What started out as a simple diet wound up being a lot more illuminating than I would have guessed. My goal was twofold: (1) lose some weight, and (2) see if I could complete a 10 day cleanse diet that consisted of consuming nothing other than water, and a lemonade & maple syrup concoction. That is, no solid foods and a total daily caloric intake of between 600 and 1,000 calories.
I knew I would lose weight if I stayed on the diet; the question was could I really commit to that kind of ‘extreme diet.’ Actually, the diet I was on is called ‘The Master Cleanse,’ and is based on a book by a fellow named Stanley Burroughs who may or may not be a unscrupulous charlatan. I read the book quickly before I started, and found it sufficiently motivating that I was willing to take the plunge.
The book recommends that you ‘ramp down’ over a three day period to get your body used to the new eating regimen. I was in a hurry to get the challenge started so I skipped the 3 day warm up. My sister-in-law was in town and was on her 8th day of the Master Cleanse, and that was another reason I wanted to get going. She had a radiant glow and appeared extremely healthy. I wanted to get that same effect, and I wanted it as quickly as possible.
In retrospect, I would have made it easier on myself if I had taken advantage of the three day transition, which goes like this: First day you eat just vegetables and fruits (60/40 proportion) and drink only water. Second day you have soups and broths (and water to drink), and last day drink only orange juice and water.
The formula for the special lemonade is dead simple, and really easy to make. You squeeze fresh lemons and mix the juice in equal proportion with Maple Syrup (Grade B, preferably). Finally you add a very small dash of Cayenne pepper.
To be precise, you add about 1 ounce of this base to 8 ounces of water. And that’s what you drink. You can pre-make the base formula so that you can take it to work, and then you only need to add water. And cayenne. You should not pre-make the base stock with the cayenne in it because it will ferment and turn really nasty. So, if you want to travel you only need to carry the stock and a small container of cayenne pepper. Water is widely available so there is never an issue about finding that.
Despite the simplicity of the formula and the ability to easily pre-make it and carry it around, I found it hard the first few days to coordinate the making, blending and consuming of the lemonade drink. Why that was the case I will explain later in the section about ‘illuminating realizations.’
First let me tell you about the physical results of this ‘diet.’ I lost 11 lbs in 10 days. According to the book, the typical person loses about 2 lbs a day. I found this a bit over-stated, but then maybe I didn't really need to lose so much weight.
Weight loss depends on exercise, obviously. The days I did yoga I found that I lost more weight. I’m sure weight loss varies significantly from person to person, but there is not doubt that you will lose weight if you stay on the diet for 10 days. Some people stay on the diet for more than 10 days in order to lose more weight. Frankly, I could easily have kept going on the diet if I wanted to. Once you get past the first few days the challenge of the diet almost completely disappears.
Which brings me to what I found most illuminating about this diet: it awakens a profound awareness about your true relationship to food.
Before I started this diet I had (despite my commitment to doing yoga regularly) very bad eating habits. I ate a lot of junk food, or frozen foods. And I drank very little water (if any) during the day. Instead, I consumed a fair amount of diet coke and caffeine.
These poor eating habits made my first two days on the diet quite challenging. I had persistent headaches the whole second day, and at one point I felt semi-nauseous. I thought then that I would not be able to sustain myself for 10 days on the diet. The third day was a little easier, and then by the fourth day I felt fine and was enjoying drinking the lemonade mix.
It was on the third day that I began to awaken to the powerful realization: most of us don’t eat because our bodies are hungry; we eat because our brains tell us that we are hungry. In fact, most of our food choices are based on mental cravings rather than physiological need. This statement is almost certainly not likely to be truly understood.
Intellectually, I knew that I was eating a lot of food that my body didn’t really need. But until I got through the Master Cleanse diet I didn’t really grasp this in a meaningful way.
At several points, after the third day, I found myself momentarily craving some nearby food, usually because I was aroused by the smell. Each time I stopped and asked myself what my body would feel like if I ate some of that food. I asked myself if I would feel more satisfied with that food, as opposed to having some of the lemonade mix. Each time my body told me that the food was not what it really needed, or wanted. The longer I was on the diet, the more pronounced became my ability to gauge what my body (as opposed to my mind) wanted.
And that’s the point that was most illuminating to me: I found out that my mind has been telling me what to eat, and not my body. And my mind not only told me what to eat, but how much.
The truth is, if we eat the right foods and get the real nutrition that our bodies need, then we don’t really need that much food. But our culture and our social habits are so engrained, and are so powerful, that it’s very hard for us to figure this out. It’s like we’re on autopilot when it comes to food.
The autopilot is constantly steering us in bad directions. But since so many other people around us are going in the same bad directions it’s hard to resist, or to become aware of what’s really going on.
As I said, I loved junk food and heavy foods, and lots of it. I have never been a vegetarian or any kind of health food nut. So, this diet experience opened my eyes without any predisposition to see things in a certain way. I fully expected to come off the diet and go back to eating lots of cheeseburgers and drinking diet cokes.
The problem now is that I know I won’t enjoy them. Certainly not at first. No doubt I can turn over control to my mind and let myself be guided by my cravings again. But, now I’ll know deep inside doing that would be bad for my body. It’s okay to indulge a little here and there, and I certainly plan to. However, I don’t think I’ll ever resume my gluttonous habits again.
Being on what this diet and watching people eat is like being sober and hanging out with drunk people. You know you are clear headed, and you know that not much useful, or good, happens to people who aren’t clear headed. I want to be clear and I want to give my body what it really needs, at least most of the time.
I set about doing the Master Cleanse thing to lose a little weight and to meet a challenge. The challenge was not as hard as I thought, but the insight that came from meeting that challenge was more than I ever could have imagined.
In my next post I'll talk about what has happened to me in the two weeks since I came off the diet.