Health & Family

Unexpected lessons from a detox diet

A strawberry has never tasted as good as the one I ate right after my detox diet ended. My first meal with solid food was the fruit salad at Panera's, with a big glass of orange juice. I felt like I had re-set my relationship to food: I ate slowly; I tasted everything as if for the first time, and when I was full, I was done eating. The beauty of food and sacredness of eating had returned to my palate and dietary habits.

That momentary bliss soon gave way to more ravenous cravings, and by the next day my body asked for protein. I boiled an egg and sliced it into my salad. I made a smoothie with strawberries and soy milk for dessert.

I was back to the whole foods diet I more or less follow and it felt great. I'm not sure if the Master Cleanse, a liquid diet consisting of lemon juice, water, grade B maple syrup and cayenne pepper several times a day, was necessary for me to get there. But I definitely embraced this sense of renewal, and my body thanked me for it. I had more energy, and I felt lighter on my morning jog (I lost about four pounds and gained back two, which puts me right at my ideal weight).

So, five days of drinking spicy lemonade definitely gave me some real physical benefits. But in the end, I concluded it was more of a mental exercise. I focused on other things. Eating is often a social ritual, so by abstaining from eating, I focused on my companions. Perhaps it was easy for me to be more social, since I found myself the center of attention because of my diet. Mostly though, this was an exercise in mental stamina, something I need a good store of as I transition from graduate student to starving writer — no pun intended.

I got a lot of comments from readers about the five-day blog that I kept during my detox diet One thoughtful reader referred to the “Zen-like” high these diets often induce, and I can certainly vouch for living temporarily in transcendent heights. In the same message, the reader mentioned anorexia. Interestingly, the day my diet ended I interviewed a woman my age, 32, who has suffered from anorexia since she was 15. As she told me how starving herself made her feel in control of her life, I could identify. I thought about the concentration I gained from my fast. But I shuddered at the false sense of empowerment it could bring.

Earlier in the day, my doctor told me to stop the diet because he was concerned about my health. I listened to him, and grabbed an orange juice before driving to my interview. (To ease out of the diet, you are supposed to only drink orange juice for a couple of days).

But the person who really made me take a second look at these diets was my mother. In the middle of the week, she told me my diet was silly. And potentially harmful. She'd read an article about detox diets causing brain damage. It was an extreme example, and I resented her for bringing it up.

But later on, I felt humbled by the underlying message of my mom's cautionary words. My mom has cancer, and she was probably asking herself why someone in good health would risk, or even play around with that. Take responsibility for your life, your health, while you still have them, she was telling me.

If I were to do another diet, I would do a whole foods one, as the naturopath I spoke to suggested, Or I might use the three-day fruit flush that involves eating fruit every two hours and a salad at night. I would only re-use the lemonade diet for two to four days at most if I found myself in a pinch, like after holiday eating or if I had derailed from my ideal running weight.

I still think diets can be useful, instructive, even fun. But they should be healthy undertakings. That is, after all, the whole point.

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