When life gives you lemons, go on a diet

I did not need much more convincing after reading Gina Lopez’s article a few weeks back about the Lemonade Diet (also known as the Master Cleanse). I was, after all, that very moment stuffed with so much chocolate, steak and rice I could feel my hips starting to rebel against the slim skirt I was wearing. As soon as I put the papers down, I looked at my calendar to check how my life was scheduled to play out in the next two weeks. There was work, for both Congress and TV, and then there were five dinners and a luncheon. I suspected early on that sitting through those glorious dinners and getting to do nothing more than smell the food and admire the way it looks would be the most challenging part.

I literally took a moment, the image of weakly cooked bacon on top of white rice making my will temporarily crumble, but decided to just jump into it anyway. I also read the book, and although it all seemed even more logical to me with every page I absorbed, the diet had me at “lemonade and maple syrup” — key ingredients that I love individually, even more so together, and even though I understood that, this being a diet, both would obviously have to appear in stripped-down versions of their more lavish incarnations (as lemon bars or with pancakes swimming under its lovely golden mess, respectively). Cayenne pepper is also required — a dash of it — something I did not mind at all, because I love most things spicy.

So how was the Master Cleanse? I lasted all of seven days without cheating one bit, the longest I have ever gone since birth without solid food passing my lips. I gently broke the fast on the eighth and ninth days because I had a series of weddings to attend and I did not want to lug around my jug of lemonade juice. It was wonderful for the most part, especially in terms of how I did not feel hungry, how much energy I had throughout the day, and how I never got the headache that seemed to be mandatory with the other kinds of juice fasts I had tried in the past. It was, however, admittedly terrible in that having to sit through a meal that other people around the table were allowed to freely enjoy felt very much like being on a battlefield, even if it was mostly in the mind, each dish seducing with name, scent, sound and memory of taste all at once. How much can a deprived mortal take, really?

A lot, apparently. The first three days were a breeze, the fourth day seemed destined to be the hardest. It is the make-or-break day, the appointed time within the whole diet when you can choose to do an Eve and just surrender to temptation — or you can remember how Jesus was able to survive in the desert for 40 days with only water. Of course, the aim was to try and go Jesus’ way. But really, how do you cope with a tall order like that?

In my case, I was fortunate enough to, at that point, when I was about to eat lechon balat, send a text message to Manong Rudy who has been doing the diet on and off for about three years now, if I remember our conversation right. He basically messaged me back to say that the fourth day really is the hardest and if I could get through it, the rest of the journey would be a breeze. Aha! Hope and promise in a single message. That strengthened my resolve. I put back the lechon balat and that night sat through two dinners back to back, staring through the feast before me, even as I spoke to each one of them with four little words quietly said over and over again: “Till we meet again.” I know, it is so campy but hey, you do what you have to do to get through the day.

This will not be a diary of how it was for me daily (for that, all you have to do is read Gina’s article because she described everything you can expect from the diet in a most comprehensive and truthful manner) but I would like to share with you how I stayed on it without flinching or cheating, because I really feel that will be the hardest part should you decide to go on it, too.

As teenagers discovering the joys of junk food eaten during summers in Lola Carmen’s home without the supervision of adults who warned us about nutrition (or lack thereof) and cellulite that chips generously promised, my cousin Johanna used to tell me and my sister Caren that the irony of life was that boys did not like girls who had short tempers, something that only happened very simply because these girls were always on a diet just so they could look more attractive to boys. She said that as we stared at a big box (the size of a jumbo balikbabyan box) filled with Jack and Jill potato chips that my sister’s suitor had given her. We stared at the shiny orange foil, several dozens of them looking up at us, and together we decided to just eat it, copious amounts of it, because depriving ourselves would make us angry at the world for a day. What man would fall in love with a grouch, she would say, defending our choice as she wagged her fingers in the air: “Tsk, tsk, mangaon ta kay mu ngil-ad ato mga batasan” (Let’s eat what we want otherwise we become grouchy.) She would say that between mouthfuls and we would laugh at how true it could be.

I remember that now because when you are on a diet, any diet, you die inside a little bit with each meal you say “no” to. You deny yourself and perhaps you take it out on other things, becoming impatient and irritable, on the very same instances when perhaps a full, happy stomach with appetite properly satiated will afford you more niceness to share with others. I am happy to say this diet does not make you grouchy. But there are times when it does make you a little bit too sad.

This diet does not give you the pounding headache in the temples (one that instantly disappears the moment you eat adobo and one and a half cups of rice on Day 2 of the last three-day fast you tried) but I have to warn you that every little sadness feels more like first-degree sorrow. That is what it did to me, at least. You feel much sadder about things than you normally should — the heroine in the story does not end up with the man she loves, the person asking for a recommendation letter gets undercut by someone else at the final hour, Andy Whitfield who plays Spartacus dies in real life, and Kahl Drogo in Game of Thrones is burned. Tears just might fall and only because the fried chicken looks so good and you cannot eat it.

But what did the master cleanse teach me? It is strange how the whole stretch almost feels like a prayer. It is spiritual: in a way, actual experience can explain what mere words never will. You have to try it yourself. I initially dreaded the thought of all that I would be saying “no” to for all those days because that alone makes the diet difficult. But everything can be a matter of perspective and each day, a moment each time, I made a conscious effort to savor instead what it took to stretch and challenge myself to sharpen my self control, the very same thing I suspected was somewhat dulled to a certain degree by many indulgent meals enjoyed through the years. I rejoiced in the reality that even as I denied myself the pleasure of the taste of food in my mouth, it did not do anything to stop me from relishing the company of the people around me.

I became more mindful of other pleasures, my appreciation for them heightened in the simplest of ways — giggling under the sheets in a very cold room as Juliana and I traded stories about our day while we waited for Richard to come home, the scent of perfume in the air at a dinner as beautifully dressed women bussed each other “hello” on the cheeks, the color of café latte as it swished in a pink cup, the words of beautiful songs sung during Sunday Mass, listening to Juliana and her little friends giggling about life as they knew it, as they sat around our kitchen table eating ice cream. A little note came for me one day, nice handwriting on beautiful paper. That cheered me up and allowed me to walk away from the chicken liver that was calling me from a serving dish on the kitchen table. Mindfulness. There was much merit in rejoicing about all that I did have, instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t savor by mouth just yet.

Maybe in a subconscious effort to numb the longing for real food, I stared it in the face every chance I got, never once walking away from family meals or dinner invitations. I said “no” to food, but “yes” to conversation. Each time I wanted to taste this or that, I sipped my delicious lemonade. With that, I had all I needed to last through the meal, the day, in one piece. At night, in bed, I would watch Laura Calder and Nigella Lawson, as the camera made love to the food they prepared. And when the longing was so great, I would read through recipe books, marking pages that spotlighted food I wanted to eat when I was through with my fast. It was something to look forward to, each day I deprived myself brought me closer to that brand of taste heaven. I kept busy, I drank lots of water, I danced, I functioned well at work. Yes, I still I had so much energy to do all that. Life went on fully, as usual.

I do remember feeling quite cold towards the latter part, and I was told by those who have been on the diet that it simply means the body has gotten rid of the garbage/toxins that had built up in there for so long. My skin became nicer and more even-toned, and not just on the face but the whole body.

Oh, I have to let you know: the mouth really will taste funny. But I survived with mint drops and a bottle of Oracare always in my bag. And it is amazing how our tongue really does become pink, a sign of a body absent the toxins we got so used to living with.

Will I do it again? The ingredients are easy enough to find. The grocery always has lemons and Healthy Options has the Grade B maple syrup. Why Grade B? According to the book, Grade B is the second run with more minerals and more taste. It is the one more suitable for the diet and it also happens to be less expensive.

The Cayenne pepper McCormick has a lot of.

It is true that throughout the cleanse I was also thinking of food constantly. I ate lots of it in my mind. I dreamed of the day I could eat again. I appreciated all that I had enjoyed in the past, knowing full well that when I was able to indulge again, I would have an even better appreciation of it all. Everything felt like the first time after I broke my fast. Ice cream is glorious, a thick steak is earthy and robust, sashimi is divine. My senses were heightened, and I wanted to bless everyone — every single hand that contributed to the plated food before me that I now allow myself again to eat freely.

Will I do it again? Definitely. The lemonade, after all, tastes really good and it does make the skin feel and look so nice.

 

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