When I say I haven’t exercised in over 10 years, what I mean is: I have done no cardiovascular exercise since I decided to turn asthmatic at the age of 13 to avoid an overzealous sports teacher. When I say I am an unhealthy eater, I mean that the key ingredients in my last ten meals were cheese, meat and white flour. December is when I reach my pinnacle of unhealthiness. The month is punctuated with gluttonous weddings and inebriated birthdays. I round it off with manic energy on New Year’s Eve.
So my doctor was a little surprised when I called him and announced my plan to detox. I picked one detox diet on the web. I faced a five-day regimen of vegetable broths, juices and herbal teas. It promised nothing short of spiritual enlightenment and rapid weight loss — I would be clear-eyed, energetic and noticeably skinnier on Day 6. My doctor’s initial concern (“Are you sure you have the ahh...ability to not eat?”) was replaced with amusement when I told him it’s a five-day course. “That’s not a real detox!” “I got it off the internet, I said defiantly.” “Go ahead, but I don’t see what good it will do,” he said.
Day 1: I start with the prescribed chamomile tea and lemon. This is to be followed by a ten minute break, after which I am to drink two cups of clear vegetable broth. At other times of the day, I must drink juices, eat a number of apple or orange slices (hint: the number of slices is always a single-digit number) and herbal teas.
By 2pm, I am reconsidering the whole thing. I have a super-sized headache and feel nauseous. This sluggishness is supposedly because the body is switching from a reliance on carbohydrates to ketones, which is produced when the body burns fat for energy. I soldier on.
Day 2: I feel marginally better. The headache recedes faster and I don’t feel as hungry. In the evening, I feel more or less normal, other than a sharpened awareness of the after-taste of herbal teas. Have I turned the corner? Day 3 will definitely bring forth the promised energy, I think optimistically.
Day 3: I get up early. My energy is high, and I feel great. But just as when I am pulling on my clothes, I realise something is not right. I am overcome with a shaky weakness, and the feeling that my body cannot be trusted to do what I want it to do. I sit down, take a few deep breaths and get dressed to go see my doctor. On the way, I buy a banana just in case I have to end this experiment.
Sometimes you know when people are rolling their eyes mentally, and that’s what my doctor does. He maintains a professional front though, and takes my blood pressure and pulse. All is well. I return home, my detox unbroken, and the banana uneaten. I call a friend who has been cheering me on since the beginning.
What is detox?
A growing body of research suggests that many of the chemicals we ingest daily through food, water, and air can become deposited in fat cells in our bodies. Toxins include pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in food, chemicals from food packaging, household cleaners, detergents, food additives, heavy metals, pollution, drugs, and cigarette smoke. A diet that lacks certain nutrients may also impair our natural ability to detoxify chemicals, which further leads to their build-up in the body. The cumulative load, called the “body burden”, is thought to lead to illness and has been linked to hormonal imbalance, impaired immune function, nutritional deficiency, and an inefficient metabolism. Signs are thought to include indigestion, poor concentration and sluggishness, headaches, bad breath, fatigue, poor skin, and muscle pain.
ME: This banana is sitting on my bed like a loaded gun. What do I do with it?
FRIEND: Throw it out the window.
ME: No, actually, I think since it’s a fruit –
FRIEND: (Cuts in) Throw it out the window.
ME: I live on the third floor. I could hurt someone. It’s probably against the law.
FRIEND: Throw it now!
I dispose of the fruit and go into the kitchen to make more vegetable broth. The house has a distinct vegetable-scent now, and my room-mate is looking disgruntled.
Day 4: A colleague wants to know if I’m vercome with a superiority complex. I think about it. Am I walking around, an ethereal creature composed entirely of light and air, looking down scornfully at the weak-willed stuffing their gullets with food? Actually, no — my foundational feelings of guilt and doubt remain, in fact they have increased.
Day 5: I’m in the home stretch now. I bound out of my apartment. I am feeling jaunty and alive, like a character in a movie who is newly in love, walking through the streets with a renewed sense of the wonderfulness of humanity and her place in it. I smile benignly at startled strangers and at the crush of humanity in the local train. But it is not a feeling of universal brotherhood that has cheered me so. I am thinking: Hello world! Tomorrow I eat a whole apple!
Day 6: I wake at 5am and cut an apple into tiny pieces and start eating. By the fourth piece, I am light-headed and a little tired of chewing, which it seems I have forgotten how to do. After two more fruity meals, I am back on normal food, and other than a few compliments on looking marginally thinner, my life remains unchanged.