Like a gazelle sensing a predator among the herd, my husband becomes still and unblinking after I mention my plans to try a diet detox.
Though he feigns interest, I smell his fear and imagine one of those red weather tickers scrolling behind his eyes as he awaits further instructions on whether to head for the basement or simply evacuate.
Despite the fact that I’m not a detox sort of person, the popularity is undeniable. From celebrities like Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow, to my own friends and acquaintances, everyone seems to be doing them.
With the arrival of clothes-too-small-for-me season, I decide to embark on a detox of my own that promises to remove toxins, cleanse my system (though I could argue that one serving of edamame does roughly the same thing in a lot less time), and help shed a few pounds.
To be fair, I eat pretty well. But there’s always room for improvement, including curbing my afternoon cheese and cracker date with the Gallo brothers and giving the frozen yogurt shops a chance to fill up someone else’s reward card.
And there’s the coffee thing.
I live for my morning coffee or as I like to call it, “The Elixir of Life.” Without at least two cups, my family has learned the hard way to avoid all communication unless someone’s on fire, or Harrison Ford is at the front door.
Since my detox of choice calls for the elimination of refined sugar, gluten, dairy, meat (other than grilled chicken or turkey breast), alcohol, and, yep, caffeine, for seven days, I can’t blame my husband for being afraid.
He should move.
I first check with my doctor, who approves my plan, and then follow up with Hartford Hospital registered dietitian Jessica Crandall, and Ellen Liskov, outpatient nutritionist and dietitian for Yale-New Haven Hospital, for some suggestions.
Crandall begins by cautioning me to avoid the fad cleanses. “You don’t know how safe they are or who’s monitoring them,” she said.
Beyond that, most are impossible to stick with and don’t offer any long-term health benefits.
“If it sounds too good to be true,” she said, “then it probably is. You’re not going to feel better from just drinking juice or cayenne pepper. It can’t be maintained; eventually you’ll go back to where you were before.”
Liskov, too, warns against the fad detox diets, saying that as a registered dietitian, she’d never recommend that one of her clients try one. “Whatever benefits there may be are not well-proven because it’s poorly studied.”
Instead, she recommends moderation as opposed to adopting the all-or-nothing philosophy, which people often embrace when it comes to weight loss.
“It’s about making small changes that are sustainable.” But she agrees that jump-starting the process with a physician-supervised plan can sometimes be beneficial. “There is certain value in cutting something out, or making the change to more fruits and vegetables. They feel good and it’s motivating.”
Motivated and armed with my detox list, I hit the grocery store. Nearly $200 later I realize that detoxing isn’t cheap and wonder if I shouldn’t have just bought new clothes instead.
Amid the regular items in my fridge and pantry, the new additions of almond milk and flaxseed stand out like foreigners in a small town. I’m not even sure what flaxseed is. The first time I add them to a smoothie (for protein and fiber apparently), I spend the rest of the day picking them out of my teeth.
Otherwise, the first couple of days are surprisingly tolerable. Despite feeling mildly hungover from lack of caffeine, I manage to function on herbal tea in the morning. I also survive my new regimen of fresh produce and brown rice without coming completely unglued. I decide that detoxing isn’t so bad.
That all changes on day three, when, after stopping to get gas, I realize my husband has used up all my grocery store gas points. Through a hungry, red haze, I send him an all-caps text, laced with expletives and threaten to call him at work to discuss it further.
It’s possible that I’m irritable.
By day five I’m reduced to smelling empty coffee cups in the sink and watching Food Network round the clock.
But I also learn that I’m supposed to grind up the flaxseed instead of eating it whole, and discover that it’s actually pretty good.
As I close out the final days of the detox, I notice that remarkably, I do, sort of, feel better. Nothing profound or anything, just better. I check the scale, and I’ve lost three pounds.
On day eight, I eat steak, ice cream and invite Ernest and Julio over to celebrate.
But a funny thing happens on day nine. I wake up and have a fruit smoothie with flaxseed.
And make coffee, too. I’m not crazy.