I caved. And I didn’t just go down, I went down in flames.
Just a few hours after I wrote about how hard, emotionally, it was to abstain from eating solid food, it all became too hard. As I went to warm up yet another bowl of pureed green vegetable soup, my wife and sister poured themselves a glass of wine and cut up a loaf of French bread to dip in some herb-infused olive oil, and the temptation got the best of me.
My wife did her best to keep me from making a rash decision, but I chased her around for a while and was eventually able to steal a piece of the bread. I smelled it, put it in my mouth but didn’t let go, and finally said to hell with the cleanse. Down the hatch.
And once the dam was broken and the cleanse ruined, I binged.
Bread and oil (LOTS of bread and oil). A glass of wine. Some banana-nut granola that I had been craving. A stout. And two lentil sloppy joes. It was all so solid. So deliciously solid.
And just like that, the seven-day liquid cleanse came to an abrupt end. After only two days.
The Decision to Quit
I actually deliberated for a while before I ate that bread. I like to think that I’m reasonably strong-willed, but it was easy for me to decide that I’d rather accept failure than to go through the next five days of my life without solid food.
What made the decision harder was that I had written about my cleanse on this blog. Not because the public failure would bother me—failing to qualify for Boston in five consecutive races, after making it very clear to others that qualifying is your only goal, has a way of hardening you and squashing any fear of failure you might have.
But in this case, many more people than I expected had expressed interest in seeing the result of my experiment. I was a guinea pig, and I had the opportunity to publicly demonstrate the unbiased results (or lack thereof, if that were the case) of such a cleanse.
In the end, the bread, oil, and wine won out. I figured I could use the opportunity to write about failure, what went wrong, and what I learned.
Plus I could devour some wonderfully solid food and a few drinks. Win win win.
Why I Couldn’t Finish the Cleanse
Let me first say that what follows are NOT excuses. Something else all those years of training to qualify for Boston taught me is that excuses suck. Take responsibility. So while these are explanations, they’re all things that were within MY control, so I’m responsible for them.
Everything I’ve learned about how to create change says that you’ve got to get leverage on yourself. Willpower will only get you so far; once that runs out it comes down to how much you actually want to succeed.
My problem here, I think, was that I didn’t want it enough. It was an experiment, so the reward for finishing would have been mere knowledge. It’d have been far easier if I’d have convinced myself beforehand that a cleanse would give me more energy than I’d ever felt in my life. That’s a more exciting reward than just learning whether or not something works, and perhaps that would have been enough to get me through the tough times.
The other reason I failed is that I was unprepared. Not in terms of planning the liquid “meals,” but in terms of knowing what to expect. Honestly, I thought the cleanse would be pretty easy: I know, from running, that I’m able to handle moderate physical discomfort for a long time. Getting past the mild hunger pangs was no problem.
But I was not prepared to deal with the emotional difficulty of not eating. As I wrote before I quit, you have no idea how comforting food is until you take it away. You’re left to deal with emotions that you normally bury with food, and I was shocked at how extremely difficult that proved to be.
So even though the cleanse was technically a failure, it wasn’t a total waste. I learned three important things about food and about myself:
- I learned that food plays a huge role in our emotions, and that a cleanse like this is an emotional test as much as a physical one (and perhaps an opportunity to grow emotionally).
- I learned that green vegetable juice with a little bit of lime is a perfectly drinkable. In the past, I always felt the need to sweeten it with other fruit, but even after quitting the cleanse I’ve kept the vegetable juice as part of my morning routine.
- I learned that this is something I want to complete, and that when I attempt it again, I’ll have a better shot now that I know what to expect (and just how difficult it really is).
Thanks for all your encouragement, and I’m sorry if I let you down.