On March 1st of this year I did something that, unbeknownst to me at the time, was life changing. It seemed rather unremarkable then but, looking back, it is incredibly clear how significant it was.
I started a cleanse.
Yes, it seems banal. Ordinary. Trendy.
It was time for me to do something about my eating and general health. After struggling with my weight my entire life and being a confessed emotional eater, I was looking for something that would help me change my behaviors. It was a 21-day cleanse and I figured that in three weeks I would likely see some shift in my routine and approach and, hopefully, develop some new practices. I shared my journey through my blog, hoping that my very public adventure would provide me with some level of accountability that ordinarily I don’t always provide for myself. I tended to my mission adeptly and I managed to completely dismantle my psyche in the process, creating a new approach to how I look at food, health and myself, in general. In other words, I accomplished my goal.
Exactly five months after I finished my cleanse, I decided to do it again. There was no clear motivation for me repeating the process except that I inherently knew that I needed to focus in on myself once again. After all, my results from the first round were extremely satisfying. The first time I cleansed I lost 10 lbs. and, subsequently, I managed to lose about another 25, along with drastically changing my relationship with food. I continued to workout very regularly and have felt much more active and fit. But, as the months marched on, I could gradually feel myself starting to lose my focus. While I have not reverted to some of my destructive eating patterns, I could see that I was ever-so-slightly taking my eye off the ball. The summer brought socializing and drinking and, even though I managed to keep the sugar and heavier foods at bay, I became less intentional about making sure that what I was eating was nourishing my body. My workouts were still pretty intense but less regular. Fortunately, the pounds were not packing back on but, in my new evolved state, I could recognize that I was slipping and needed to cut myself off at the pass. Plus, I wanted to feel that euphoric state that comes from eating clean and living a healthy lifestyle. I wanted to wake up every morning feeling good about my choices the previous day and not battling with myself about what I was putting in my body. So, I decided to give it another go. After all, it is just 21 days. Three short weeks.
Once again, I found a window of time where I would not be traveling for work and would have the time to commit to preparing food and working out nearly every day. While this cleanse is relatively easy to follow, it does require you to commit some serious time to planning and preparing and to exercising. I sort of love the idea that these 21 days are a chunk of time devoted to me. It is like a little respite where I put everything else second and focus in on myself.
In preparation for the cleanse, I decided to go back and re-read the 21 days worth of blog posts from the last time in order to get back into the mindset. I was surprised when I quickly recognized that nothing about this time resembled the last. I foolishly expected my experience to be similar but, as soon as I read the first post, I realized the error in my thinking. Nothing about me today even remotely resembles the me who was preparing to start the cleanse on February 28th. It seems quite incredible that so much could change in five months but, in actuality, it has. For starters, I am not setting out on the cleanse with the dismay and disdain for myself as I was the last time. Before beginning the cleanse in March, I was profoundly disappointed in myself. After having lost about 50 lbs. several years earlier through intensive workouts, the weight was creeping back up and I had lost my motivation to exercise. I would longingly look at photographs of myself from that time, feeling overwhelmed and regretful of my lack of discipline. As someone who is typically quite regimented in my behaviors and very thoughtful about my actions, this was a major blow. This time, none of those feelings exist. On the contrary, my confidence level is high and I am extremely proud of my success because I look better than I have in years and am, inarguably, in the best physical shape of my life. While I still have plenty of weight to lose, I have never been healthier. Now, my motivations are about enhancement rather than rescuing myself from a dark hole. And, by the way, that feels pretty amazing.
Another big difference for me is that, this time around, I am approaching the experience with a sense of confidence and clear expectation of outcomes. There is much more intentionality about my approach. Last time, I really had no idea what to expect and was just hanging on by a thread, hoping that I could stick to the plan and get through the 21 days. This time I can see out to the horizon and imagine where I might land at the end. I have the benefit of knowledge of how this experience can and will play out and gives me more control over the outcomes. That is not to say it will be any easier but I am comforted in knowing that I am no longer a rookie and can guide myself through the hills of this path.
This journey is also a little different for me because it is a journey of acceptance rather than of accomplishment. Completing the cleanse in March left me with a tremendous sense of pride, not just because of what I accomplished but because of the resulting shifts in my life. More mentally than physically, I felt altered. My body didn’t look dramatically different but it set me up to manage my relationship with food much more powerfully. As a result, the weight started coming off rapidly and there was an ongoing ease as I approached social occasions and difficult eating environments. I was in control. Since that time, I have openly spoken to others about how the cleanse was a demarcation line in my life – it was, without a doubt, a transitional moment. There was such significance to the timing, the process, the experience and the outcomes. Now, I no longer need to prove to myself what I am capable of. My challenge is to accept the person I have become. I see glimpses of a version of me that I really appreciate and that excites me. Right after I finished my cleanse the first time, I shared with a friend that, more than anything, my objective was to let go of the control that food held over me. With two years to go before I turned 50, I wanted to plan to give myself the gift of entering my 50s without being ruled by food or my relationship to it. I want to turn 50 with a sense of acceptance of who I am rather than continually lamenting what I am not able to accomplish. Whether a size 6, 10, 14 or 18, I want to be comfortable in my skin and proud of who I am and what I have done for myself physically and mentally. I no longer want to be held hostage by my weight. The cleanse was the beginning of that process and, now, five months later, as I begin the process again, I can clearly see my destination.
So, this time, I selected this past Saturday as the start date for my cleanse. And, for about a week before I started, I decided to let myself eat whatever I wanted. After having given up foods like pizza, steak, diet soda, ice cream and most carbs and sugar, I gave myself permission to be gluttonous. I wanted to experience all that I had been “missing” and see where that landed me. I started the week off with pizza and ended it right there again. By the end of the week, after only about five days, I couldn’t help but recognize how crappy I felt. My appetite was ravenous and I was shunning my usual favorites of fruit and vegetables and was seeking out carbs and sugar. No surprise, of course, as I was not appropriately nourishing my body but, instead, was unconsciously shoving food in my mouth that emotionally I believed to be satisfying. I no longer could taste anything and found myself soothed by the comfort of the textures and the reminiscence of what these foods once represented for me. Near the end I was even beginning to binge eat. On the last night before the cleanse, I ate three slices of pizza and followed that up with a bowl of cereal and some graham crackers and milk. These were all foods that had been removed from my repertoire, not because they are “bad” foods but because they make me feel bad. I was bloated and uncomfortable and found myself, once again, caught in the vice of food. It scared me how easily I could fall back into those bad routines and it was a distinct reminder of how important it is for me to eat consciously and nurture my body. For five months I had not one single craving for any of those foods and, after just a few days, it was all I could think about. Fortunately, I knew the cleanse was coming and this was only a temporary state.
I have already made it through three days and am feeling so much better. Admittedly, I am a bit tired from the cleansing and detoxing that is occurring in my body (I always compared it to the early days of pregnancy when your body is furiously building a human being and the exhaustion is overwhelming). And, emotionally, I find that the absence of food as a comfort results in some level of crankiness and self exploration. But, those are good things that always lead to positive breakthroughs.
Recently a friend admired me, acknowledging how much weight I have lost since March and I really tried to gain perspective on that. My husband keeps telling me how great I look and, every now and again, I run into someone who hasn’t seen me in a while and they remark about how much I have transformed. It is hard when you are living inside your body to see what others see. There is only so much distance you can create to develop a level of objectivity with yourself. So, I heavily rely upon those closest to me to help me see through their eyes and I pay close attention to how the clothes fit and how I endure my strenuous workouts. The easier they get and the more endurance I develop is always a reminder that I am getting stronger and more fit.
This summer, one of my obsessions was watching Extreme Weight Loss with Chris and Heidi Powell. I am fascinated by the journeys taken by the participants in their program. The transformations over the course of a year are remarkable and powerfully moving. With each of the participants’ stories, I found a piece of myself, relating to their struggles and appreciating the hard work they have to put in to achieve the results. It’s easy to think that you are alone when battling with your weight and freeing yourself from the addiction. Most of my friends have not had similar struggles in their lives and I have always felt like I have endured this solitary battle. Food addiction is often a very silent and lonely fight. And, as someone who has battled to overcome my addiction for years, I am grateful for anytime there is an opportunity to showcase the challenges and pain people face when trying to regain control of their lives. Food is not something we can cut out of our lives and the power it has over so many of us is not always evident. I am thankful to have achieved the levels of success I have and am excited to continue to liberate myself. There is no greater satisfaction than ending a day knowing that I was able to make choices that were right for me. There are many instances in which people try to encourage me to loosen the reigns and indulge and I choose to stay the course and do what is best for me. Those are winning days and I take them one at a time.
I’m excited to see where this 21-day journey takes me. I won’t be blogging each day to share my daily updates but I will share my story because I think it is important that we do so because you never know whose life you are going to touch to help them make a change. After all, that’s what we’re here for – to make a dent in the universe and affect others in a positive way. Hopefully my journey will do that.