peak around 8 or 9 p.m. I love coffee — no cream or sugar, just coffee (Cuban, Tanzanian, the bolder, oilier and more locally-roasted, the better) — and I would pride myself on making the best pot of it. I drink beer occasionally — usually craft-brewed, hoppy IPA’s. I’m around 5’10” and at the time I began the cleanse, weighed 195 lbs. Not obese, just a little flab around the middle (I hadn’t been on the treadmill in a few months). I quit smoking (again) around five months ago and haven’t looked back. I don’t have a desk job, but I don’t do manual labor, either. I cross the bridge from St. Petersburg to Tampa every morning, and my work at a local media company keeps me on my toes and relatively active (climbing stairs, lifting, working at events, etc.)
But I was tired a lot, and I attributed this to being old. I would make excuses to my friends as to why I couldn’t go out at night (smoky bars, the temptation of just one more beer) but the fact was — I was exhausted. And sitting on the couch with my family in front of the television is all I wanted to do. Sure, there was coffee and sugar (read: donuts) to create huge chemical spikes that would carry me through the day, but they would leave me groggy and sluggish in the morning, forcing the cycle to start all over again. For a time, I thought that nodding off at the wheel (even after getting a full night’s sleep) was normal. I thought I was just “tired.”
Now my wife, Jennifer, on the other hand, has always been more intuitive, more healthy and more courageous than myself. She has a background in retail management and was a massage instructor for a time. She’s currently running a corporate wellness company and is enrolled in a nutritional coaching course. So, we watch a lot of food and health documentaries. And we’ve been talking about this juicing thing for a while.
The idea of juicing itself seemed a bit silly to me at first. A bit extreme. I mean, I was making small adjustments already. A year ago, we stopped drinking bottled water — because of the chemical treatment of the water and its impact on the environment — and started eating primarily non-processed foods. I cut out Pepsi, which I’d been addicted to since adolescence, and replaced it with organic cranberry juice — and I exercised portion control when I could. I thought I was making good choices, even though my energy level hadn’t changed and I hadn’t made any effort to lose the added weight. I’d also planned on cutting back on my dairy intake, as I more and more noticed a slight congestion after having milk or cheese — which is so very bittersweet for someone born and raised in Wisconsin. It cuts me deep, actually.
A few months ago, we purchased a juicer of our own, and I would occasionally taste Jen’s concoctions, nodding or grunting approval and partly hoping this was just another of her passing phases. But when a friend of ours made the leap and started her own juicing company, offering personalized blends and delivery service, Jen wanted to give her service a try. In part, to support our friend in her new endeavor, and partly because it would be easier for us if there were no excuses (“it’s too late to shop for vegetables,” “there’s no time to juice”). We would stock the fridge with 3 days of pre-made juice and if we wanted to extend it to 5 days (or longer), we could pick up and carry on with our own juicer.
With only some reluctance, I said yes.
I’d done a 2-day liquid fast for a colonoscopy a few years back, and it wasn’t that bad. 1) I figured I could save some money by not eating out for lunch every day, and 2) I have a hard time saying “no” to my wife. We chose to begin on a Saturday, so there wouldn’t be any work-related temptations (like that endless line of bagels and cookies on the break room counter), but not a Saturday with a big event to work that would require a lot of energy.
I was given only one warning by people who had already done the juice cleanse. Wean off of caffeine BEFORE you begin. I was told there would be sensations within the body as it adjusts to operating on purely raw food, and it would be advantageous to know the difference between a symptom of withdrawal to certain vitamins or minerals as opposed to the full-on rage of a caffeine detox.
DAY ONE – Thursday before the cleanse
I limited myself to one cup of coffee (with one raw sugar), down from the usual 2.5 cups per day. As the day wore on, I sensed a slight headache in the occipital region of my head and neck. I took 400 mg of ibuprofen and my daily 24-hour antihistamine.
I reduced my morning coffee to half-caffeinated (no sugar), and again had an onset of headache in the late afternoon. I repeated 400 mg ibuprofen and my antihistamine.
No caffeine. No sugar. No wheat. Jennifer made me a green tea in the morning (which had a bit of caffeine, but none of the oil or acid found in coffee).
We decided to go out with a bang (and break a couple rules) by getting down at The Refinery in Tampa for our last solid meal. We enjoyed an appetizer of potato and andouille sausage, roasted chicken, and a “Brimley Burger” complete with sharp cheddar pimento cheese, homemade “spam” gravy and Yukon Gold fries. Yes, indeed. Out with a bang.
DAY FOUR – The juice cleanse begins!
Our refrigerator was full of Mason jars, labeled with a numbering system for each of us (Joran 1/1 = Meal one, Day one; Jen 3/2 = Meal three, Day two) and that morning everything looked to be going according to plan.
And then, it happened. Tropical Storm Debby was brewing outside — a consistent horizontal rain with trees creaking and bending — and out of the dark blue, I snapped. I got angry. I have issues with power and control to work through, and all the caffeine in the world can’t help something like that. I yelled at Jennifer and I made her cry. I hadn’t seen her cry in forever. I felt horrible. Over stupid things like the fact that she was watching a food documentary while my stomach rumbled. Over the fact that I needed some quiet time to do some writing, and her food doc wasn’t helping. Over the fact (I claimed) that I didn’t really need to do this and was just playing along. Me. Me. Me.
I realized, later, over the course of the cleanse, that I did need to do this, after all — but if being in control was such an issue, then I needed to step up and take the wheel. I needed to play an active role in my own health, my own future, my own body. There’s not a health coach in the world who can make your decisions for you. But, they can help you become stronger in the face of temptation, help you to see yourself as a person who is improving every day. The right coach (as well as other key people in your life, if you let them) can help you to see yourself as powerful, but not rigid or sedentary. As adaptable and flexible, but not infallible.
I had green tea in the morning, a large bowel movement in the afternoon, and experienced a tightness in my throat and chest for most of the day. This (and the argument) was most likely a symptom of the caffeine withdrawal. I also had a general weakness in my limbs and felt more tired than usual.
400 mg ibuprofen, plus an antihistamine.
I woke up on this morning with a feeling I hadn’t known in over 10 years. I could breathe through my nose. I had been taking an antihistamine every day for as long as I could remember and had recently discovered the wonder of nasal strips at night, but for some reason, on this morning, I could breathe.
I had a small bowel movement in the morning, had no headache, and then noticed my skin. Typically, while driving or sitting in front of the computer, I would scratch at my face or behind my ears, finding small pimples or sometimes boils that I would compulsively squeeze and drain, turning them into mild abrasions instead of just letting them heal on their own. In their absence, I noticed that these (or the impulse to scratch at them) were gone.
Most memorable on this day, though, were my legs. They hurt! I had a soreness in my thighs and calves that felt like someone had wailed on them in the night. Who knows, maybe Jen had, but it was most likely a series of toxins working their way through the muscles. This soreness lasted all day. And climbing stairs sucked.
On the drive to work, especially when passing other cars, I noticed some light-headedness and a slight feeling of euphoria. Later in the day, I had a small bowel movement (dark and soft) and a slight headache.
Green tea. No ibuprofen, no antihistamine. Deep tissue massage of the extremities before bed (thank you, Jen).
My sinuses stayed clear, and there was a definite increase in energy levels. I was also noticing a difference in my energy level over the course of the day. Where before, I would spike myself with coffee and sugar and predict and time the crash accordingly, most often immediately following meals (with more coffee and sugar), now I was finding a continuous and even vibration — a sense of stable energy — that lasted all day, with none of the energetic ups and downs, which would, of course, be connected to (or even cause) emotional ups and downs in tandem.
Rarely did I have actual food cravings, probably once a day. And when I did, they were for comfort foods — pizza, chicken, french fries — heavy in fat and primarily triggered by advertising and billboards (a method of consumer targeting deserving of a separate blog post).
Visibly, there was a loss in body fat, very surprising after only a few days. No bowel movement.
A small, loose bowel movement in the morning.
Being day four of the cleanse, I was free to eat solid food again. You’d think I’d have been so hungry, I’d have run out and eaten as much as I could, but it was simply not the case. I was never starving, always energized and fully enjoying the increased energy and heightened awareness of exactly what was going into my body. I also hadn’t gone through the juice as quickly as Jen did, and had a couple jars left. So, I decided to keep it rolling.
That afternoon, pizza was ordered at work for a lunchtime meeting, and thankfully it also came with salad. Now, I’ve never been a fan of salad. I’ve never even considered salad to be a meal. I would laugh at people who ate salads, thinking about the wonderful, flavorful food they were all missing out on. But, I decided to try a very small plate of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and very little dressing.
It was probably the best (and most flavorful) thing I’d tasted in years. My taste buds felt alive, and I slowly savored each bite. I took small forkfuls to make it last the entire meeting.
What happened around 5 p.m. was bullshit. Another meeting, this one after-hours, and someone brought in trays of strawberries, melon, blueberries, four different cheeses, pastries, brownies, cookies. And I sat there in the conference room and smelled it, stared at it, thinking, “these are all the things I’ve been able to avoid” — WORKPLACE TEMPTATION, SUGAR, DAIRY, WHEAT — all at once!
You know, I did pretty well considering. I figured, “What the hell, my cleanse is over, right?” And by the time I left the room, I’d only had a couple strawberries, a brownie bite and a piece of cheese, but immediately my stomach hurt like hell. Like someone was pinching and twisting my side. And what’s worse, it was completely passive eating. I might as well have been sitting in front of the TV eating an entire bag of chips. Not mindful at all of what was going into my body.
That night, I noticed something like a cold sore on my tongue. Not sure if it was a reaction to something I’d eaten or if I’d bitten it while mindlessly devouring a brownie bite.
400 mg ibuprofen, plus an antihistamine.
I felt tentative and careful now. I’d take it slow, and not rush back into anything. At my own pace, I could work things back into my diet that I could sense and feel how they affected my system. There was no way of knowing how the dairy affected me from the previous day, because I’d also had wheat, sugar, chocolate and carbs, all together. Kind of stupid on my part, but I always had the power to cut back again and take control.
I had a large, red, loose bowel movement in the morning, probably due to the increase in red beets later on in the regimen, and I felt great overall. For lunch, I announced that I would be seeking out the best salad in town, and I managed to find a grilled chicken salad with gorgonzola dressing right down the street from the office that remains one of my favorite things to eat.
DAY NINE AND BEYOND
I continue to juice in the morning (or, I should say, my wife prepares a juice for me), only eating solid breakfast on the weekends. For lunch, I’m eating much lighter than I had (salad, soup, the occasional sandwich or burger), and I’m not ordering two side items like I used to (soup and fries, or worse yet, rice and fries). For dinner, I’m doing a banana/almond/avocado smoothie on weeknights and eating solid meals on the weekends.
Not eating dinner at night was an adjustment, but I would typically eat a late lunch at work (between 1 and 3 p.m.), and then feel forced to eat a big dinner at night simply because it was cooked for me. And then there was the (self-imposed) guilt of coming home not hungry. Like I had gone and satisfied myself in another person’s kitchen!
One of the largest areas of improvement is portion control. I was raised to clean my plate. And for years, I did just that, with no regard for whether it was necessary. The problem with teaching our children to clean their plates when they’re not hungry is that there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a reward in place for eating the most food. There should be a reward in place for how many people we can feed with the least amount, and we should be teaching mindful eating — breathing between each bite, and considering where our food comes from. But, as in life, when it comes to food, much of the learning can’t begin until we first unlearn what we’ve been trained.
Jen’s still getting used to not offering me food out of habit, and we still strive to eat mindfully, not passively. We’re eating more at the dinner table now, holding hands as a family and giving thanks, and we’re growing vegetables in our backyard.
I’m also back on the treadmill once a week and have lost 10 lbs., consistently weighing in at 184 for the past two weeks. I haven’t been to a Starbucks in over three weeks, and I continue to drink green tea in the mornings and occasionally at night.
I can feel the changes in my body — the stabilization of energy cycles, and the increase in overall energy levels. I’m no longer falling asleep at the wheel on the way to and from work. I’m more sensitive to when I fall back into old habits, allowing me to correct my behavior. But, eating more mindfully is like learning to walk. One foot has to go first. Better nutrition creates (and is also created by) a more focused mind, attentional discipline, better time management and a focus on developing the self.
I realize that with any transformational journey (whether it’s nutritional, spiritual, artistic, fitness-based or otherwise) it won’t be the same for everyone. And for many, cutting down on dairy, sugar, wheat, soda, bottled water, processed foods, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all at once would present its own unique set of challenges. I was fortunate enough to be able to slowly and deliberately step down from each of these in a way that was healthy, made sense for me and was supported by my family and friends.
If you choose to go on a diet, try a juice cleanse, quit smoking or make any number of changes in your own life, it will happen only when you are ready. And if you let them, there will be an entire network of people in your life that will support you because they believe in the power of your heart and mind and in the potential for all of us to change for the better. On the other end of this journey lies a version of yourself that you’ve only known in dreams. A version of yourself that is all-powerful and responsible enough to be in control of their own body, mind and spirit. A version of yourself that transcends and includes the person you are now, in this moment.
All you have to do is stay open to meeting them.