Until recently, the words “Cleanse” and I were not to be in the same room together. Over the years, I’ve heard countless people tell me about this cleanse or that detox, all proclaiming benefits and/or positives of the experience. Whether they admitted it up front or not, the overwhelming majority of these people were doing their “cleanse” as a way to crash diet their way to a quick weight loss. Most of my conversations surrounding the practice always had some sort of dramatic change on the scale attached to them, which was supposed to be a positive effect of consuming almost zero nutrients for a fixed period of time. So anytime I hear that word or someone tells me about this great new cleanse they want to try, I force my eyes not to roll and prepare to sit through at least 5 minutes of a pitch from something someone read on the internet that hey have no comprehension of (no offense, but it’s true).
That all changed in February during a Nutrition course in Scottsdale, Arizona. The course was led by James Fitzgerald, the winner of the first ever CrossFit Games, and the owner of OPEX, one of the premier training resources for athletes and coaches in the world. James is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about training and fueling the human body. During the seminar, James began discussing the benefits of a 5 day Master Cleanse, which included the abstinence from solid food, and instead subsisting on a drink made of Madal Bal syrup, fresh squeezed lemon and cayenne pepper. He professed a litany of benefits, including detoxifying your body, allowing your digestive system a break, mental clarity, a better relationship with food, an exploration of food habits, an appreciation for food, and a feeling of empowerment that comes with any long mental challenge, among others. His endorsement piqued my interest. James is a guy motivated by performance, not weight loss. I quizzed him further on the matter and at his encouragement decided that I would embark on a 5 day cleanse of my own at the end of March.
When I came home from the weekend course, I declared my intentions to my wife. With the way she looked at me, I might as well have told her that I was planning on being on the first trip to Mars. She looked at me incredulously and said, “you can barely go 2 hours without eating, you’re going to try doing that for 5 days?” Her response was not surprising. After all, I do get pretty cranky if I go too long without eating, but I think her response fueled my desire to do it even more. I wanted to prove that I could and because I recognized that the tendency she described was something that I could learn more about through this process. (BTW, this hangriness has subsided significantly since putting forth a great deal of effort towards proper protein intake and planning effective high protein snacks in my day for proper blood sugar regulation, so I know what causes it and I know how to fix it. However, her point was still valid, and I knew that some suffering would entail).
Aside from the fact that I wanted the personal challenge, and the potential benefits from some introspection, I also was interested in the cleanse for a few reasons: In my 31 years on the Earth, I’ve likely never gone more than a missed meal or so from food. I’ve been blessed enough to never be forced to go hungry, so I wanted to experience that (how lucky we are that our lives are so easy that we have to decide to pretend we’re impoverished). I realize that going through a week of self inflicted “starvation” isn’t nearly the same as what people have to endure, but I still thought it would be interesting. It’s like comparing going camping to being homeless. If shit got weird, I could always pull the plug and get a sandwich, so mentally that was a little easier. I also wanted to disprove the weight loss benefits and aesthetic reasons that people do these types of things. I decided to weigh, photograph and document as much as I could before and after. I think weight loss is such a shitty way to quantify health and vitality, and a lot of my work involves exploring the relationship between the scale’s readout and a person’s image of themselves. I wasn’t sure how, but I hoped that I could show that losing a shit load of weight really fast meant nothing in regards to aesthetics (and actually made me look sick), and that I’d gain all of that weight back in less time than I lost it. Lastly, I wanted to explore what it was like to really have to make a drastic change in my diet and deal with the implications of that, both physically, mentally and socially. I run a business that involves getting people to make changes in their lives. These changes can sound small on paper, but are in fact enormous in their implication. Sticking to working out 3-4 times a week and eating meat and vegetables would attain the body that so many people are seeking, yet so many find it so hard to do because behaviors in life are so ingrained in our habits. I thought that I’d get a great glimpse into what major change looked and felt like for people by doing this cleanse. I knew that socially it’d be hard, mentally it would be hard, and physically it’d be hard. I knew it’d force me to look at everything a little differently, and that it would give me a feeling of empathy towards the people that I work with and ask to change their lives.
In the end, I feel as though all of these things were achieved, and then some. But more on that in part 2, which you can read here.