Religion & Beliefs

Blogging the Cleanse, #1: Why I Am Going To Fast For Six Days and Drink Nothing But Lemonade

What happens when a New York overachiever goes without food for a week, consuming only a concoction of lemonade and cayenne pepper, and venturing into the often wacko world of the holistic health subculture? Well, I — and you, reader … Read More

By / April 22, 2007

What happens when a New York overachiever goes without food for a week, consuming only a concoction of lemonade and cayenne pepper, and venturing into the often wacko world of the holistic health subculture?

Well, I — and you, reader — am going to find out. Today is the first day of my weeklong (six days really, on the seventh, after my labors, I will rest) "Master Cleanse," which I'm doing under the supervision of a holistic nutritionist based here in Manhattan. I'm already hungry as I write this. But the truth is, I'm excited. I travel a fair amount, but I'm primarily a tourist of my own body and mind. I love altered mind-states and body-states. I've run a marathon, sat a six-week-long silent meditation retreat, experienced "full body orgasm" at Body Electric, and ventured into a number of unusual states of consciousness. It's what I like to do, and I even wrote a book about it (God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness, and Embodied Spiritual Practice, published a few months ago.) Obviously, this kind of play can easily get out of hand, and I'm careful not to let it, but at the end of the day it boils down to a simple question: with only a few decades of life, why restrict oneself to one narrow band of the range of human possibility?

And yet, somehow, whether because of my hyper-rational Jewish upbringing (Yale Law School! Yeshiva!) or just because I'm stubborn, I haven't (yet) succumbed to the sort of New Age weirdness one often meets in these byways of the spirit. Well, maybe I have sometimes. But I don't believe in crystal healing, or the Law of Attraction, or that angels are sitting on my shoulders. I didn't believe in "energy" until I experienced it myself, on multiple occasions. And who knows what I think about God.

Maybe my skepticism is, itself, my motivation. I'm just so damn curious. Friends of mine have done cleanses, and I've spent time with them while they've done them, and I want to see what happens. What's it like? How does the mind shift after five days of near fasting? What happens to the body? Oh, and losing some weight and feeling rejuvenated for springtime wouldn't hurt either.

The whole process of my cleanse actually takes three weeks, and began just over a week ago. My nutritionist is not from the hard-core school. We've been working gradually, every couple of days taking a few things out of our diets, and putting a few things back in. For me, the first things out were caffeine, trans fats, and packaged, processed foods. (I really do like pop tarts, and sugary breakfast cereal too.) Then went alcohol, sugar, and meat, followed by dairy, heavily cooked foods, and anything with wheat. For the last couple of days, I've basically been on a raw foods diet, eating uncooked fruits and vegetables, plus the occasional steamed greens.

At the same time as we've taken foods out, we've put other foods in. In the last week, I've eaten more new things than in the last two years. Kombu and kuzu, flax seeds and millet, and of course, the Green Powder, a dehydrated concoction containing, the "Vibrant Health" box says, 18 billion probiotics from 8 different strains, and roughly 100 ingredients ranging from astralagus extract to Wild harvested Bladderwrack (sounds painful; I have no idea what it is, but I'm not making it up). The Green Powder gets the most stares — I was at a big, mainstream conference on "Inclusion in the Jewish Community" (in one of my careers, I direct a GLBT Jewish organization called Nehirim) last week and, when I dumped the large pile of green dust into my orange juice, the waitress at the hotel restaurant literally stopped in her tracks and stared at me until I took a sip of the algae-hued beverage. And for someone who is never a Food Fascist (you know, those vegan types who glare when there's no gluten-free pasta on the menu), I've had to rely on the patience of my friends at shabbat dinners and social gatherings.

But overall, the past week has really been… cleansing. I don't miss the foods I've given up, and have enjoyed learning about the new ones I've put in. Since my nutritionist is a "holistic" one, we're putting in not just actual foods but anything that nourishes us, including massage, going to a steam room, and scheduling more time to relax — it's been like a mini-vacation. And after a week of eating lots of greens and no toxins, I do actually feel less tired, and my skin looks better. I went for a run yesterday, and felt lighter than usual.

Of course, all this could be psychosomatic. And although cleaning out the digestive tract is, in general, a good thing, there isn't hard scientific data that the Master Cleanse has any major benefit — just a lot of anecdotes. Well, here's one anecdote more, recorded as it happens. I'm now going to walk into the kitchen, squeeze some lemons, and make my first Master Cleanse lemonade. Back in a moment…

Hmm — not bad. 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (I'm borrowing a friend's juicer), 1/2 a tablespoon of maple syrup, and 1/10 of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, mixed into 8 ounces of water. I'm sure I'll be sick of this soon, since I'm to drink this, and only this, 8-12 times per day for the next six days. It's spicy — a tenth of a teaspoon of cayenne sure goes a long way. I wonder if I can cheat and put in extra maple syrup.

See you tomorrow!