Archive for March, 2013

Lessons From a Cleanse: Part II

cashews in a glass bowlSo here we are. Day One of Week One. I’ve shopped for the requisite lemons, limes, pineapple, oranges, mangos, and other fresh fruits; stocked up on lentils, vegetables, nuts, and seeds; indulged in an array of fresh herbs and a bottle of dried turmeric. I tentatively accept the proposition that combinations of these foods will “tune up the liver by supplying it with the things it needs most.” Now I look forward to the promised result of increased energy and sounder sleep.

The plan directs me to skip weight training and focus on stretching for ten minutes, five days this week, with 30 minutes of mellow cardio on three days. I will increase that to daily half-hour elliptical workouts on six days. I know my well-being requires this. I’ll also expand the stretching sessions to 20-30 minutes each, and add a 20 minute midday yoga session every day but Sunday.

My meals for days one through seven are tasty, if sparser than the mounded platters I usually dish up. French lentil salad, creamy broccoli soup, cauliflower “rice” stir-fry, roasted portabellas with kale, red lentil and sweet potato stew, roasted beets on greens.

Breakfasts this week are smoothies. Rejecting juicers because they waste so much nutritious fiber, I’ve printed out alternative blender recipes from, and soon learn that puréed green apple and kale gives no comfort on a frigid winter morning. But the mango-tahini blend is luscious, the blueberry-mint refreshing, and the carrot-beet-pear combination gives my taste buds a happy surprise.

I enjoy an evening snack every day but Tuesday, when I ironically fall into bed too hungry to schlep my bod back into the kitchen and whip something up. End of the day munchables include strawberry-coconut-banana smoothies, sweet potato chips, raisins and pumpkin seeds, or an apple with homemade cashew cream.

With all the initial food prep required, some days I don’t eat lunch until 2:30 or 3:00, and am stunned to be neither swooning with hunger nor shaky and irritable from dips in my blood sugar. Bottom line: mood and energy levels, a-okay, and tummy just empty enough to really appreciate the good stuff coming its way. “When you know you’re locked in to a prescribed menu, you are freed to focus on other things,” I write in my journal.

My usual sleep patterns are pretty good, but I find that I’m sleeping well and long consistently, rather than sporadically. It’s just plain easier to get out of bed in the morning. By Wednesday, I have a distinct sense of benefit from the stretching and yoga. My mind doesn’t race as much, with thoughts tumbling and tripping over each other and bouncing off the walls of my cranium. And by Thursday, I feel reprogrammed somehow. Softer around the edges, but not weak or depleted. I fully expected to be hallucinating by now, instead of enjoying a sense of calm and well-being.

Except for that one night. I haven’t had a handful of Lay’s or Pringles in years, but my subconscious must be totally confused by what’s happening inside the body cavities below because I awaken in a panic from a gustatory nightmare: I dreamt I’d eaten a whole, family-size bag of cool ranch potato chips, ruined the whole effort, and had to start all over again. Maybe losing a quick three or four pounds from these radical alterations to my diet is doing weird things to the brain.

Getting ready to enter week two, I am astounded at how fabulous I feel. My energy levels remain high and this sense of peace is an unexpected gift. When our (new) computer crashes and I have to recreate an entire blog piece plus three laboriously produced pages of the memoir I’m working on, it is unfortunate, but not devastating. My temper never even flirts with a meltdown. At this point, I decide that my rage center has put up the “Gone Fishing” sign. Let’s make that an extended vacation, please.

If my senses are being distorted by chemical changes in my system, then the transformation must be for the good. Sitting across from my nacho-noshing husband at Taco Bell, as I nibble on the sugar snap peas I bagged up and brought along from home, something sinks in hard: Boldly embracing the discarded concept of will power and reconnecting with one’s sense of self-control feels pretty darned good.

I’ll put my halo away for now, and get this posted. Notes on weeks two and three will follow shortly. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you about this whole subject of cleanses, detoxing, or simply revamping and tweaking your routine. What has worked for you?

March 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm 1 comment

Lessons From a Cleanse: Part I

Green Apple SmoothieAs I start this, it’s a cold Sunday in February and the final day of a three-week “whole body detox” for this former skeptic.  It’s also sneeting* outside, which doesn’t seem as depressing as it would have in mid-January.  But let me back up just a bit. 

I’ve yammered on before about battling the Winter Blues.  By the amount of media coverage it gets, this must be a common struggle among people who deal with freezing temperatures and grey skies for months in a row.  When I had made it to 1/13/13 with no symptoms, I was primed to sit down and pound out a declaration that I’d dodged that psychological bullet this year – ta-dah, and hip-hip hooray.   Of course, sitting atop that cocky attitude, I was doomed for a fall. 

Sure enough, no sooner had I decided to share my “secrets” for skipping right past this year’s seasonal mood slump, than it whacked me right in the ego.  I had stuck with my pre-breakfast walks, refusing to let the weather cage me in; switched my radio station from tedious newstalk to calming classical; tackled and conquered a dreaded organizing chore; and kept my eating habits balanced to the healthy side.  But obviously that scheme had not enough curative powers to boost me over the familiar old hurdle:  coming out of the glitter of the Christmas season into the raw reality of long, dark nights and snow-cloud-dimmed days, with no flurry of baking and wrapping and carol-singing and card-writing for diversion. 

Sliding back into my regular routine, as the experts suggest, seemed to compound the problem – a case of the same old, lame old starting to feel like a tire-spinning rut.  I was flat-out bored.  And cranky.  My walks started to feel like banishment to Siberia, with mile after mile of unchanging whiteness.  (Please trust me when I tell you that those big, glossy “PED XING” pavement diagrams are the last place a ped wants to x in sleety, icy conditions.) 

Then we learn that we’re facing weeks of wind chill advisories.  It could be done; the mail carriers manage to dress for that kind of weather nonsense.  But I was feeling supremely unmotivated to risk it myself. 

Enter my final issue of Whole Living magazine, a gift from friends for Christmas 2011. A committed pooh-pooher of radical dietary gimmicks, I had every intention of skipping over what looked like another sleek set of false promises for a fresh start in the New Year via their “21-Day Challenge.”  But those color photos of steaming red lentil and sweet potato stew and broccoli and garbanzo bean salad glistening with Dijon dressing were irresistible.  They grabbed me by my foodie instincts and led me straight through every word of the 13-page article – and on to a light bulb moment:  Could this timely double-dog dare be an answer to prayer?    

Truly, I got excited just reading the recipes and the upbeat narrative.  This approach was so far removed from those scary $300.00 commercial kits sold by health food outlets, with their mysterious bottled concoctions conjuring up images of intestinal Sani-Flush.  No references to “corrective colon-clearing” or gentle liver-cleansing teas and capsules” here.  Strictly items I could buy at my local super market. 

And what a perfect excuse to mix up the ol’ exercise routine for a while. That really appealed to my jaded, already-sick-of-winter self.  I had become superstitiously wedded to a thrice-daily regimen of cardio and resistance training, each followed by piles of fruits and vegetables and lots of animal protein, convinced that this was the one magic formula for dealing with low-blood sugar.  But I’d also been hitting the Burrito Supremes and Diet Pepsi pretty hard at Taco Bell on weekends.  Then when stevia prices shot through the roof last year, I switched to Splenda for my double-serving of oatmeal – more chemical garbage to gunk up my system. 

I certainly know better.  I learned the truth about artificial sweeteners from the Bernstein book I tout here often – the real calorie count and same-as-sugar effect on the body that is hidden behind manufacturers’ zero-calorie claims for a 1/16th of a teaspoon serving.  You develop a tolerance for this stuff that makes you want more, and I was up to a disgusting three tablespoons every morning, just to get the sweetness that my tongue had come to crave. 

Here’s a translation that may be news to you:  Those three tablespoons of Splenda actually add up to 18 calories, with no nutritional benefit and some concern for side effects over time.  One tablespoon of honey adds 64 calories, but it’s real food.  And local honey carries the benefit of reducing allergy symptoms, once all this snow melts off and the world turns green again. 

The overall cleanse plan had restrictions, most of which I thought I could live with.  No processed foods, including sugars; no dairy, no gluten, no alcohol; no coffee.  Oh, and no real meat.  I figured I’d give it a shot, and if I should swoon from lack of animal protein by day two, I would call it a nice try and look for another way to reinvigorate my luster-lacking day-to-day. 

So week one, straight vegan.  The thought was a little scary.  But week two, you add back some fish, legumes, and gluten-free grains like quinoa and brown rice.  Week three, more add-backs, like eggs and soy products.  Even with my whole physical activity schedule turned on its head, I still did more huffing and puffing than the plan calls for.  Call it residual caution.  But what a refreshing thought, to open my mind to yoga and stretching, which I know to be beneficial but don’t make time for in my magic formula for eating a lot and exercising like crazy. 

Time for a breather from the craziness.  “Substitute another brand of insanity,” you may be thinking.  But wait until next week, when you get to hear the results.  You may end up calling yourself a former skeptic, too. 

*For those of you in the Sunbelt, this is not a typo.  In states with radical seasonal fluctuations, “sneet” is a common form of precipitation which occurs when snow turns to sleet as it moves through the atmosphere.  Of course, this logic demands that sleet turning to snow be labeled “slow,” but that seems unnecessarily confusing, wouldn’t you say?

March 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

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