Health Is Wealth

I have another article that I’m working on about the Korea talks, but tonight, I’m hungry, and I want to talk to you about food. Eating has always been a bugbear for me, principally because I love to do it. I am one of those girls who eats her feelings. I have a lot of feelings. As a result, I also have a lot of unwanted fat on my bod. When one of my best friends announced that she was engaged and I was to be in the wedding, well…! I knew something had to be done.

My friend is one of those people. She’s tall, willowy, and blonde. She looks like Gwyneth Paltrow, and she has never once struggled with her weight. Life would be so much easier if she were a dumb bitch, but unfortunately, she’s incredibly smart, and she’s superbly cool. Damn her, anyway. My point in saying this is that she could make just about anyone look bad. The rest of the wedding party isn’t a lot different. I’m sort of the lame duck in the group, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s feeling like the weakest link.

I have struggled with my weight all of my life. I finally set about to lose it and get fit in high school, and I did with admirable success. I went from a fat-arsed loser to, well, still kind of a loser, but I was far thinner and much, much fitter. I ran a 10k almost every day of the week, and then I would top that off with free weights, weight machines, or some other form of cardio. I was a beast. I could bench 150+ pounds, which ain’t too shabby for a 17-year-old with no lifting aspirations. I could squat over 300, and I could do 35 push-ups in a minute.

Then I went to college, discovered how much I liked booze and cigarettes, and I fell off the wagon. I mostly kept the weight off until I came back from my first long stint abroad in Germany. I really lost myself over there, and with it, I seemed to lose my ability to keep my weight off. Over the years, my weight crept steadily higher.

Before I had my first daughter, I hit my highest weight. I was in terrible, terrible condition. I didn’t feel good, I ate constantly, and I didn’t do any exercise other than walking. Frankly, I was in shambles, physically, and I hate looking at pictures of myself from those days. I see it now for what it was: a raging case of depression. Something that I have discovered about myself is that when my surroundings are a mess and when I am putting on weight, my mental state is declining. When I’ve got my mind on lock, everything else tends to fall into place, too.

I lost a lot of that weight before I had my first daughter, but with each subsequent pregnancy, my weight moved higher and higher. By the time I had had baby #3, I was back in deplorable shape, and I was completely and utterly uncaring about it, at that point. I had other things to worry about.

These days, I’m in a far better place mentally, and with the announcement of my best friend’s wedding came the realization that it was time to get back in the saddle. As I have been telling people, I don’t want to be that unfortunate friend on the end of the wedding party lineup that everyone looks at, cringes inwardly, and says, “Oh, she looks really great in that… necklace…”

I have had great success in the past with Somersize, and I maintain that it’s a fantastic diet. I’ve also had great results with HMR, and I kept the weight off the longest in the maintenance phase of that program. However, I just wasn’t feeling either of those things this time around. I didn’t want to shell out for the HMR product, and I wasn’t sure that Somersize was right this time around. I love that diet, and I’ll endorse it any day of the week and twice on Sunday, but it didn’t feel like the winner anymore.

Part of this is because I have changed some things around in other areas of my life. Not to belabor the “hopeful Jewish convert” point, but prior to Passover, I made my kitchen kosher, or as close to it as I could hope to get, given the physical limitations of the space. I have two separate sets of cookware, silverware, dishes, etc. Meat stuff goes on one side of the sink, and dairy goes in the other. I do wash things together, but they have already been washed once, and I do a high temperature, sterilizing wash, so I feel like that is sufficient to my purposes. One of my counter spaces is for dairy prep, and the other is for meat. We do not eat dairy and meat together or any foods that would break the kosher rules, such as pork or shellfish.

This has been a great source of entertainment to friends for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I never liked to cook before. I avoided it at all costs, mostly. Secondly, I have never been known for my amazing neatness or cleaning skills. Well, friends and neighbors, keeping kosher means keeping clean, and my kitchen is clean. I bleach everything once a week, and everything has its place, and that’s where it stays. I live in perpetual fear now that someone is going to come into my house and fuck everything up.

Being kosher, however, hardly guarantees weight loss, and weight loss was what I set out to do. I ascertained that Somersize would be tough to replicate in the way I had done it before because I relied heavily on meat and cheese, usually at the same time. I wanted to do HMR, but I felt burned out with it. It just didn’t feel right. And then I had a flash of inspiration: I would do a juice cleanse.

A lot of folks seem to agonize about their juice cleanses. What juicer should I buy? What juices are the best? Should I get a recipe? Should I watch Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead? Will juicing kill me?

I spent exactly zero time thinking about these questions. I did a day’s worth of research on juicers, and then when my cube mate texted me that Macy’s was having a sale on juicers, I went straight to Springfield and bought the model one level up from the juicer I had decided upon for less than I would have paid for the lower model. I took it home and set out to find some juice recipes, and then I got to juicing.

Juicing takes me approximately 60-90 minutes per day, between peeling, coring, and actually juicing. I have juiced everything from carrots to bananas (don’t bother) to parsnips to beets to celery and back again. I have gulped down some truly amazing and some truly horrific drinks. I bought whey protein powder to put in them when my energy dips. I bought some Moon Dust Power Dust to put in my morning juice. I bought glass jars to store my juice, and I carry a 32-ounce Nalgene and two or three of those glass bottles full of juice, plus my other Nalgene for water, to work with me every single day.

The first week was complete and utter Hell. Hell, I tell you. The first day was fine. The second day was heinous. I could barely get out of bed. I could barely stay awake at work. I felt like I was dying in a totally nondescript sort of way. A lot of people have explosive diarrhea or massive headaches or some other horrible, debilitating symptom in that time period. Not me. I was just tired.

I thought it was never going to end until one day, it just did. I woke up and felt great. I had a lot of energy. My skin, prone to acne since my third child was born, was clear. Not a pimple in sight. One of my coworkers remarked on how thick and shiny my hair looked and asked me if I had a new product to recommend. Stunningly, all of my body odor also went away, and I do mean all of my body odor. I do not smell at all, even when I sweat. I’m still completely amazed by it, in the best possible way.

The result of this foray into the vegan, juice-only world is that I am now considering a vegan diet for when I get off of the juice fast in August. I had never given veganism so much as a sideways glance. I have always associated veganism to extreme leftism and activist culture, which I obviously do not relish. While I do not want animals to suffer, I maintain the stance that animals are, at least in part, our food. We should feel no moral obligation to refrain from eating them. I was also never convinced of veganism’s health benefits.

Juicing has forced me to reconsider the latter stance, at least to some degree. I like the side effects of plant-based eating that I have observed in myself thus far, and I honestly don’t want to let go of those things. So despite my lack of interest in animal rights activism, I’m still considering going vegan when this juice cleanse is all wrapped up. I’m as surprised as anyone.

Part of my mission while I’m on this cleanse is to educate myself about healthier eating and lifestyles. It’s well and good to lose the weight, but it won’t do you any good if nothing changes afterward. I have considered that going vegan would prevent me from being able to go back. It would create a new system of living so that I was effectively barred from going back to my old lifestyle, with its poor food choices and lack of portion control. I would have to treat veganism like I treated kashrut: as unbreakable rules that carry consequences. The difference, of course, is that breaking kashrut has spiritual implications, while breaking from veganism would be physical only. The usefulness lies in the creation of a structure for oneself.

That may sound like a silly thing, but humans need structure. We function better when we know what things are off-limits to us. If we operate as though something bad might happen, were we to break those rules, then it suddenly becomes a little bit easier to navigate life. A lot of people get that point wrong. They assume that rules and structure are equivalent to suffocating a person. Freedom to choose is wonderful, but once those choices are made, they should be adhered to, if they are to have a positive outcome. You can’t be half a vegan, just like you can’t eat a cheeseburger if you’re kosher. You won’t get the benefits if you can’t work within your self-imposed structure.

I have high hopes for veganism, or at least vegetarianism. For one thing, I want my children to be healthy, and I want to be a good example for them. Getting interested in Judaism necessitated some willingness to start cooking, and I found that, for the first time in my life, I enjoyed cooking. I have learned to make bread, soup, and a host of other things I had never dreamt of before. As it turns out, I’m not a half-bad cook.

This is a good thing because veganism requires a lot of cooking. In the past, I would have been utterly unwilling to put in that kind of work, but now I look forward to learning new recipes and becoming a better cook. I also look forward to teaching my daughters more about cooking – my oldest is particularly enthusiastic – and setting a good example for them, in terms of healthy eating. Cooking is a seriously underrated skill to have under your belt by the time you reach adulthood. And let’s be real: Whether you’re male or female, potential partners are probably going to love it if you can put a tasty meal on the table.

The kids are used to eating kosher now, and they do not mind it. I have already had to use a lot of vegetarian substitutes because of it, and they are proving to be, well, pretty good, actually. I made meatball sandwiches made with vegan meatballs, marinara sauce, and provolone cheese on ciabatta two nights ago. The kids loved it, and it smelled amazing. My oldest requested that I make it again.

My main concern with veganism is the cost. It generally requires some expensive ingredients that are not necessarily available at a standard grocery store, although I will say that it isn’t as tough as it used to be. Still, I live in the country, and we don’t have a health food store nearby. Most vegan items are pricey and tough to find. There is only one vegan cheese available in town, and it’s just the packeted, sliced kind, and it’s $6 for 8 or 10 slices. No, girl. Not worth it. 

The second thing I worry about more for the girls than myself. Veganism singles you out. You generally can’t eat out, unless you’re okay with dry, green salad, and it does call attention to you, and I'm not much on having undue, unearned attention called to myself. Your kids won’t be able to eat cake and ice cream at birthday parties. They will never know the deliciousness that is a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard from Dairy Queen. I actually had that very thought earlier today. Man, if we go vegan, there aren’t going to be Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzards on hot summer days. What would it be like to grow up not knowing the joy of a visit to the ice cream stand south of town?

However, as luck would have it, an old German friend of mine popped up earlier this evening to tell me that I was insane and admirable for doing a juice cleanse. We got to talking about it, and she generously gave me some of her vegan recipes that she likes, as she is a vegan. I started delving into some websites she recommended, and lo and behold, there was a recipe for a vegan Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup “Blizzard.” I am convinced that the universe gives us exactly what we need, if we put it out there.

I have not completely settled on the idea of veganism, but I am completely convinced of the benefits that accompany a plant-based diet. If you read testimonials from people who complete juice cleanses, it is amazing to read about the number of folks who have lost weight, gotten off their medications, cleared up bad skin, regulated their digestion, and stopped the overall degeneration of their bodies.

I have encountered my share of skeptics where it relates to the cleanse. Some have expressed concern for my ability to get the protein or nutrition that I need, and others have pointed out that fasting doesn’t teach you how to eat better. My response to the first gripe is that freshly pressed juices are far more nutrient-dense than anything you would eat in the average American diet. I’ve spent a fair portion of this article addressing the second question, and I’ve been playing with a lot of healthy recipes, vegan and otherwise. I am not going to go back to cooking and eating like I did before. There are a lot of healthy, delicious eating options out there.

I will admit, however, that I was internally skeptical of the juice cleanse at first myself. I did not feel good that first week. I was exhausted, cranky as hell, pissed off that I was spending two and a half hours a day cleaning vegetables and fruit and attempting to extract juice from them, and then being left with mostly gross drinks. Initially, I committed to doing the cleanse for 60 days. After I got over the hump of the first week though, I decided that I would go until August to make sure that I got the maximum possible amount of weight off. My Google calendar has me committed from April 3rd to August 3rd – 123 days total.

Tuesday will be the start of week 4. So far, I have lost about 25 pounds or so. I’d like to drop 70-85 before the wedding, and I know that’s going to require at least 2,000 calories of exercise burn per week if I want to accomplish that, so I’m going to have to start accommodating that need pretty quickly. I have decided that I’m going to get my bike fixed up – new tires, tune-up, etc. – and start taking a lunch break so that I can ride. I’m going to leave the bike at work during the week so that I can do that. I’m also going to try and squeeze in a morning jog, even if it’s just a short one.

I’m not sure veganism will be the right choice for me when I’m done, but the vegan friend I was speaking to last night – who, fortunately, is not one of those pushy, insane vegans who slags anyone that eats animal products – made one excellent point that also felt like a bit of a response to an internal thought I had been having. She rightly made the point that it is nearly impossible to overeat on vegan food. She has also recently had two children, and her body chemistry, like most women who have hit 30 and had kids, has changed. She has some hormonal deficiencies, and she has found herself drastically hungrier than she used to be. She decided to go vegan, and she said that it was a great decision for her because she gets to eat a ton of food, and that is important to her, since her appetite has changed.

I did HMR through an endocrine clinic (I’m not diabetic, but that was the doctor in charge of supervising the group), and the lead for the program was a statuesque, stern woman. I enjoyed the hell out of her, but she was serious about weight loss and health. She did not have much patience for people who were unwilling to follow the program to the letter, and she would tell them off for it in the middle of class. One thing that she used to stress to us was the necessity of eating an excessive among of fruits and vegetables because, to quote her directly, “You are all bulk eaters, or you wouldn’t be here. You have to learn to eat fruits and vegetables as much and as often as you can because it is literally impossible to gain all your weight back by eating fresh food.” And you know, she was right.

 I’ve got a little bit more research to do before I make my final conclusion about my direction post-cleanse, but I have the feeling that I will probably lean vegetarian, at the very least. Dairy – cheese, specifically – is going to be tough for me to give up, but I know that it’s not impossible. It would be easier if we had a Whole Foods nearby, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t last long in this neck of the woods. I’ll just have to learn how to make cashew cheese, or as I like to call it, nut cheese. Because I’m super mature.

If you feel even the slightest bit of interest in juicing after reading this, whether you just want to lose five pounds or whether you feel like your health is slipping and you want to make a change, I seriously recommend you look into it. Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead is a great place to start. It’s a fun documentary, and it will get you jazzed about feeling and looking better.

I have a couple of friends jump on the juice wagon with me, and they are both loving it. I’ve had several people ask me how I’m doing it, so if you are interested, here it is. I have an Omega 8008 masticating juicer. The 8006 seems to be the most popular model, largely in part because of its excellent warranty. I got mine because it was steeply discounted. Masticating juicers are a bit of an investment item – at least $200, and you can certainly spend more than that – but if you are serious about doing a juice fast and integrating juice into your lifestyle after the cleanse, I would probably recommend going that route.

The subject of juicers gets people going. There are two basic types of juicers, centrifugal and masticating (“cold press”). Centrifugal juicers are a bit more like blenders, and they have a lower price point. They are great for beginners, and they will definitely get the job done on most fruits and vegetables. I believe Joe Cross used a Breville centrifugal juicer in FSaND. The downside to centrifugal juicers is that they don’t get as much juice out as the masticating juicers, and they do transfer a minimal amount of heat from the machine to the juice, which the really hard-core juicers seem to think messes with the quality of the juice. I doubt it interferes with it enough to make a difference, but that’s my two cents.

Masticating juicers are sometimes referred to as cold press juicers because they do not have the problem of heat transfer. Instead of a blade, they rely on a rotating auger to crush up the fruits and vegetables. They get more juice out, so there is the benefit of perhaps saving some money over time on produce. When you are on a full juice cleanse, you will probably be using 5-8 pounds of produce per day to get all of the juice you need, so I would say the savings will add up over time and potentially pay for the price differential in juicers. It probably wouldn’t be worth it if you weren’t going to do at least one lengthy cleanse and then stick to juicing in some form afterward. Again, I’m sure that there are purists who will argue about the heat transfer of centrifugal juicers, but that was not a motivator for me. I was more interested in getting the most bang for my buck and having less pulp in my juice. I have a serious texture aversion to pulp that I’m still trying to conquer.

A lot of people worry about the cleanup time from juicers, and that was a concern of mine going in. I say without reservation that you will spend far more time washing and preparing the produce than you will in cleanup. Cleanup takes probably five minutes and is nothing compared to cleanup from cooking a meal. I spend way more time on dishes from making the kids’ dinner. The Omega masticating juicers have screens in them to filter pulp, and it is imperative that those get cleaned immediately or at least left to soak in a bowl of water, if you can’t do it immediately. If you do not do this, the pulp will dry to the screens, and then you’re going to have a bitch of a problem. I have never put off cleaning the juicer parts, but I’ve read stories of pain and suffering from failing to do this. Bottom line, I personally don’t consider cleanup to be an issue.

Prep time is certainly an issue, and it has been the thing that has threatened to derail me more than anything else. There is a very modest learning curve for using the juicer, and it took me about a week to get it down. Now I can get the whole shebang done in an hour, which is a drastic improvement from the two and a half hours it took the first three days. If you have a masticating juicer, you have to rotate soft and hard produce. For example, green grapes, spinach, carrot, kale, celery, etc. You use the harder vegetables to force everything else through, and that keeps the works moving and prevents too much pulp buildup. Carrots are probably my favorite thing to juice because you get a lot of juice, and they don’t clog up the juicer. While fresh strawberry juice is truly the nectar of the gods, strawberries are so soft that they create a ton of pulp, and it necessitates stopping and cleaning the screens two or three times during the process, and that sucks. The result is I almost never juice strawberries because I just don’t enjoy adding that much extra work to my routine.

Juicing does require integration into routine, like exercise or anything else that you want to do. I have struggled with it somewhat, just because it extends cooking in the evening by about an hour, and that’s tough sometimes if I have meetings or the kids have activities. It’s still better than doing it first thing in the morning, so if I have to do it after the kids go to bed, I try to do it that way. I’d rather fall out of bed in the morning, get my shower, and then go have a glass of good morning, America juice. Standing over the cutting board at 5am is not my favorite morning activity. I’d rather read for a little bit or get on the treadmill or something like that.

If you do decide to juice for longer than a week, be prepared to catch shade from people. Most disapproval comes in the form of concern trolling, but it can be a little irritating, especially if you aren’t prepared for it. People tend to resist anything that is out of their personal comfort zone. Also, the sad truth is that there are people out there that do not want others to succeed. If they met you when you were a fat, sad sack, they want you to stay that way because it serves some psychological need that they have. Something I have discovered is that the vast majority of people are not going to be supportive of success, and even if they are, it is often on their terms, not yours. Learning to ignore other people’s shit is a talent that I am still working on and which I highly suggest everyone develop.

I hope this post has been reasonably interesting and informative. Of course, if readers have any questions, I’m happy to answer to the best of my ability. I’m by no means an expert on any of this. I can only tell you what has worked for me and what hasn’t and report the results. I will provide an update post sometime in August after the cleanse portion of this program has concluded. Probably more interesting will be to see how I proceed after it’s done. Vegan? Vegetarian? Neither? Time will tell! Happy juicing, kids!