The cleanse.

Dear friends,

I mentioned in this post last week that I was going to use my vacation to get myself back on track, nutritionally speaking.

I showed you the photographic evidence that my pantry is stocked with junk.  And, dismayed by its effect on my figure, I wrote an ode to the ripening pear I have become. So starting a week ago yesterday, I vowed to turn over a new leaf — and I embarked on a “spring cleaning” of my diet.

Here’s what I’ve consumed for the last eight days:

  • fresh vegetables of many kinds
  • fresh fruit
  • brown rice and oatmeal
  • beans
  • and no more than 4 ounces of lean protein (including egg whites) a day

By the way, I’m not anti-meat. But by limiting myself to 4 ounces a day, I was enforcing a wider zone on my plate for vegetables and whole grains. It’s so tempting and so easy to fill up on meat (even lean meat) and I didn’t want to go the Atkins route.

I reduced my dairy intake dramatically by cutting out cheese and butter last week (I’ve been eating way too much for way too long).  I did put a teaspoon of cream in my morning cup of coffee and a tablespoon or two of milk in my oatmeal, but I’ve been a dairy hog for a long time so this has been a significant change.

Of course the biggest change has been 8 straight days of eating nothing out of a package, which — without intentionally trying — means I also eliminated all processed sugar. Plus, I banned the table salt because I wanted to remind myself what fresh food actually tastes like.

And what do I think?

Holy schmoley!

First off, I had a wicked headache for almost five straight days. I’m talking headaches that verged on migraines (without the vision disturbances) and that would not be tempered by over-the-counter pain killers. I went to bed with a headache, I woke up with a headache, I painted and cleaned with a headache. Finally, about mid-day on Thursday, it broke. I’m no physiologist, but I’m pretty sure my system was reacting violently to the  sudden and total elimination of processed sugar (and perhaps refined grains) from my diet.

Second, I lost 5 1/2 pounds, which is not the chief reason I did it, but boy — what a benefit!

Third, I immediately extinguished all heartburn, which had become a new and growing problem.

Finally, I just flat out feel better. I can’t explain it except to say my mind is clear (once I got past the crushing headache) and my digestive system has calmed and receded to the background (where it belongs) rather than being an omnipresent, roiling reminder of my excess.

I feel so good, I’m going to keep it up — though I’m not sure what that means. I’m sticking to the daily 4-ounce limit on protein because it encourages other good eating habits. And I’m going to stick to my low-dairy guns for at least a while longer. I need to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around cheese — or at least convince myself its proper place is as a condiment, not a food group. And I want to stay away from sugar and packaged foods as long as humanly possible. In my life, “humanly possible” has never been longer than about six months. So we’ll see.

The big unknown for me is bread and pasta. I know there are all sorts of healthier, whole-grain varieties out there. Heck, I have a grain mill and several buckets of whole grains in my basement and I can bake a loaf of whole wheat bread like nobody’s business. But bread and pasta are a slippery slope in my life. I have trouble controlling portions with these two foods, and I haven’t learned to consume them without drenching them in all sorts of unhealthy fats. So, I’m taking it slow in this area to see if I can moderate my gluttonous tendencies.

I mentioned to a friend that I was doing this and she said “Ouch. Sounds painful. I have absolutely no self-control. Good luck.”

If you’ve known me very long, you know I have self-control as secure as a bank vault. As long as it’s for a specified period of time. I have often said I have a self-control switch and I’m either on or off. I have struggled with moderation my entire life and I’d love to break my feast-or-famine mentality. (Ask my friends — I have yet to ease into anything in life.)

I started with a “cleanse,” which is clearly a famine strategy. Let’s see if I can turn my cleanse into cleaner living all around rather than a one-off laundering.

What say ye, dear readers? Any words of advice for this recovering foodaholic?

With gratitude {for so many wonderful culinary choices in life and a growing ability to select healthier ones},

Joan, who watched the “sugar is toxic” story on 60 Minutes Sunday night as a member of the Amen corner because if the five-day headache isn’t proof she doesn’t know what is

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