Come Thanksgiving or Christmas every year (especially after I visit my parents) I have an insatiable urge to do a cleanse. I think you all know what I mean―food baby comas, headaches, stomach aches, the -itis. I love visiting my parents, but they love meat and carbs, and by my third or fourth day of any trip, I’m craving an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Add the extra Christmas cookies, candies, cake on my birthday (Dec. 23), and the junky road food that comes with our new 12.5 hour trip back home, and by New Year’s Eve, I’m icky, bloated, and my self-esteem is pretty low.
I’ve been sick.
At this point, I think it’s IBS. Back track to college. I was my heaviest―nearly 270 lbs. I had skin rashes and went to the dermatologist and a walk-in clinic several times for cellulitus. I got several painful cysts. College is also some of the last times I can remember getting strep throat (I’m a strep carrier). I got sinus infections all the time―once to the point of going to the E.R. because I could barely breathe and started gagging up mucus. The worst of all these problems, however, were the gastrointestinal ones. I would get bloated, constipated for days, and often experience diarrhea. I had several instances where I barely made it to a bathroom, and even one where I did not.
These weren’t cases of food poisoning or stomach viruses. They were sudden, overwhelming stomach attacks that were painful and then immediately over. I didn’t feel bad afterwards like I would if I had a virus or food poisoning.The worst experience was after seeing a movie with some friends. The theater was 25 minutes away if you took the long way, and my friends did. Between the theater and our dorm, I was overcome with wracking stomach pain and the urge to go to the bathroom. I politely encouraged my friends to drive faster, but I was nineteen and didn’t want to explain to them that I was about to have diarrhea in their car. It was literally the most sudden onslaught of pain and discomfort I had ever experienced. It was also embarrassing. I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time, but I was thankfully in my own dorm room before Maya-Rudolphing it. I had problems like this on and off for several years, never quite pinpointing when they stopped. I can say that they diminished when I began to live on my own and cook for myself, especially when I became more aware of what I was eating. Since I’ve been on-and-off vegan/vegetarian (2012-present), I haven’t had a single one, and it was at least seven or eight years since I remember having an incident like that one.
Then this summer happened. Long story short: between the parking lot of Downtown Disney and a gas station two miles away, I went from a romantic dinner date to the bridal store scene in Bridesmaids. Hundreds of horribly driving tourists leaving Disney World, three long stop lights, and the women’s restroom was closed for cleaning when we got there. To top it off, someone knocked repeatedly on the door, and there was a tiny, old, confused looking man waiting in line outside the men’s bathroom when I came out. This attack happened in June. Another attack happened again in July. We were buying groceries, and I am so thankful we only lived five minutes from home.
This entire past summer, I was miserable. I was cold all the time, fatigued, had “sh** attacks” (as they are called on IBS forums), stomach cramps, bloating, horrifying gas, and headaches. I also gained weight. Since I started drinking diet soda again (and eating the occasional bit of candy) I’ve also had my first migraine since the last 1990s. Since my surgery, I’ve gained twenty-five pounds, at least ten or fifteen of which were gained this past summer. I’ve been lethargic, bloated, and more fatigued than I should have been considering I was jobless and reading all day in preparation for grad school.
When I was losing weight, I felt amazing. I ate clean, I did a juice cleanse and the Clean Program, and ate a vegan, plant-based diet. Since my surgery, I’ve reintroduced some meat into my diet (fish and eggs, mostly, but pulled pork and bacon sometimes) and dairy. I’ve also reintroduced bread, sugar, a few diet sodas, and the occasional junk food (my BF has a candy sweet tooth). When we were moving, we pretty much lived off ramyen. And yet, despite knowing these problems resulted from my poor diet and exercise habits, I kept eating poorly and justifying it. I blamed my habits on our budget, time, stress.
I even went to a physician when I got health insurance in August to get blood work done. I was worried that my recent weight gain was related to hypothyroidism, which runs in my family. However, the whole visit was irritating and I left being told I was fine. The doctor got hung up on my weight loss, and spent half the time questioning how I’d done it and how fast I’d done it, He went so far as to imply I had stomach surgery and maybe wasn’t telling him. He assumed I came in to talk about my weight gain (even though I had told the nurse twice I came in for possible IBS) and started to leave the room without addressing my GI problems. “If you’re still concerned about your weight after your blood work comes back, I can refer you to a weight loss specialist.” He didn’t even look at my intake form! (I know this is more of a singular doctor issue, not a judgement on the whole medial profession. It was still annoying.) I finally got him to discuss my stomach issues (“It’s probably IBS, but you’ll need a GI to diagnose that.”) and write me a referral to a GI, but I’ve been hesitant to go. At this point, I am 90% sure I have IBS caused by something in my diet, but most of the medical world says there’s no real treatment for IBS, only symptom relief. I don’t want to take drugs, and I certainly don’t want to be told I have to “live with it.” I know there is treatment, because I lived most of my life without feeling this way.
And I know there are others out there who can relate to me on this. I love talking to my friends and family about my experiences with weight loss and health. It is so motivating and reinforcing. Some days I get really ashamed that I’m not a size six or that my thighs are still large, or that my weight fluctuates, or that I ate fudge over the holidays. Part of the reason I hesitated with the Brave New Body perks for so long was that I didn’t want any of you to be embarrassed of me―as in, “Wait, I gave her money for skin removal surgery. She’s still fat!” I know these thoughts are unreasonable and unfounded, because I know the love and support you all have shown me. But, I tell the BF all the time that the hardest part of being healthy is the mentality. It’s way easier to run a mile or do ten burpees than it is to get over eating that piece of chocolate cake or gaining five pounds.
I don’t feel good, I don’t like where my body is, and I feel off track. Honestly, being off track was the norm for so long that it takes a constant, daily effort to stay on track. Eating poorly and not getting exercise is the norm for most Americans. So I’m fixing it, and I’m doing a cleanse.
The Clean Program
I’ve done Alejandro Junger’s Clean Program twice before and loved it. Not because Gwenyth Paltrow swears by it, but because it works. In the simplest terms, you cut a lot of foods and extend your body’s recovery time. Wait, what? Recovery time? Well, think about it. Every night, you lay down and for eight hours, you don’t do anything but rest. You don’t eat, you don’t move. Your body digests the food you’ve eaten and repairs itself. Your body fasts, and in the morning, you break that fast with breakfast. In the Clean Program, you don’t eat solid meals for breakfast for dinner. Instead, you have liquid meals that extend your body’s recovery time―instead of eight hours to digest and repair, you give your body a wider window to let your body spend more energy taking care of itself instead of spending it digesting and processing your food―and it takes a lot of energy to digest your food, especially when the bulk of it consists of processed foods that are high in chemicals and preservatives. There are also a myriad of other reasons, but the Clean Program has a video that explains it better than I can:
Now let me say first and foremost that I’ve never done this program with the shakes and provided supplements. I discovered this program as a book and have been able to successfully follow the book and the book alone. However, a friend of mine bought the Clean Shakes/VItamins and loved the ease of it. I say this to provide you with some options. I’ve had a few friends look up the Clean Program and get intimidated because of cost. You don’t have to buy the shakes and supplements for Clean, and Dr. Junger and the Clean Program website and community validate this. I had the great opportunity to sit in on a web Q&A with Dr. Junger when a local yoga center did a special version of the Clean Program a few years ago, and he reiterated that you don’t have to buy anything other than your own food.
Reboot with Joe
I’ve also done a similar cleanse with a lot of overlap (allowing your body time to repair by introducing clean eating and liquid meals.) If you have not watched the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, you need to do it right now. I swear by this film, and if you need a kick in the pants, this is it. If you’re lazy, read about the filmmaker, Joe Cross, here. Basically, he lost nearly 100 pounds and worked his way off the medications he had to take daily for his autoimmune disease just by juicing. The other guy in the trailer’s name is Phil. He suffers the same autoimmune disease as Joe. Watch it for Phil. It will change your life. Bring tissue.
Do a cleanse with me!
I’m making a concerted effort in 2015 to get back to where my body thrives. I’d love to experience this journey with you! If anyone wants to join in, I’ll be starting the Clean Program again on January 1st. You can find the book through Amazon (and get it in time) or at your local Barnes & Noble. For 21 days, I’ll follow the Clean Program diet, which includes eating two liquid meals and one solid meal a day. I’ll also be doing some gentle exercising, like walking and yoga, and maybe a few of Cassey Ho’s POP Pilates videos over at Blogilates.
If this program seems like a challenge, they over shorter detoxes over at the Clean website. Reboot with Joe is also fantastic, and I’ve done a 7-day juice cleanse with them before. They have several juice cleanses, free and guided ($$$). These can be more and less challenging―more so in that they are shorter, less so in that they are primarily juice based, which is an intense form of detox. However, just looking at Reboot’s new marketing and branding, their cleansing plans have gotten a lot easier to follow. Check out their free 5-day plan.
Tools for Getting Started
A Dietary Plan: Pick a cleanse (Reboot with Joe, Clean, or whatever works for you) and commit to it. Pick something you can do, whether it’s 3, 5, or 21 days. I’m doing the 21-day Clean Program cleanse with the guide of the book and the sample meal plan. I’ve done this enough to know how to cook around the program, but if you’re wary, try a plan that comes with a meal plan. I’ll try to share any modifications I find along the way (like the serving size for the Clean Almond Pancakes I made this morning.)
A Journal: Accountability in any health journey is essential, and documenting the journey is by far the most helpful thing you can do to stay accountable to yourself, whether you do it on or offline. I used and still use Loseit.com, but have also used TwoGrand (smartphone app), SparkPeople, Excel, a notebook, and a fit journal. I’ve even tried to make a fit journal for myself, but seriously, other people out there have already done it and done it better. Blogilates has a cute and trendy 2015 fit journal and calendar for sale right now, and it’s everything I could want and more. Blogilates also has shorter 12-week fit journals (version 1.0 and version 2.0). I’ll be sticking with Loseit, which I got the premium version of on Black Friday this year (half-off, but already not too shabby at about $40) because I already have so many old Clean recipes and foods plugged into my phone app. The premium version lets you set custom goals aside from weight (BMI, inches, or whatever you want to monitor.) It also has a place for notes, which is the most important part of the journal. Write about how you feel every day. Try to make a few notes when you wake up (“Lots of energy!” or “Ugh. GROGGY.”), after your meals and exercise, and before you go to bed. Write down how you feel at the start and again at the end. The Blogilates 2.0 journal has a place for a before and after picture, and has a inspiration board. What are your reasons for doing this cleanse? What’s going to motivate you?
A Fitness Plan: Changing your body is mostly in your diet. (Fact, fact, fact, fact). If your gut isn’t healthy, your body isn’t healthy. That being said, being sedentary is a side-effect of modern Western living. We drive to and from work, we sit at desks all day―I’m a writer. 80% of my life is reading and writing while sitting on my butt. Given this sedentary lifestyle, we have to make a real effort to put the fitness back in our life. For me, yoga has been key. It’s low-stress on your joints, and it makes me feel strong. I also enjoy pilates, strength training with your body weight, and sometimes after snacking on homemade fudge, a good run. “[T]he Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services indicate that at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity is required to reduce the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood” and the American Heart Association recommends strength training PLUS at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times a week OR at least 25 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobics three times a week. So whether you do yoga or walk a few miles, you’ve got to get moving. I use a FitBit Flex and Loseit to keep track of my fitness. A fit journal is also great for this. Whatever you do, pick something you can do and stick to every day for the rest of your life. The biggest misconception about diet and exercise is that it’s short term. A diet isn’t a three week plan it’s a lifetime goal. It’s all day, every day. So is fitness. You’ve got to get up and moving, even if it’s just a walk around your neighborhood.
I’m getting started on Thursday, and I’ll be posting as much as I can throughout. Let me know if you’re going to do it with me. I’d love to have your support and I’d love to support you. All of the programs above come with a support group, as do many fitness and health sites (SparkPeople, Blogilates, Loseit). Below, I’m listing a link to my profiles on most of the sites I’ve mentioned. Friend me and I’ll friend you, and we can do this together! And when in doubt, just search heybates on a site. (I think the only place I’m not heybates is MapMyRun. Someone beat me to it. :p)