When I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Madagascar, I was fresh out of college. Like most college kids, I had more or less subsisted on Doritos, late night pizza, and easy-mac for four years, so that was comfort food for me. Of course, I could not find stuff like that in my itty bitty town in the middle of nowhere; a lot of the time, you couldn’t even get basics like apples, lettuce, milk, etc. You could always find rice, beans, and fried food, so I wasn’t hungry, but sometimes I just needed to eat food that tasted like home. Food security became a big part of my life. I would go to the market early every morning, even if I didn’t need anything, just to see if there would be something special there that day (often there was!). My friends and family sent me these awesome packages with candy, granola bars, oatmeal, drink mixes, etc. I devised these elaborate plans to try to cook the food I missed; the bagels were okay, the hummus was awesome, and the ranch dressing was a waste of two weeks.
So I came here with the same sort of mindset. In fact, I devoted like half of a suitcase to American food that I liked when I was in the Peace Corps: kraft cheese powder, cheez-its, oreos, candy. But then I got here, and there is no shortage of food anywhere. I can get almost anyting I want in Salatiga, including oreos and a good variety of American candy. On top of that, there is great Indonesian food all over the place. Everyday on my ride home, I’m tempted by ice cream, sugary fruit drinks, chocolate sandwiches, and fried everything, not to mention the several tasty restaurants in town. So I was eating all this Indonesian food, then coming home and eating all this American food, and the food was taking over my life. I would be sitting in my living room and the sour patch kids and twizzlers would be calling to me from the kitchen. Or, I would be getting a massage and would spend the whole hour thinking about what I would eat for dinner. I would eat when I was bored, when I wasn’t hungry and sometimes even when I was totally stuffed.
And I felt awful! I felt bloated and gross every night, and when I got to the fancy hotel at the TEFLIN conference during my recent travels, I got on a scale and saw that I had gained 15 pounds! 15 pounds doesn’t make me unhealthy or overweight, but it did feel like I had my high school backpack taped to my ass whenever I went running.
So then… I read a book. I’m sheepish about this whole thing, because I think people who get their diet or health advice from self-help books are a little silly, but that’s no more silly than having goldfish crackers control your life. I read Clean by Alejandro Junger, which talks about a 3-week cleanse. He makes it sound like the cure for every ailment, so I tried to take it with a grain of salt. I was totally sold nonetheless. He pushes it pretty hard, maybe because he is trying to get you to buy his shake mix packet online. I don’t think it’s a total scam, though, since there are also equivalent recipes you can make yourself,
Basically, you start by cutting out alcohol, caffeine, gluten, soy, dairy, peanuts, nightshade vegetables, shellfish, and other things that are common irritants or allergens for people. You’re left with chicken, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, brown rice, and other foods that are unequivocally healthy and relatively toxin free. The idea is, when your body doesn’t have to use it’s resources to eliminate the toxins you eat everyday, it can get rid of the systematic inflammation and toxicity and restore your cells to pristine condition. After 3-5 days of that, you keep eating that food for lunch everyday, but replace breakfast and dinner with a liquid meal from their smoothie, soup, and juice recipes, and continue for 21 days.
…and got started. Now, I’m on day 5 of the official 21 day cleanse. So far, it hasn’t been bad at all. The initial period was fine because I was still eating 3 meals a day, just couldn’t eat a lot of stuff I had before. I thought it would be hard once I started the liquid meals, but they are mostly delicious and have lots of fiber and nut milk and stuff in them so they’re really filling. I can snack on nuts, fruits, and vegetables if I’m hungry, but I haven’t been. It’s not bad at all. And I feel good. Usually I need to take a nap in the afternoon after lunch, and I haven’t needed to (it helps that it’s cooler here now that the rainy season has started). I have enough energy to run in the mornings. I feel healthy. I think I’ll be able to make it all 21 days. But a sentence like that is pretty good insurance that, in a week or so, there will be a post on here saying that I totally caved. So we’ll just see how it goes from here…