Anyone who’s read my book knows that I’ve spent most of my life rejecting my family’s ways. But I’d like to share a recent experience when trying out one of my grandmother’s routines actually changed my life for the better.
First of all, a note: this blog post is about the weighty issue of weight, and dear readers, I know you are sensitive enough to know there is no judgment here of anyone’s body but my own. Just sayin’ 🙂
I’ve always been a certain weight in my adult life, and I’ve never had to worry about it much. When I was modelling I was never the thinnest model, but I didn’t want or need to be. At 5’11” and 138 pounds, my figure worked well for the kind of modelling I was doing, and everyone was happy, including me. Later, when I got pregnant with my boys and gained 35 pounds with each, I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight within a few months both times. Then I had Ayla. Right away, things were different with my body after she was born. I managed to lose all the weight but the last five pounds—no big deal, I thought, figuring it would come off in time. Instead, it slowly began to creep up. Over the next few years my clothes got tighter, I bought bigger jeans, I went from my usual size four to a six to an eight, and started to dabble in a ten. According to the super-flattering overhead light above my full-length mirror, I had developed neck-to-ankle cellulite. My eating habits hadn’t changed—I’ve always been a pretty healthy eater, with the exception of too many McDonald’s fries and too much wine—and I’ve never exercised much, so, being in my mid-forties, I figured age must be the culprit. Okay, I thought: I need to exercise. With two small children still at home, one at school, and my writing career, life was extremely busy. But when windows of time allowed I tried—home videos, then pilates and dance classes, but my efforts always fizzled out when other, more pressing needs crowded in. Then I tried cutting certain foods out. I tried Garcinia Cambogia and Do Terra Slim ’n’ Sassy essential oils. Nothing made a difference. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see someone who was overweight, but a stranger’s body. I body I never imagined I’d inhabit, that looked nothing like the person I’d always been. In short, I felt nothing like myself.
Out of sheer terror, I refused to step on the scale. Then one day when I was at Science World with my kids, they made me step onto that scale that tells you what your animal weight is. I looked at my animal and wished I could unsee it. I’d always been the equivalent of an aardvark, and now I was…well, whatever the next animal up from that is—I think I blocked it from my mind. But it was then that the truth hit me in the face: I was more than twenty pounds over my regular weight. That’s when I decided that no matter what was going on in my life, I needed to make a change. I asked my husband for an elliptical trainer for my birthday and promptly started on a fitness program. For two weeks, I exercised every weekday, cut my calorie consumption by a third and avoided gluten and most processed foods. And by the end of the two weeks I had lost…nothing. Not a single pound, and not a single centimetre. I felt panic and depression threatening to take over, but I knew there had to be other ways. Then I remembered something my Grandma Jeanne used to do often throughout my childhood and teen years: the “master cleanse”, which involved consuming nothing but a lemonade concoction for a chosen amount of time. I recall seeing her toting her two-litre bottle of brownish liquid around, wondering how she could possibly do anything so boring and dismissing it as just another of my family’s wacky practices. But I also remembered that she always claimed she never felt better than when she was cleansing. So I did some research.
Many of you have probably heard of the master cleanse: it is not intended as a weight loss cleanse, but rather a colon cleanse. However, it stands to reason that if you’re not eating food, you will lose weight. The cleanse is also apparently supposed to “reset” one’s eating habits to healthier foods. Intimidated and more than a little dread-filled, I was nonetheless eager to get going on it. Though you are supposed to “ease in” with a four-day reduced eating plan, I was impatient and decided to get started the next day. My grandmother used to do it for fourteen days at a time; I figured I could probably manage three to five.
Day one started with the recommended salt flush, meant to get your intestines working with the goal of, um, flushing everything out over the coming days. It was godawful—glugging one litre of salty water, during which time I was seriously challenged to control my gag reflex. I managed to get it down, it did its job and I hardly felt hungry for the entire day. On day two I decided to skip the salt water flush and stick with herbal laxatives. I was hungry and edgy, but I’d heard that day two and three were the worst, so I plodded on. One thing that immediately surprised me was the amount of energy I had—indeed, Grandma Jeanne had not been exaggerating. I’d expected to feel shaky and lethargic, but I powered through my days faster and more efficient than ever. As long as I drank my concoctions just as I started to feel hungry, I was fine. Another thing that surprised me was how much more time I had in the day—I’d never given much thought to how much of each day we spend planning, preparing and eating food. By the beginning of day three I’d lost four pounds, so I was encouraged to continue on.
But day three was destined to be my worst. My husband was out of town, so in the late afternoon I decided to take the kids to Whole Foods with the thought that buying them ready-made meals would save me from the torture of cooking. My kids were particularly unruly that day—Ayla started grabbing random things off the shelves and running away with them, usually straight into another shopper’s legs, as if it were some sort of hilarious game; Emerson was screaming that his foot was itchy and started hobbling around the store with one shoe off; Avery pitched a fit because I wouldn’t buy him an entire thousand-dollar hot pizza just for him, and then all of them threw a head-turning tantrum when I wouldn’t buy them Haagen-Dazs bars. Not to mention that everywhere I turned, I saw and smelled something I really wanted to eat. My stomach grumbled, and I realized I hadn’t had a lemonade for over two hours. And so it was that hungry, crampy from taking laxatives, hassled and harried, sweatpants-clad and losing it with my children, I came face-to-face with a woman I hadn’t seen in ages but had known for thirty years. Mind you, we’re talking about someone whose greatest worldly concern is how up-to-the-second her look is, but her reaction was almost comical: she saw me, registered recognition, and then looked away and pretended not to know me! OMG, really? I thought such shallow women only existed on the Real Housewives. When we got home I tried to prepare myself a lemonade, hands shaking like a drug addict desperate for a fix, while simultaneously heating the kids’ dinner and fielding a barrage of demands and requests. I finally burst into tears, which suddenly made them get really quiet. I drank my lemonade in one long gulp, and felt my sanity slowly return.
Day four dawned much better, and my weight was continuing to drop. Not only that, I noticed that my skin looked better than it had in ages, and my eyes clearer. My tongue was covered in a lovely whitish fuzz, an apparent sign of detox. On day five my husband decided to join me on the cleanse, so as a show of support I decided to do the saltwater flush with him. No go—my gag reflex was so bad that I could only get half of it down, and it didn’t do the job it was supposed to. That evening, in the ultimate test, I met two girlfriends for a long-ago arranged dinner that I didn’t want to cancel on. We went to Tavola, of all places, where I sat sipping my lemonade while they ate delicious-looking pasta, wine, and my favourite dessert of sticky toffee pudding. It wasn’t easy, but I never felt tempted in the least to cheat. I decided to stretch my cleanse to seven days.
But lo and behold—when I stepped on the scale the next day–day six–I’d actually gained two pounds back, which momentarily made me want to bawl my eyes out. I got over it, thinking it was probably the failed salt flush storing water in my body. I doubled my water intake that day to sixteen glasses, and by the next morning I’d lost the two pounds plus one more. By my seventh and last day, the cleanse had become such a routine that I would actually call it easy. I could have gone another three days (the maximum recommended time for most people), but I had some social commitments coming up that I wanted to be able to at least eat a carrot stick for.
When you are finished the cleanse, you are meant to “ease out” for four days just as you ease in. This step is crucial to avoid potentially horrendous constipation that can occur if you skip it. This part wasn’t a problem. Before I started the cleanse I’d imagined that I would be dreaming of my favourite foods—pizza, pasta, veggie burgers—and jonesing to eat them when I was done. Not so. I spent the next few days drinking juice and eating veggies, and I didn’t crave my old favourite foods at all. In fact, I almost missed being on the cleanse! I missed the simplicity of not having to make food choices, of knowing I was doing something good for my body, of the energy and lightness that came with it. Don’t get me wrong—I’m happy to be eating again, and I’m even more thrilled to have lost twelve pounds in seven days and most of that depressing cellulite. My eating habits have indeed been reset, and since going off the cleanse I’ve continued to drop more weight. No, it wasn’t easy, but most things worth achieving aren’t–at least in my experience. Trust me, if I can do this, anyone can. I don’t know anyone who loves to eat more than me!
What I’ve learned from this experience is that my confidence is more closely linked to my body image than I would like it to be, and that I just have to accept that as part of who I am. But the cleanse has also benefitted me in ways that aren’t physical. Not eating for seven days felt empowering. I feel in control of my body again, in charge of my life and over my own destiny. I think about everything I put into my body now—and for now at least, I have no desire to eat junk food or drink too much wine at the end of a hard day. It’s a valuable tool in my arsenal for weight loss and kicking unhealthy addictions. I know that I can and will do it again. And most important, I look in the mirror and feel like me again.
So thank you, Grandma Jeanne. 🙂