Sunday, June 16, 2013

Screw Hunger! (More on the Clean Program)

I can’t starve myself. No matter how pretty the book jacket, handsome the doctor or cute the packaging, if deprivation is at the core of a regimen or lifestyle, it’s not going to work long-term for me or anyone else with a beating heart. Unless you’ve got a little crack stash in your purse, you won’t fare well with hunger. Take it from someone who tried it first in the 6th grade, and then again in high school, and probably a few times in college – hunger equals failure. Trust me, I was 30 pounds heavier (sometimes a little more) when I screwed around with deprivation. It messes with your mind and your metabolism. And it makes you a little sad.  Or permanently pissed off. Either way, not worth it.

The Clean Program isn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than being hungry or frustrated with unexplained physiological changes. You have to wrap your head around a few temporary habits (most notably, the absence of chewing in the morning and at night) and hopefully adjust to some that will become new lifestyle choices. The “holy shit” moments when you discover what has been causing heart burn or constipation or mood swings for 15 years make the uncomfortable moments well worth it. You might get a few headaches or be inconsolable every morning when you first ditch the coffee, but in return for your sacrifice you get a front row seat to the most engrossing science experiment you can imagine.  It was fascinating to watch what was happening to my body as I removed all the gunk that was clouding my self-awareness during recovery and in some cases, for years before. In the end I enjoyed an unprecedented level of clarity around the interdependent relationship between food, alcohol, sleep, stress, exercise and elimination that I pray I don’t lose as time wears on.

You begin with an elimination period, during which you remove common allergens and toxic triggers including gluten, dairy, nightshades, corn, soy, peanuts, red meat, processed meats, alcohol, sugar and more. (I know you’re thinking “what the hell can I eat?!” Put down the Cheetos and read the book before freaking out. ) Your next step is to transition to liquid meals in the morning and evening. You’ll be surprised by how fulfilling these high protein, high (good) fat, high fiber, extremely nutrient dense smoothies and soups are. You can have fresh juices in between “meals” and snacks like apples with almond butter or raw veggies and hummus if you need more. Your solid meal (at lunch) might be grilled chicken with mango and wild rice (a favorite of mine) or lamb skewers with apple and onion (another favorite.)

The first few days will range from a little tough to terribly miserable, depending on how many toxins are in your pre-existing diet. I have an uncommon amount of allergies and because I don’t love acne, rashes and weeks of constipation, I avoid dairy, gluten and processed foods as much as I can stand to. The first 3 days for me mostly included sugar cravings, random sneezing fits and a desperate need for naps I obviously didn’t have the time to take. I also missed chewing a lot in days 2-3. Beyond that, the “withdrawal period” was kind of like PMS – inconvenient and irritating, but not life-altering. If you are used to 3 cups of coffee every morning, 2 glasses of wine every night, pizza or burger lunches followed by afternoon fro-yo, a cigarette or two after dinner and ice cream in front of the TV before bed, you might have black-outs and seizures in the withdrawal period. That may or may not be an exaggeration, but if that’s your jumping off point, the first few days will be more difficult for you than they are for people that have healthier, cleaner habits to begin with.  Just sayin.

While you’re eating amazing whole foods like fresh fruits and veggies, seeds, nuts, quinoa, wild game, fish and more and drinking unexpectedly satisfying smoothies and soups, you take some supplements and drink beverages like lemon water or “Natural calm” to help the process along. You’re also to ensure you get enough sleep, hydrate well, exercise more moderately, poop every day, and always leave a 12 hour window between your last meal of the previous day and your first meal of the day. You’re also encouraged to do some optional activities that help your body cleanse, restore and rejuvenate its systems. Meditation, massages, laughter, wellness education, journaling, and more massages were my favorite additions. In essence, you take amazing care of yourself for about a month. It’s a total labor of love - just for you.

Along the way you’ll likely experience peculiar side-effects that are less bothersome and more encouraging. They underscore the effects of what we consume on our bodies and almost restore your faith in the theories as you move forward. I was like a poster child for the mild side-effects and I freakishly enjoyed that. It validated what I was doing and made me feel increasingly excited for what came next. If the book was so right about the wild vivid dreams, headaches, and sleep patterns, those stories about the glowing skin, energy surges, clockwork regularity, mood stabilization and clarity must be true too! And they were.

By the end of the Clean Program, I felt healthier, stronger, more in control of my body and more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have. Yes, I’ve done a lot of prep work over the past 10 years, but I believe the program pushed me over the threshold to a new level of feeling in tune with my physical and emotional needs. It gave me the nudge I needed to return to being kind to myself, inside and out. The lymphatic swelling I’ve had in my right leg for over 2 years dissipated to almost nothing. Miraculously, the spinal and peripheral nerve pain I’ve grown accustomed to was reduced to a quiet hum at worst. My digestion has finally become as predictable as my morning alarm. I left the house one morning and turned to B and said “my skin hasn’t looked this good since I was a baby.” I was very serious. He agreed. My hair and nails felt stronger, my skin tighter. The puffiness under my eyes went away, as did the lingering water retention and bloat I experience from cheating with dairy and wheat. I could go on and on.

Trust the “tried everything once former fat kid.” There are no quick fixes with weight loss or whatever it is that ails you. There are band-aids, yes, but the most logical, intuitive approaches to wellness are the ones that will work long term. Whether or not you decide to try the Clean Program, start with small changes and build upon them at a pace that is comfortable for you. Do the best that you can with the body you were born with, the resources you have access to and the means at your disposal. Set realistic but ambitious goals so you aren’t setting yourself up to fail but you feel triumphant and proud of yourself when you reach milestones or start to feel the benefits of your healthier choices. Whatever you do, make a commitment to yourself. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. Commitment. If you can manage to honor a commitment to your mental and physical well-being at least most of the time, the rest will follow. It really will.

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