Recently on Twitter, I happened upon Buzzfeed's Clean Eating challenge, a two-week "detox" diet that required you to consume almost no carbs, no alcohol/caffeine (easy for me, since I avoid those already), and absolutely no processed foods whatsoever. Since I'm always a fan of crazy ideas, I thought I'd take my dietary recommendations from a site that got popular by posting cat GIFs.
So I took the Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge, and I kept a mini-diary of each day of my journey. Here are my thoughts from each day, plus my pros and cons of going on the Challenge.
Day 1 - Hooray! We're having fun! Doing a detox and making our bodies better! Woohoo! Look at all this new and interesting food we're eating. Wow, a shake for breakfast! Exciting! Damn, I'm hungry...
Day 2 - This day is agonizing. Hunger pains throughout, which can lead into mild mood swings and low energy. The hardest part is curbing the impulse snacking. If you need a hit of sugar normally, you can't just pick up a soda or even an apple juice. Must stay away.
One of the things this cleanse has made me realize is how much I rely on food for emotional satisfaction. Often times we don't need to eat. But maybe that cookie or that muffin at the lunchroom will make us feel better, and it's only $1.50, so why not?
Day 3 - One of the most amazing things about the detox is you can eat a whole plate of food (usually greens), or a whole bowl of yogurt, and at the end of it, when you feel like your stomach should theoretically be full, it doesn't feel that way at all and you are still incredibly hungry. But I actually feel a lot less hungry on today. My stomach is acclimating to the fact that it's going to be getting less food. In fact, a remarkable realization I've had is that I've really been eating way more food than is necessary for me to stay alive. And I guess I just got use to that excess over time...
Day 4 - My weight is already declining. I'm down 2 pounds already. But will it stay off?
The thing that surprises me about this detox: the random cravings. For instance, today is Free Bagel Day at the office. Every Wednesday, our lovely admins put together this amazing spread of bagels with cream cheese, PLUS a toaster! And smelling those bagels all day - it was terrible. I desperately wanted to eat one. Which is weird because I don't usually need to have the bagels, but with this low-carb cleanse, anything that smells like bread is heavenly to me.
Day 5 - Today, I seriously had thoughts about quitting this cleanse early. I'm not losing that much weight (not that I thought I was going to) but most importantly, I don't feel like my life is that much better or different than pre-cleanse. But I choose to soldier on.
Day 6 - It's interesting how SPECIFIC the cravings I get are. I'm hungry a lot of the time, but eating a pound of carrots isn't going to help. I crave carbs specifically, in any form. The body needs carbs. Bread would be amazing. Just need a little bit of bread. Can't I have some bread? No.
Day 7 - By this date, the desire for carbs has finally started to subside. In general, I feel like my stomach has shrunk and my body needs less food now. Plus the random cravings for processed foods and sugar are now much less frequent.
Day 8 - I had a cheat meal today to celebrate my birthday. Tried not to go out of control at Din Tai Fung, but the birthday comes but once a year...
Day 9 - If this detox was a flight, I'd say that on Day 9, I've finally reached cruising altitude. I'm still hungry much of the time, but I can now control that hunger and get used to it. It no longer controls me.
Day 10 - The stupidity of this cleanse has come into full focus for me. All that stuff I said in Day 9? Forget it. I'm in a bad mood, I'm irritable, I'm low-energy, and I don't feel like working out. This detox is the worst and I hate it.
Day 11 - I hate my life.
Day 12 - Not a bad day. My body chemistry seems to be re-orienting to the new diet, but the hunger - it never goes away.
Day 13 - The end is in sight...
Day 14 - IT IS OVER. IT IS FINALLY OVER!
Now that all is said and done, what are my thoughts on the detox as a whole?
The recipes - A lot of the recipes are really tasty, and pretty much all of them are healthy. I'd say at least 70-80% of the recipes are dishes I would enthusiastically try again. We will definitely be adding some of these to our rotation, and already have started making "salad dinner" a regular staple of our meals together. By far, this is the greatest net positive on my life.
Weaning you off processed foods and carbs - Carbs are such a huge part of our daily lives. And there's a reason for that: carbs are awesome! But they also make me feel super bloated and full. Living life with very few carbs for a couple weeks definitely made me understand what an impact this food type has on my body -- and made me desire it less.
You will need less food afterwards - If you do this thing correctly, you should be much more conscious of your daily caloric intake, and are likely to want to eat fewer calories each day.
Time - If my lovely girlfriend Eva did not agree to do this cleanse with me and help prepare the overwhelmingly vast majority of the food, there's no way I would have been able to successfully complete it. The food for this detox took, at minimum, over 20 hours to prepare over the course of two weeks. That is a staggering amount of work and probably renders this detox impossible for normal, busy people.
It ruins your social life - So much of our social interactions are wrapped up in food (see this beautiful Roger Ebert essay for more on this topic). When your daily meals are heavily regulated, you can't really go out to restaurants with friends -- or if you do, it's super awkward as they order from the menu and you pull out some tupperware with roasted cauliflower. Make sure if you try to attempt a cleanse that you are willing to take a hit on your social life.
Caloric intake not properly calibrated - I'm somewhat of a large dude, so I probably consume around 2500-3500 calories per day. This detox reduces the caloric intake for males down to about 1500-1800. While my girlfriend had no problems managing this cut, I was constantly irritable and angry for the majority of the detox period. The detox drained me of my energy; I didn't feel good working out because I could barely drag myself to work and back without collapsing in a heap. What good is a detox if you can't exercise?
I'm not sure, but I know that for me, the caloric cutback was far too drastic and was not workable for a person of my size. Maybe it's because I'm gluttonous, but I highly doubt that wanting a few more almonds to fill out the stomach qualifies as being out of control.
So in the end, was it worth it?
I'd say it was definitely worthwhile in some ways: it showed me how little food I could survive on, and it's always character-building to see whether you can achieve a specific goal. [I should point out I lost several pounds, but put it back on quite quickly after the detox was over].
But there are a few major issues with this detox.
Firstly, it only lasts for two weeks. From conversations I've had with friends who have tried similar diets, that is not nearly enough time to have any kind of meaningful or lasting impact. Instead, it just gives you a taste of what it's like to eat well. That may be enough for you to make good decisions going forward, but the Buzzfeed plan certainly doesn't lay out a long term strategy.
And secondly, I think that rather than doing this detox, your time/money is better spent making sustainable eating choices that will make you better off in the long run. That means meeting with a nutritionist and/or incorporating some of these recipes (calorically adapted) into your daily life for your needs.
This detox really did a teach me a lot about my body and about how much food I eat on a daily basis. But overall, it's not something I can wholeheartedly recommend because of its considerable time/money commitment, with no clear payoff. Solid recipes, though.