Slow Survival

I never call them diets, because, by definition, the word means “habitual” – whereas I am habitually erratic in what I consume. I don’t pretend to stick to eating plans, and there’s a certain amount of that mental band-aid that says “It’s not a diet – it’s a lifestyle” that I’m sick of hearing and don’t want to think about. So, I use the word “plan” or “program” to make it sound like it has some purpose. Sometimes it does.

So I’m doing a “juice fast” for 5 days, in which I buy what would normally be 6 months worth of leafy greens and saw through them in liquified form within hours. A couple of weeks ago I cut out all the things that make me happy – after reading “Clean” by Alejandro Junger – just to see what would happen. That means no beer, coffee, eggs, gluten, dairy or really any sugar. It was pretty good for a few hours until I wanted a cheesy omelet fried into some barley. Then it went downhill.

On the third day, in what’s supposed to be some sort of turning point in most of these diets…I mean programs, I in fact did not rise again. I thought I was having a combination of suicidal depression, panic attack and “Chipsandsalsialgia,” in which the patient can only be cured by freebasing Tostitos rounds and pico de gallo. It’s a real condition. Just close your eyes, don’t Google it, and imagine the pain it can cause.

On the afternoon of this third day I tried some of the Yerba Mate tea that I had read about. I guess it’s from a rainforest high in the whatever mountains and a bunch of villagers drink it every day and are about 117 years old when they hit puberty. It’s supposed to have a “roasted” taste, but, as usual (and I’m a heavy tea-drinker), it tastes like dirt, and then I get a stomach ache. But alas I drank some, and something strange happened. I no longer wanted to cause harm to those around me and the fleeting thought of actually changing my clothes after two days occurred. What was this?

It turns out, after deep investigation (reading the label on the box) each tea bag has 1/3 the caffeine of a cup of coffee. My wife had endured my “diligence” for the previous few days on the diet and, when she came home to find me showered and no rotting food and laundry strewn about the floors, she said “please don’t ever stop drinking caffeine.”

Fast forward two weeks: I’m on the 4th day of a 5-day juice fast, so I have, literally, only ingested: Kale, beets, cucumbers, squash, lemons, apples, celery, carrots, cabbage, broccoli and an entire head of what I thought was “endive” as the sign above it displayed at Hy-Vee, but rather was “green leaf lettuce” or something which tastes like a mixture of baking soda and baking soda with bile spit into it. I’m doing it for the children.

I’m reading a book called Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. Most of my good finds come from the Paperback Book Palace in Rochester, or from reading the ending credits of my favorite ’80s movies to see that a book was made out of it, then ordering from somebody’s basement through Deep Survival doesn’t talk about juicing – although I’m only halfway through the book – but I like reading books about survival, what the human body and mind is capable of in life-threatening situations. In modern times (there’s no unaffected way to say that…if you say “in today’s world” you sound like you’re saying you know everything, but if you say “nowadays” you probably live in Missouri) I believe we do feel like not eating…even for like one meal…is a life-threatening situation. It’s definitely a shock to the body. But the body can endure more than the mind gives it credit for, and that’s where fasting comes into play.

“Juice fast” is a misnomer, because it’s one of the slowest things you can do, compared to how you normally live your everyday life. It takes a lot of trips to the farmer’s market and grocery store to get all the stuff. Then you’re supposed to “wash it” and there’s usually lots of cutting involved. Although I’ve found that a 4″ diameter zucchini can fit through a 3″ hole if I put one palm on it while striking the top of my hand with my opposite elbow. My wife looks on, disconcerted. Juicing makes you slow down – not just in the idyllic way of thinking “Yes, this is just what my forefathers did. Right after they milked the sheep and sharpened their scythes” – but it eats up a lot of time, and you feel slow. Apparently you’re supposed to take these slow opportunities to meditate, or “think about what you’re ACTUALLY hungry for,” but I just think about eating omelets.

Through the process (another euphemism for “diet”), though, I’ve gained some things. As of this morning, I think I’ve lost about 13 pounds (I was a wrestler, so I know much of this is water weight) between all the rigmarole I’ve done in the last three weeks, but I’ve gained some things.

1) The assurance that the way I’ve conditioned myself is only an illusion. I don’t NEED coffee. I don’t DESERVE a beer. I don’t HAVE to eat. Bio-feedback is a healthier indicator than an Outback Steakhouse commercial.

2) My body will take anything my mind makes it do, because it has to–I am in control.

3) A reminder that I haven’t always been tired, slow and frustrated. And I never have to be like that again. But nobody’s going to hand it to me. In fact, they might hand me a gift box full of IPAs, chips and an omelet. But no one else gets to determine what my body really needs – only me. And my body mind are me – bigger than my illusion.

Can I survive a juice fast? Yeah. I’m about to. Can I survive a regimen of getting up early every morning to type my latest novel? Yeah, it’s a decision away. Can I survive what most of the time feels like an avalanche of complications flooding down on my anesthetized life? Yeah. But I have to drop the illusion.

And my first step towards doing that is letting my body prove that it’s smarter than my thoughts, and letting it ride the wave to survival .

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