Monday, March 26, 2012

TO JUICE OR NOT TO JUICE

I saw my mother struggle with weight her entire life. She made impassioned –albeit short-lived— forays into nearly every diet fad –Jenny Craig, Atkins, and the Summer of Fat-Free (a quasi-national movement that took place around 1995). None made her particularly happy, nor very thin. One evening, when I was rather small, she did battle with a piece of steamed fish (while we undoubtedly ate Hamburger Corn Casserole). After tasting the dry unsalted Cod, Mom burst into tears: “This tastes like shit!” she cried. Mom never cursed in front of us when we were kids, leading me to come to one conclusion: The Jeanne had gone over the edge.

That’s why, intellectually, I believe that eating balanced healthy meals –and hawkishly watching portions— coupled with regular exercise works. It’s that simple. As an adult, I have eschewed extreme diet strategies, particularly those where you eliminate an entire food group be it carbs, meat, or even sugar. I believe that, somewhere, there lies a happy medium between celebrating food and not overindulging. Is that too idealistic?

Apparently it is. Such logical thinking cannot protect me from those evenings when I inhale a plate of chocolate chip cookies or grab that third slice of pizza. Embarrassing as it is, I am a binger. As I face my 40th birthday, it's a habit I would really like to eradicate.

Recently my trainer Cedric waltzed into the gym oozing with energy. As it turned out he was on a marathon juice cleanse, entailing ten days of drinking nothing but juice bookended on either side with several days of a stringent vegetable diet. When I asked him how was feeling, he practically did a jig. “I feel great!” he proclaimed. “I’m juicing!!”

As you can imagine, I’ve never considered myself a juice fast kind of girl. It all seemed to extreme; too anti-food; and too trendy. As one of my friends wrote on Facebook, “I would miss chewing.” Yet Cedric is someone I respect. As an intelligent and articulate former athlete, he has helped many of his Brooklyn neighbors overcome obesity. What’s more, Cedric made a convincing case as he methodically explained to me why he was juicing. He wanted to fine tune his diet by slowly reincorporating foods –such as meat or starch— to see how they affected his body. The process would help him eliminate cravings in the future.

I was transfixed. For the next week, I researched every major juice fast, including Organic Avenue, Blue Print Cleanse, and iZo Cleanze. None seemed like witchcraft, nor did I hear anecdotally of any dangerous results. I discovered many of my friends (sane ones!) were actually trying this at home. They claimed cleanses gave them more energy, cleared up their skin, and helped them lose weight. Besides, every major religion has a fasting component. Doesn’t that imply a deeply-rooted connection between spiritual enlightenment and dietary cleansing? Maybe I just needed to open my mind.

The night before I was to embark upon Day 1 of the Pre-Cleanse (Steamed veggies for breakfast), something amazing happened at dinner. I had made tilapia tacos for the adults, and chicken ones for the kids, with a side of sautéed spinach. In a Bizarro World moment, my finnicky son requested the fish, which he joyously devoured. For his closing performance, he gave me the thumbs-up, reporting, “Good spinach, Mommy.” It was an absolutely lovely family evening.

As it turns out, dinner is one of the few things I can depend on each day. Even when I feel stalled at work or annoyed with my kids, I can lose myself in cutting veggies or seasoning meat. The results are usually tasty; always edible. While I would be lying if I said every evening was as dignified as the one mentioned above, I also enjoy eating these meals with my kids. It's the one moment we are sitting still together. If they were eating “real food,” and I was sipping my dinner through a straw, I’m pretty sure I’d throw a hissy fit similar to my mother’s.

Surely, we don’t need to add another cranky child to the dinner table.

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