On Fasting. Which Turns Out to be More about Food than the Absence Thereof

Stereolab's Margerine Eclipse

I recently started a fast. A detox. A whole body cleanse. Whatever you call it. This is something entirely new for me, as I’m not a crash dieter. I’m not much of a dieter at all, in fact. Artificially sweetened sodas are about as appealing as gasoline. And if you’re gonna slather something on your bread, it may as well be homemade jam or a gorgeous wedge of room-temperature brie or — gasp — good old fashioned butter. I don’t believe I’ve ever bought a tub of those oily substitutes, despite their optimistic names like Promise or Smartbalance.  I know they are recommended for reducing cholesterol levels and potential heart disease — but if you’re using so much butter on your toast that you need to replace it with a manufactured product, well, then, you are probably using too much of the manufactured stuff too. I think the only thing I like that has any association with margarine whatsoever is Stereolab’s 2004 album, Margerine Eclipse.

But I’m not alone in my rejection of manufactured goods; I deny them to my whole family, too. I don’t buy my kids Sunny Delight or Lucky Charms. I believe in real food with real ingredients. But I’m not so extreme that we’ve banned sweets altogether. Luckily, no one in my family has developed any food allergies, so our baking includes sugar, eggs, flour, and chocolate, orange and mango, lemon and  cranberries, almonds and coconut.  If you ask me, savory sauces don’t get much better than when derived from a tasty ginger-garlic marinade or a perfectly stirred hollandaise or a rich black roux.

A typical meal chez Michelle

Real food abounds in my kitchen, from in-season veggies and fruits to freshly caught fish. It’s not so hard to do, living on a boat. In Mexico, we feasted on fresh fish and nuts and rice and eggs and bananas and limes and the most gorgeous array of peppers that anyone could wish for: poblano, chili, serrano, jalapeno, chipotle. In the last couple years as we’ve meandered our way across the Pacific, coconut and papaya and pineapple have overflowed our baskets, and we’ve added highly nutritional veggies like taro root and cassava and taro greens to our table. Now that we’re in New Zealand, kumara and asparagus and spinach and capsicum and broccoli and tomatoes are back in our everyday cooking, along with chicken and lamb and wine (which was never part of our Fijian dinner habit, because of both paucity and price).

Our diet is, overall, extremely healthy.

So why the fast? It’s as much of an experiment as anything else. Precisely because I’m not a dieting type, I’ve become curious about whether I actually possess the internal discipline to carry it out.  Besides that, a self-imposed fast is something I’ve always wanted to do. Friends in Germany have done it repeatedly; friends in California have raved about the benefits to both mind and body.

So in January, what with the promise of the new year and our newly forming life in New Zealand, I found myself in the right psychological frame of mind to enter into a fasting period myself. Which is a very hard thing to do, considering that my aversion to dieting is rooted in the belief that Food Is Just Too Good To Miss. But I’m all for a cleanse, so why not dissolve 43 years of toxins, purify my glands and cells, eliminate hardened material in my joints and muscles, build a healthy blood stream, and relieve pressure in my nerves, arteries, and blood vessels?

Diet of Lemons

I chose what most people call the Master Cleanse as my starting point, but I named it the Monster Cleanse early on. It’s a radical cleansing of the body, based on a diet of lemonade made from fresh lemons, real maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and pure water (which of course sounds ridiculous).  I eased my way into it by ridding my body of carbs for a couple days and then drinking liquids for a couple more, and then I began.

But let me make one thing clear, too. Just as I’m not a fan of crash diets that promise a 22″ waist in just three weeks, neither am I a proponent of so-called “natural cures” either. Besides the Cleanse itself, there are all kinds of sales gimmicks to promote Whole Health and a Better You.  Why settle for a cleanse using lemons you squeeze yourself and maple syrup fresh from the forests of Canada (for which you pay dearly in these parts)?  One online site makes “recommendations” which include a herbal colon cleanser and a rejuvenating, energy-boosting drink (who could resist herbal remedies called Green Magic Powder and Therapeutica?). But that’s not enough: you also need to get yourself some pills called Detox Plus. You can get all these for the economical online price of $78.71. That’s assuming you only need one bottle each of these special supplements.

Green Magic

Or, you could just eat well and refrain from buying into any of the market-savvy health food craze. I’m as interested in natural foods as the next gal, but I’m not interested in purchasing things I do not need. Which means I really don’t fit in so well in most places. I find the Herbal Remedies spiel about as convincing as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig; which is to say, whether they help people or not, they are as much about marketing and money-making as benevolent guidance to a Better Life. But I digress. Back to Michelle’s Monster Cleanse, which, despite its name, turned out to be not so very monstrous after all.

As I did the Cleanse, I made a few notes, some of which are excerpted below.  I try not to make it too monotonous or too detailed, but some things are worth pointing out.  But if you are looking for a daily summary of what my body expelled, you need not read on.

Day One. Don’t mind the taste. Love cayenne anyway. Tongue’s gone white, dry mouth. They say it’s the toxins coming out, but I wonder if it’s the fact that I’m dehydrated despite liter after liter of water. Feeling tired and skeptical, but not bad. Did not do the Salt Water Flush tonight, as we had guests, and I thought that would be just plain rude.

Day Two. This is not so hard. Yet. Except when I nearly keeled over after hopping out of bed too quickly this morning. My friend Laura warned me against lightheadedness, but I forgot. Wooooaaaaahhhh. Slumped to the floor as gracefully as possible, while my husband and kids stared wide-eyed at Crazy-come-to-live-with-them.  I haven’t been too hungry all day. Except when we went to Happy Hour with a lovely family from Holland. I really wanted a hunk of that blue cheese. But overall I feel fine. Mostly, I wonder whether my kids will be fed properly while I’m fasting. I was relieved when Bernie finally offered them rice and beans and carrots and cukes tonight.

The Flush began today. They say you wait about 15 minutes once you’ve downed the salty water. I waited, and waited, and waited. Must have a stomach of steel, felt no impact for an hour. Then, bingo! They don’t call it a flush for nothing. Nuff said; some things I just don’t blog about.

Extravagance...

Day Three. Outing with my friend Nancy. The hardest part was sitting in a bar called Franks in Paihia, which is renowned for its gourmet pizza. I sipped my sinful decaf-skim flat white coffee (not officially sanctioned by the Master Cleanse gurus), but what I really desired with all my heart was one of those pizzas they kept parading past our table. The “BBQ” is a gorgeous concoction of ham, red onion, capsicum, chicken breast, bacon and BBQ sauce. The “Thai Chicken” festively shouts out with grated carrot, chicken breast, cashew nut, fresh cilantro, and mild satay sauce. The “Smoked Chicken” is a lovely, simple pleasure of smoked chicken, apricot, cream cheese and rosemary. And the “Hawaiian” was the best damn Hawaiian pizza I’ve ever seen, love at first sight: the pineapple chunks were in fact succulent, juicy chunks merrily dancing atop slices of ham, just as the menu promised. Looking back on the zas that caught my eye, I seemed to be craving meat, and yet I would not have said no to the “Vegetarian” on any normal day, for it boasts a particularly Kiwi twist on an old theme, with roasted kumara and pumpkin, caramelized red onion and capsicum, sundried tomatoes, toasted pumpkin seeds, and garlic aoli.

Restaurants should always hire fasting folks to write their reviews.

Day Four. White tongue has vanished. Chewed some sugar free gum because I read somewhere that fasting could cause the body to emit odors, or acute halitosis, which I find mortifying. Have not resorted to body spray. Yet.

Food Movies!

Rented two movies for the week: The Ramen Girl and No Reservations. I don’t know much about Brittany Murphy (RIP), except that she’s the zesty voice behind Gloria in Happy Feet, and I’ve never heard of either of these films. It’s true that I’d watch Aaron Eckhardt in just about anything, but the real reason I chose those movies, out of the thousands that my local video store has on its shelves, is the food glorious food. Images of ramen noodles and tender quail cooked in truffle sauce flutter before my eyelids as I fall asleep. And I haven’t even watched the movies yet.

Day Five. Walked into town to run a few errands. Did a little yoga, too.  Purchased a shirt that I would never have even tried on a week ago. Tight-fitting and slim. It’s not my first priority to lose weight (I never step on a scale, partly because I don’t own one), but I don’t mind the look of the New Me. Or at least the New Me as perceived in one of those slimming dressing room mirrors.

Day Six. Walked a couple miles with my kids to the dentist. Feeling spry. My friends in California, who check in with me via Facebook every day, asked if my sense of smell is heightened.  I’m not sure; I think my sense of smell is thrown off by the overwhelming epoxy aroma that’s wafting through the air as Bernie builds our new hard dodger.

Threw out lettuce and an avocado today. Bernie is not a salad eater. I can forgive him for that, but I’m harboring deep resentments about that once-perfect avo. Tossing out such a thing of beauty is a crime.

Broke down and made my kids dinner tonite. Cannot stay out of the kitchen so long. It’s hard to cook, not because I’m craving the food (amazingly, I’m not), but because I cook by trial and error: a pinch here, a dash there, taste and adjust as you go. So it had to be basic tonite: a very simple sweet-sour stir-fry with chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, and capsicum. OK, I do crave food just a little…

Bella Martha

Finally watched one of my rental movies, No Reservations. Which, it turns out, is based largely on an earlier German movie called Bella Martha. I’ve never seen the German movie, but now it’s topping my Must See list, not because the plot so moved me, but because I have a predilection for German cinema, and anything related to my beloved city of Hamburg, and also because it’s about food.

Day Seven. Walked some four or five kilometers to attend my first Whangarei Writers’ Group. Met some great folks; resisted the chocolate cookies and grapes. Baked a leg of lamb and potatoes for my family; wrote stories while they ate. Words are my food, though I wouldn’t mind chewing on a sprig of rosemary.

Watched The Ramen Girl. Silly movie, maybe even terrible, but my judgment is clearly clouded. It had me at the first slurp.

Raw Egg Anyone?

This movie reminds me of the best noodle movie of all time, Tampopo. I see that scene with the raw egg in my mind over and over: that’s some seriously erotic stuff happening there, in a hilarious kind of way.  Beats the pants off 9 1/2 Weeks. I can relate to the old woman with the uncontrollable addiction to squeezing: I’d like to get my hands on some juicy mangoes right about now. And I find Tsutomu Yamazaki as compelling as the noodles he expertly prepares.

A sentimental place in my heart and belly

Day Eight. No more movies to watch, but now I’m thinking about other food movies on my Must See List: The Scent of Green Papaya. because a movie about papaya is a worthy cause; and Julie and Julia, because of the dark and lonely spot in my heart that softened when my step-dad moved into our lives some twenty years back and brought with him his tattered and stained Julia Childs cookbooks and his love of anything braised in butter.

Maybe they’ll be great, and join my catalogue of Food Movies That You Just Can’t See Too Many Times, which is topped by Babette’s Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, and Big Night.

A friend posted a delicious recipe for Pan Cooked Grouper with rich butter sauce on my Facebook page today. He’s a wonderful, cruel friend.

Day Ten. This should mark the last day of my fast, but I’m extending the time. I wonder if the lack of food is messing up my mind, but I’m holding steady.  Have cut back radically on the amount of daily lemonade intake; will stop the Salt Water Flush today, something about which I am truly rejoicing.

Day Twelve. I’m gliding now. I do not possess a naturally zen personality, but I feel pretty calm about this fasting thing. I did not feel like I was rushing toward Day Ten, when I could quit. I just feel like each day is a good day, and so I keep going.

Maybe it’s just laziness. Or inertia. But I don’t really think so. I think what it’s really all about is a change so utterly extreme that there’s fun in the challenge. Cutting back incrementally for a diet is one (boring) thing; it’s the extreme nature of the total mind shift required by a fast that pulls me in and keeps me here. And I find it easy enough, because, if you really think about it, it’s also about getting the most out of the present tense —  that doing something well is just as gratifying as having done something well. I don’t mean to emphasize the overly romanticized notion that the journey is just as important as the destination. I just mean to say that I like living in present tense, and that seems to be something I do well.

And so the fast continues….

(On the fifteenth day, I ate a salad. I’ve eased out of the fast by continuing a “detox” which means I’m off red meat, fruits, alcohol, wheat/yeast products, and anything refined like sugar. I pretty much eat spinach and brown rice and maybe fish every day. The experiment continues.)

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4 Responses to On Fasting. Which Turns Out to be More about Food than the Absence Thereof

  1. Sandy says:

    You, my lovely, are wonderful!!! I grinned from ear to ear as I read this…I soo enjoy your stuff!

  2. Andy Lee says:

    I know very little about Brittany Murphy’s work except that she was the voice of Luann, one of my favorite characters on King of the Hill. I love that show for making me feel affection for a family of rednecks.

  3. Nicole says:

    Man. When I hear the words “salt water flush”, all I can think of is colonoscopy prep. I have my paperwork but have not scheduled the damn thing yet.

  4. Suzy says:

    Michelvy, I miss you!

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