Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lessons learned from my detox experiment

On Tuesday at approximately 2:00 pm, I threw in the towel on the whole juice fasting thing. I was getting nauseous from the bitter juice, and weak from hunger. And I needed energy, as I was looking at another 5+ hours of taking care of the girls on my own. I felt pretty guilty about it, but then I remembered why I started this whole blog in the first place. The way to make healthy changes in my eating habits is to find healthy dishes and whole foods that are truly pleasurable. So choking down "gross juice" (which is what Sydney started calling it after she saw me grimacing with each sip) in the name of health goes against pretty much everything I believe in.

I expected that when I was finally done with this program, I would immediately jump on the couch and surround myself with loaves of crusty bread, bars of chocolate, and gallons of wine, eager to make up for lost carbohydrates, sugars, and alcohol. But instead, I found myself craving a carrot. That bright orange, crunchy fresh carrot in the fridge was calling my name louder than the bags of pretzels and crackers that had been shoved to the back of the pantry. I don't know whether it was the effects of drinking gross juice all day or what, but that carrot was the tastiest thing I've eaten in a long time. After I ate the carrot, I ate some avocado, with just a little salt sprinkled on top. I found myself savoring each creamy bite and noticing how delicious that plain old avocado tasted all by itself.

So this got me thinking. Although my liver wasn't fully detoxified, I did manage to dump a few bad habits and pick up a few good ones during my 8 days of eating under the program rules. Here's what I learned:

1) Most bad eating habits are actually bad shopping habits.

When my pantry is stocked with a ton of yummy processed snack foods, it makes sense that I'm going to gravitate toward those when I'm running on zero energy and/or time. When those foods aren't there, and instead I have a refrigerator full of fresh fruit, guess what I'm going to eat? I admit, on Day1 when I had to choose an apple over Wheat Thins for my mid-morning snack, I wasn't happy about it. But after a few days, I started to look forward to that apple. By the end of only eight days, the salty snacks I was used to had lost a lot of their appeal. In fact, even though I'm not doing the detox anymore, I am still eating a ton more fruits and veggies than I was before.

If you want to stop eating something, just stop buying it. Likewise, if you want to start eating better, make sure you are always stocked with fresh fruits, veggies & other healthy treats so that you're not resorting to eating junk just because you're out of the good stuff.

2) It's worth it to invest in high quality, in-season fruits and vegetables.

I think part of the reason I took such pleasure in the carrot & avocado I ate the other day was that they were both perfectly ripe and fresh. The carrot was bright orange, moist and crunchy; the avocado was a perfect color and texture - not too mushy, not too firm.

Many times I've opened my fridge with good intentions, but become turned off by the bag of shriveled, white-ish baby carrots I find at the bottom of the veggie drawer. Or the browning bagged lettuce. Or the apple that's too soft or tart or both.

Now I plan to take my time in the produce section to ensure that I'm buying the best of what's available. It might not always be the cheapest choice, but it's better to invest in something I'm actually going to eat than in something I'm going to throw away a week later.

3) Sugar is in a LOT of things, even foods that aren't sweet.

When the plan told me to cut out sugar and artificial sweeteners, I didn't think it would be too hard. I don't have a huge sweet tooth to begin with, so I figured aside from my nightly chocolate and occasional snack bars, I would be OK. Well it turns out that sugar is in almost any processed food you can find, like cereal, crackers, soups, salad dressing, pasta sauce and even mayonnaise.

Sometimes sugar is essential to the flavor of a certain food, but other times it's really not. For instance, when I dipped my banana into unsweetened peanut butter, I didn't notice a difference because of the natural sweetness of the banana. I also found a cereal that was sweetened with pear juice instead of sugar, and it has now become one of my favorite cereals.

I certainly don't think a little sugar here and there will hurt anyone, but I do think that avoiding sugar in my diet is going to help me to lose weight and be healthier overall. I also think it will help me to have more energy, since I won't suffer any sugar crashes like I used to after my afternoon Coke break.

4) Drinking more water is as easy as having a glass nearby at all times.

One of the rules of the program was that I was supposed to drink 1/2 my body weight in ounces of water each day. I already drink a pretty decent amount of water, but this past week I was actually conscious of how much I was drinking. And that little voice in my head saying "remember to drink water" was all it took for me to up my intake. The other thing that helped was making sure it was always available...this meant always having a full bottle in my diaper bag and glasses stashed throughout the house at my most frequented "stations," like the computer desk, the kitchen island, my bedside table, and the side table beside the couch. Whenever I noticed one of these glasses, I drank a few sips. It was as simple as that.

I actually used to hate the taste of water. Throughout my college years and many years beyond, the only beverages that ever passed my lips were coffee, Coke, iced tea, hot tea, and alcohol. The only time I drank water was while exercising, and even then I'd usually only finish 1/3 of the bottle.

Somewhere along the line that changed, although I don't entirely remember why or how. I do remember that for a long time I could only stomach bottled water. Then I made the shift to plain old filtered fridge water. My point in sharing this is that water-haters can be reformed. And it really is worth it to try...when I am drinking a lot of water, I feel more energetic, my skin isn't as dry, and I'm not waking up in the middle of the night feeling parched.

So as a whole, I'm really glad I tried the detox program. It didn't drastically alter my life, but it has kickstarted what I hope is going to be a healthier way of eating that will last indefinitely.


  1. When I started drinking water about a year ago, before my surgery, I was amazed how much better I feel. I still drink soda occasionally, but water is probably what I drink the majority of the time.

    Oh, and now I'm hungry for crusty bread and cheese.

  2. I've cut pop out almost completely, but every now & then I cave (usually when I'm eating something even worse like Taco Bell!), but it just tastes so nasty that I go back to my desk and down a whole glass of water just to rinse my mouth out. Bleah. Water (when its filtered) just tastes better than all that sugary goop.
    The artificial crap is making its way out of our house a bit at a time, but it's hard to remember that when I'm in a rush at the grocery store. I wind up grabbing "the usual" stuff, which isn't good!
    Also, what's the cereal you mention?

  3. Adam - I'm amazed you're not a diet coke-aholic anymore. Good for you! That stuff is pretty lethal.

    Jen - I will check out the box and let you know the name/brand of the cereal. I still go for a coke once in a while too. I'm pretty much an "everything in moderation" gal. Sometimes an ice cold coke can taste like the most delicious thing on the planet. mmmmmm...

  4. I found out a similar thing about cravings when I finally lived on my own. At my parents' place, I always grabbed a cake or cookie as my snack when in a rush, or just grazing the cabinets. But then I became a shopper and never bought that stuff. I was amazed to find that I lost all desire for it.

    Also learned another trick to make water more palatable... cut up and drop in a fresh strawberry or two into your filtered water. It gives a crisp and refreshing taste. Or you can use a few cucumber slices like they do at a spa. Another idea, squeeze in some fresh lemon juice for a bit of tang, and added vitamin C and potassium.

    (Love the blog, Alyssa... such a good idea!)

  5. Yeah, it was important to switch to water. I still have a soda a day, maybe, but that's about it now.

  6. At about two years old (she's three now) my daughter was ONLY eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I started looking for 'good' bread, etc. Dear lord the sugar! and hydro blah dee blah corn crap! in EVERYTHING! then, i'm buying loaves of bread that cost five bucks and my husband was all 'wtf?' and i said, look, that's ALL SHE EATS. so...anyway.

    thanks for the update on the detox, i was going to try it if you liked it, but it sounds like shopping right (therefore eating right) is the way to go.