“Cleanse with me,” said my live-in lover, Doug. I thought he was offering a sexy middle-of-the-day shower, something we hadn’t done since those blissful first three months of our relationship. That was four years ago in 2002.
I pulled my shirt over my head in record Paris Hilton pout-time.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m trying to talk to you.” He thrust an unassuming little yellow book at me. I sheepishly replaced my shirt while he started in with that crazy Southern California talk. Something about cleaning his digestive system of all the horrible hormone-injected, mucus-filled supposed-food that he’d been shoving into his mouth for most of his adult life. All it would take was ten days and some discipline.
I rolled my eyes. I’m from New York. He’s from this golden sprawling city in which I now live, where people only wear hats, scarves and boots because someone said it’s fashionable to do so. Where there’s so much sunshine, it seems to leak into people’s brains through their ears leaving them unfocused and giggly. Where all diets seem to rage; all inane ideas about what is truly good for your body defined in the negative: no-carb, no-dairy, no-sugar, no-caffeine, no-wheat, no-white foods, no-indoor grown, no-caged, no-protein, no-nothing until all that’s left to subsist on is smog and distilled water. But that’s just from where I’m sitting; Doug seemed to disagree.
“This is going to kick start my health. Do it with me.” He was giddy and serious, like an L.A. teenager trying on clubbing clothes made for a high-class hooker. This man challenges my personal limitations every single day. Some people color outside the lines, but Doug colors outside the lines with crayons I don’t even own. He’s gotten me to kayak during a small craft advisory in Belize, upgrade my computer and even move in with him. I don’t know how I ended up living with — and loving, even — someone from the West Coast. Maybe his pushing of my proverbial envelope is one of the things that made me fall in love with him in the first place. I’m not sure. Right now, I can’t see past his sudden madness.
“No way,” I said. Then, just to be sure I wasn’t missing out, I asked, “What do you eat?” I imagined sweet fruity drinks all day, like going to Jamba Juice without the dairy-bloat. Then I imagined colonics, where a simulated tsunami is shoved up your ass. So I looked at him warily.
“That’s the point; no food.” Another negative: no-food. “You’re cleansing, so you just drink this mixture all day: freshly squeezed lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.”
His words hung in the air, a bad idea looking for a landing. Yet he managed to keep a straight face.
“You’re crazy, right?” Way outside my box. I refused to fold; not this time. “I have to eat every three hours. I’d fall over.” He should know this about me. He’s sees what I get like at hour three; I become a five-foot-two-inch, blind, raging barracuda.
At six-two and 190 pounds — some of it even muscle — he’s a completely different creature. But he’s got his father’s genes, so if he’s not careful, he could shoot up to a frightening 300 in the next few years. He doesn’t cook, but instead depends on the Zone Diet, a company that delivers three exceedingly expensive microwaveable meals to your door every morning. (I’m too stubborn to cook for us both. Plus, I have a great fear of unequal domesticity — also known as a great fear of turning into my parents.) But he will binge on pasta and cream sauce and alcohol and sugar. He’s been known to devour an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s in a sitting, which makes it difficult to actually “share” the Phish Food. He works out when he’s healthy, which is usually the case. But, as he pointed out to me, the case was no longer usual.
“I was sick five times in the past year,” he said. “Remember all that wheezing?” I did. A horrible head cold turned into pneumonia, all that mucus threatening to ruin his voice over career. This head/chest war returned and returned like a bad reality TV show. It was awful for both of us. He missed parties and laid on the couch a lot. And, I noted early on, not a lot of sex happens when one of you is breathing only snot. So he wanted to start over with a clean slate. Flush out the old; make his intestines pristine for his new life when he’d be eating better, feeling better, working out more regularly and saving money by not spending it on delivered meals. (He hadn’t quite figured out how he was going to save that money if he didn’t know how to cook. Maybe he secretly hoped I’d fold on that too.)
“Please just read it. I’m going to do it, just for ten days,” he said. And then non-chalantly, “It might make it easier for me if we do it together.” Sneaky guy. Despite my fear of trying new things, I also have an infuriating need to please those that I love. He knows this. I hate him.
So I picked up the little yellow book and read about all the crappy food we eat and how lemons and maple syrup and cayenne pepper actually have all the nutrients — vitamins and minerals — we need daily. How the morning salt-water flush would purge the steak I ate twelve years ago out of my small intestine. I read how the best thing I can do for myself is to clear my body of these toxins that are the catalysts for disease. I would be relieved of all the mucus hiding in the folds of my digestive system. Cleansing could result in more energy while even clearing my skin and my eyesight. The little yellow book did not tout products of any kind, just provided theory, recipe, testimonials and a few typos. Cayanne pepper has all the nutriants you need. It was not trying to sell me anything except a healthy way of life. And it had been around for forty years. It was not a fad or a diet; it was a non-scientific “cleanse” with longevity.
I thought about Doug drinking salt water and sweet, spicy lemon juice while I cooked my tofu and vegetables and knew having real food around would make it more difficult for him. I thought about his father and how his belly was like a small country he carried around with him.
I thought about all those nights and days Doug sat on the couch breathing through his mouth when I was frisky for some naked games and how I was relegated to solitaire.
That was enough. I would swallow my New York pride and cleanse with him in solidarity. We would be a team. Helping each other to press forward to a more natural, healthy, sex-crazed life. Just like the people on the Internet chat boards, I would continue my normal working life while simultaneously flushing my system, checking my own poop and drinking the magic formula whenever I got hungry. After a few challenging days, I would start to feel a change — a re-birth. The hunger pangs would diminish and I would have more energy, be happier and my eczema would clear up. I’d go from just ten days to fourteen and then to twenty-one. I would be a superwoman, able to conquer my own fear and the life-threatening food industry. Sleeping less, producing more, bounding from moment to moment in a spiritual lemony fire. We’d break the fast with glasses of orange juice and plates of raw vegetables, never eating meat again. We might even move to Topanga Canyon.
Doug asked me three times if I was sure and then we were off to erewhon, where we bought a weeks worth of organic lemons (seventy, to be exact), a 32 dollar bottle of maple syrup, a bag of cayenne pepper, herbal laxative tea for dinners and sea salt for those morning wake up calls. Our lemon mountain drew immediate praise from another customer. “That cleanse is the healthiest thing you can do for your body.” Our pride swelled. Our citrus sister admitted to treating her body for only one day, but we laughed, unperturbed, knowing we were much stronger than her. The cashier also nodded approval of our purchases, testifiying about his three life-changing days. We were not alone; there were others out there. We knew we were doing the right thing.
That night, after our separate meals (tomato soup with steamed zucchini for me, the dreaded creamy pasta for him, courtesy of Bossa Nova) we clunked our hot herbal laxative-filled mugs together and drank. I detected fear on my comrade’s face and knew I had to momentarily take the lead. I looked him in the eye and said the right thing.
“This is good for us. It will clean out all that sticky mucus that keeps making you sick. This is the best thing we can do for our bodies.” I did not say the wrong thing: “This was your idea.” or “Don’t back out on me now, you little punk.” No. We are a team. And teammates don’t tear each other down even when they have strong suspicions that the other one is wrong.
Here’s some of the advice we garnered from both the Internet and verbal testimonials of this particular cleanse:
- Keep busy.
- Whenever you’re hungry, just drink the juice.
- Mood swings are normal.
- The first three days are the hardest. After that, it gets much easier.
- Due to the amount of eliminations one has in a day, one’s libido tends to diminish during The Cleanse.
None of these accurately prepared me for the dizzying growl-and-spit-fest that was to come. And that last one just pissed me off.
[Let me assure you that I won’t go into great detail about what came out of my body. If you want specific, shockingly honest renditions of cleansing “eliminations,” visit any cleanse chat board and read to your little heart’s scatological desire.]
I slept surprisingly well that first night, despite dreams of being buried in suspiciously hot red sand. I woke up before Doug, eager to get started on my purification. I measured out the moist sea salt in two pristine teaspoons, added it to a quart of water, shook it all up and drank. Not so bad really, if you don’t mind feeling like you’ve just swallowed half the Pacific. I kept going. About half way through I stopped and vigorously woke Doug up.
“I need you. You have to do it with me. C’mon. I’ve already pooped twice.” Not a lie; as soon as I got up I “eliminated” easily and about a quarter of the way through the seawater, I went again. This was a good sign. My body was already processing and purging even before the magic mixture.
A good soldier, Doug got up and followed directions in the kitchen. At his first taste of the saline, I thought he might bail entirely. The expression on his face as he chugged the SWF (Chat board lingo for “salt water flush.” Took me twenty minutes to figure out they weren’t ritually drinking a Single White Female) was less than pleasant, but he made it through. So I finished mine as well.
Doug and I both work from home; I’m a writer, he’s an actor/voice over artist. He’ll run out on auditions, but I generally have nowhere to go, so sometimes it’s a hurdle to actually find a reason to leave the apartment. But for the purpose of cleansing, I found this reassuring. Not knowing how my body would react — and having read one chat board suggestion to make Depends a part of your wardrobe — I was happy to stay home. Good thing I did because fifteen minutes after that initial flush, that entire quart of water seemed to take a wrong turn and found an alternative exit to the one liquid usually used. And this happened more than once. As odd as it felt, I certainly felt cleansed. Empty. I was really glad that all I had the night before was soup.
“I just peed through my colon,” I reported to Doug. He screwed up his face and asked me not to tell him the specifics. I asked if he had gone yet; he shook his head. I nodded mine in a slightly condescending manner. Of course he hadn’t. He’s the one who is sick, full of diseased, old food. It takes longer to coax that out of a body that only poops once a day. Sure enough, though, about an hour later, Doug baptized the toilet.
So we began our journey. We earnestly squeezed lemons, making sure to get as much juice as possible. We measured maple syrup and cayenne pepper as if we both had OCD, leveling and re-leveling. We made a big pitcher of this master cleanser and Doug took a liter bottle of it with him when he left the apartment. I heated mine up like tea, cup by cup in my favorite mug, warming my hands, pretending we were in a log cabin in the back woods of Vermont where we subsisted on tree bark, mysterious lemonade and our undying love.
Fantasizing didn’t work. The concoction was tart and spicy hot, as if someone had added Tabasco to a sugarless lemon pastry. I couldn’t taste the maple syrup at all, and the cayenne would hit the back of my throat, stinging it and making me gag. Or I’d accidentally inhale the cayenne that tended to float on the surface and sneeze directly into my mug, which would not, surprisingly, improve the taste. My throat, mouth and lips were burning with the force of a small California brush fire. How could this be GOOD for me? I cursed Doug and all of Southern California. But I forged ahead — for him. So I poured cup after cup into my mug, drinking, gagging, sneezing and peeing bright yellow every twenty minutes. The advice was to have six to twelve cups a day, drinking whenever you got hungry. I pretty much drank every two hours. It was like my own personal fear factor.
As a yellow haze descended upon me, I wondered if I quit my day job too early. If I had to be someplace (with a bathroom) where I was forced by others to focus for an eight-hour day, maybe it would be easier. But as it was, all I could think about were the pangs beginning to sprout in my stomach, the headache creeping it’s way through my skull and the healing effects of the lemon juice. That’s what I told myself as I wrapped my limbs into fetal position on the couch: the healing effects. This was good for me: a challenge. Used to be, whenever I got hungry everything would stop and I’d have to eat. This was proving to me that I could beat the hunger. I could. I could do it.
Damn that Doug for making me do this. Maybe he’ll come home with Carl’s Junior on his breath and it will all be over.
But he returned home several hours later with nothing but an almost-empty bottle. He hadn’t had any accidents, bodily or automotive. He was hungry, sure, but had plenty of work to do to keep his mind off his growling stomach. But this was nothing new for him. He’s been known to go through a whole day “forgetting” to eat. Proof again that he and I truly live in two different universes. Frankly, I’m not really sure why we’re together at all.
I headed out to my weekly writing group with a large mobile mug of hot lemon miracle. I didn’t intend to have the group discuss the pros and cons of cleansing, but it became unavoidable. Maybe because I entered firmly stating something like, “I’m so fucking hungry I could kill somebody.” Comments ranged from the delightfully honest, “Sounds nasty,” to the seriously new-agey “The third day I even began to feel elated, in a way,” to the artistically challenged, “You should write about it!” And my personal favorite, the co-dependently addictive, “Yeah, I did one. I also did an inadvertent one-day Gin cleanse.” We eventually got around to discussing our short stories and under this structure of our workshop, I learned something.
Usually at about the hour and a half mark, we take a break and I dig out the nuts and raisins or something equally rabbit like. As this break approaches, my focus on the writing diminishes. Instead, I think about dropping delicious crunchies in my mouth, getting my blood sugar back up to speed. But this night, with nothing to look forward to except the rapidly cooling tamale-lemonade in my thermal mug, I had no choice but to pay attention. I actually participated with clarity right up to the break. Sure, my stomach was growling, my head was floating and there were only three swallows left for the second hour and a half, but so what? I had to be there and I was even enjoying it.
Three-day juice sister told me that I’d really learn a lot about myself — to stick with it. And I knew she was right.
But by ten o’clock, I was ravenous. Normally, I would get home and have some cheese and crackers while Doug and I watched the recorded “West Wing.” But this time, I drove home with nothing in my future but more damn spicy piss water and a hot mug of laxative tea. I suspected — hoped, maybe — that Doug would be sitting in front of the TV with a healthy pint of Ben & Jerry’s, crying in dairy-filled glee. Sadly, he was on the couch empty-handed.
“You know,” I began, slamming my mug down, “you and I are different. I eat more often than you. I eat healthier than you. I probably don’t need to do this as much as you do. I’m light headed and I’m hungry. Dammit. Doug.”
“You made it through class,” he said.
Rat bastard. “I’m okay,” I admitted. “I kind feel of high, though.”
“I know. It’s like I’m trying a new drug with my girlfriend. Weird.” He giggled. I joined in. Mood swings are normal. I finished off the juice, warmed up our herbal anal flusher and toasted the completion of our first day.
I woke up still proud of completing the first day without breaking the fast or Doug’s head. The dreaded SWF was somehow easier. It was only day two, but I already felt like an old pro. Mixed it up, swallowed it down, flushed it out. Somewhere in the past 30 hours, Doug and I had started calling each other “Poopyhead” with a loving tone. “Time to get up, Poopyhead.” “I left you an extra half a lemon, Poopyhead.” It was silly and sweet and made me feel like we were really partners committed to a common goal. I made the cleansing potion with slight modifications to save myself from any internal scarring: more syrup and water to calm the cayenne down to a dull burn. Doug timed his SWF perfectly so he wouldn’t accidentally flush while driving. And I planned my day.
I would write and make all those phone calls I was supposed to have made the day before. I’d research potential copywriting jobs, answer emails and write my business-generating newsletter. I’d finish that database and that transcription project that I was actually getting paid for. I worked furiously for four hours, heating up the more mild drink every 55 minutes. As soon as I finished a cup, I’d make another. I ran out much earlier than the first day and had to make a whole new batch around three o’clock. But my throat wasn’t burning and that was something.
When I stood up after finally emailing the finished transcription, I was dizzy. But in a good way — sort of. I was energized to work. Or at least I was driven to get things done. Keep busy. It dawned on me that I plan my day around meals. Without that structure, I had no excuse to procrastinate. I had plenty of time to work and catch up on things I had put off. I could be more productive. No wonder Doug sometimes “forgot” to eat. You could actually get a lot done that way.
Working also kept my mind off the fact that I was starving myself.
The rest of the afternoon went like this: Fuck. Keep going. Fuck. Keep going. Fuck. I hate him.
Doug got home shortly after I had started on my second cup of my second batch. “You know, I think I figured out the key to this thing,” he said. “Keep moving.”
No shit. “I’m drinking more of it today. Every hour.” I didn’t mean to sound accusatory, but Doug didn’t seem to notice.
“I’m hungry, too.” He said, “Light-headed. It’s kind of funny.”
A fucking laugh a minute. “I feel it in my stomach first, then like a bubble in my throat and then it’s in my head. But I’m okay.” I think. It was like a balloon was being blown up in my stomach, reaching through my heart to my throat and continued determinedly up to the top of my head. As if my body was screaming at me, “EAT SOMETHING FOR FUCK’S SAKE!” But I was learning not to be dependent on that. Learning to ignore my body’s needs. Learning that I could live through that feeling and not die or rip Doug’s tongue out of his mouth.
We worked silently on our computers as 5:30 approached: dinner-planning time. The sweet lemon tea was low and cold in my not-so-favorite mug. I heard a small noise like an alien being strangled and looked at Doug. “Yup. That was me,” he said, holding his stomach. I remembered reading about how people who fast on only water eventually start hallucinating and their stomachs start digesting themselves. But we were getting the proper nutrients directly into our blood stream. We were okay.
“I’m hungry.” He kind of whined it. I tried to give him my best mother’s look, hoping he’d ignore me completely. The thought of another mug of poo-juice was about as appetizing as eating my own tongue.
He asked, “If we went out to dinner right now, what would we eat?”
“We can’t play that game,” I said, mentally finding my shoes. “We still have 43 lemons left.” I looked at the clock marching towards six. Doug went back to work. I browsed Sunoasis for gigs.
“What do we really know about this thing anyway?” His voice was petulant, like a small child. “We haven’t even met anyone who’s made it through the whole ten days.”
“We could’ve talked to a nutritionist, I guess.”
“There’s no scientific evidence that this stuff works. It’s just theory.”
“But all diets and cleansings are just theories.”
“But…” he trailed off. I checked myself. He was weakening. I had to be strong, though I couldn’t quite remember why.
“We just feel this way right now because it’s close to dinnertime. Have some more juice,” I suggested.
“I don’t wanna.” He was really falling. I had to work hard…to…what? Right. To keep him focused on something else.
So I said, “I’m hungry too.”
“And you don’t even need to be doing this. What am I doing to you?”
Exactly! I put on my best “don’t worry about me” voice. Well, maybe my second-best “don’t worry about me” voice. “I’m doing this for you. You couldn’t do it alone.”
“Stop whining. I’m calling Richard.” Richard, his military-trained best friend, recently had an ulcer that forced him to completely change his diet. He could always be counted on for a good ass-whipping when one was appropriate. Doug talked with him for a while, while I wavered about the best way to push Doug into position. And which position that should be. Doug got off the phone.
“He was no help. Said we were just battling the psychological part of the fast. Battling our ‘weakness.’ Whatever. Also said he did a fruit cleanse years ago and felt no difference. We should just go eat.”
“No,” I said, less than firmly. Where are my shoes?! I called Sarah, my Southern California friend, born and bred and obvious about it.
“Ohmigod, it’s THE best thing you can do for your body,” she said. “It’s SO great. I do it once a year. The second night into the third day is, like, the hardest. If you can get past that, you can do anything. Trust me. You’ll thank yourself in a week. You just have to be strong.” I hung up the phone.
“What’d she say?” Doug asked.
I thought about this…very carefully. “She said it’s the best thing you can do for your body. It’s really hard and she never makes it to ten days, usually stops at six. She said if we can make it through tonight, it’ll be easier.” I paused. “Though most people are fantasizing about their favorite foods at this point.”
“Pasta.” He said it like the word itself was a piece of cream sauce-soaked linguini. I had to move fast. I needed an impartial witness. I called Brendt.
One of my closest friends, Brendt approaches people and their issues the way everyone should, but nobody does: with impartial feedback, open ended questions and unwavering support. He offers many solutions and leaves you to pick one that suits you. He’s on the up and up, so I knew he wouldn’t see through my weakening façade.
We both got on the phone with him. “On a scale of one to ten,” he began, “one being ‘I’m hungry, but I’m okay.’ And ten being ‘fuck this shit, it’s crazy and I’m going to kill someone if I don’t eat,’ where would you say you were?”
Doug, immediately: “Eight and a half.”
Me, in thought: eleven. Spoken: “Eight.”
Brendt: “Well, that’s pretty high. But look, it’s almost seven o’clock. You’re almost through today. Can you make it through today?”
Doug spaced out. “We could,” I said.
“What?” Doug said. It was working. He was losing focus.
“Brendt thinks we can make it through today,” I said.
“What does Brendt know? We barely know shit about this thing! We’re drinking spicy lemons, for Christ’s sake. That one chat board woman said her hair started to fall out on day seven! No one seems to make it to ten days! There must be a reason. Who said we’re not digesting ourselves inside? I read somewhere that people crap differently. Just because you crap fifteen times a day doesn’t mean I have to, Poopyhead!” I flushed. Brendt was still on the phone. There was a silence in which I threw up my hands at Doug and pointed to the phone. He rolled his eyes.
Brendt said, “He sounds kinda mad.”
“I think he’s hungry,” I said. “Have some more juice, honey.”
“That’s the worst thing. To have you talk to me that way. I hate that.” Then he slammed his fist down on his desk, computer rattling, and thundered, “I’m breaking. Let’s go have dinner.”
“No!” I protested, diving under my desk for my shoes.
“Wait!” Brendt said.
“Yes!” Doug said. “C’mon. I’m going to dinner. Are you coming with me?”
“So if I say no, you’re still going?”
“Hell, yeah,” he said. So much for solidarity.
“Do you hear this, Brendt?” I asked,
“Sounds like he’s breaking,” Brendt said.
“Like a little girl,” said my big lug of a lover.
We sat at Sante La Brea sharing tofu and veggies, and a spinach tofu soy-cheese enchilada, drinking peach tea and their special Merlot-lemonade combo. Dessert was flourless ginger apple cake with non-dairy tofu cream. The food was outstanding. I thanked the cosmos for the healthy cafes of Los Angeles. We toasted each other, congratulating ourselves for completing our 45-hour fast.
“I really feel…different,” he said.
“I can make it through a day without food and without passing out or killing you,” I said.
“I’m so happy, honey.”
And in the rush of blood sugar euphoria, I offered to cook healthy for both of us from now on as long as he did the dishes. I detected a subversive relief from Doug, as if he had just completed a job well done. Almost as if, it seemed, he had planned the whole thing.
I didn’t have time to think about being set-up. We rushed home after dinner so we could eliminate in the comfort of our own home. Me first, of course, a waterfall of cayenne pepper searing my backside. Then, an hour later, in his own time, Doug flushed himself silly.
Last night I made 732 lemon squares. Then Doug and I ate them off each other in a state of fresh, overstuffed bliss.