On Quitting, Failure, and Eating Solid Food

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.

Lessons Learned

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.



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  1. I was just wondering today how this was going(after eating tons of solid chocolate and sweets no less). It might feel like a failure to you but, coming from someone who’s never drank anything a shade of green, I’m pretty impressed that anyone could keep that up just for 24 hours.

  2. elaine! says:

    Don’t feel like a failure! It would have been an awful, awful week. I tried a raw, liquid diet once and it lasted about two days. Totally not worth it.

  3. I’m impressed you gave it a shot! I personally think that liquid cleanses are crazy (especially for endurance athletes – did you work out at all??) However, I also realize that “crazy” is relative, since I get not so nice comments about being a vegan all the time.

  4. Yah…I could not do just liquids by choice…no way, no how. I give your major props for doing it for two days! I actually HAD to only eat liquids when I got my tonsils out a couple of years ago and I was a very angry person to be around haha. Hope you’re enjoying your Monday

  5. I think there’s another issue, at least it was one for me when I tried a cleanse a few years ago.

    Since you get so little in the way of dense calories, I found that I was very cold. I’m not a ‘big’ guy anyway, but reducing fat to the point that a liquid cleanse does really starts to chew up your body fat for energy. Combining the temperature, energy and other issues, I didn’t actually feel it was a healthy solution for me at all.

    • James, you are exactly right. I completely forgot to mention it, but I noticed that I was very cold most of the time, and I suspected that the cleanse was the reason. I’ve read before (in Brendan Brazier’s Thrive) that people who eat easily-digestible food have lower body temperatures since one by-product of digestion is heat. That seems in line with this.

  6. Hey, at least you tried, and you learned from it! Bread and olive oil, mm…I can’t really blame you, heh.

  7. I can totally understand why you would want to stop doing green liquids AND why you ate a lot of things when you let yourself have solid food! I think sometimes one extreme can lead to another; deprivation can lead to more extreme indulgences, lots of activity can lead you to want to sit around all day watching movies…I think it’s our bodies way of balancing us out. Everything in moderation works best for me. I’m glad you gave it a try though! We have to try new things to see what works for us!

  8. You are not a failure! I’ve had many successful cleanses, but I’ve had just as many “failed” cleanses – ones that never really got off the ground, or floundered at the end of Day 1. We’re not always in the right place emotionally for a cleanse.

    As for the binging, that happens when the cleanse is ended incorrectly. Been there, done that too! Anything addictive, like simple carbs (i.e. French bread, alcohol) and salt (especially cheese) will set off a wild eating frenzy. Cleanses are supposed to be broken with fruit and raw veggies, then cooked veg is introduced, etc.

    Don’t let this experience deter you from trying again at a future date, if you wish. You never know!

  9. You didn’t disappoint anyone! I’m reminded of my college days when I decided to “Slim-Fast” it. I was allowed 2 shakes AND one sensible meal a day and still couldn’t stick to the plan. A meal is not a meal and a snack is not a snack unless chewing is involved. (Of course, I’m most likely emotionally stunted as a person as well.)

    Cheers! Now go eat more bread.

  10. I still like you. 🙂 And your blog.

  11. If it was so hard then maybe it just wasn’t for you! I remember the first time I tried to go vegetarian, I was not prepared at all and it didn’t stick. I had to do more research and try it again so that I could eat proper meals. Maybe the second time will be the charm. But if not – don’t beat yourself up 🙂

  12. I don’t think that any experiment where we discover a little bit more about ourselves and recognize our humanity is a failure. Congratulations…including whatever you are eating.

  13. I feel your pain – I have been trying to ease into just a half of a day of juicing and I can’t do it! I just binge when I get home.

  14. I was just wondering how you were doing. As a weight loss maintainer, I know all too well the emotional side of eating.
    I do find it interesting that you did not think you were emotional about food as other people- you clearly devout time and effort into researching what you put into your body, you’ve learned about the ethical and health benefits of being a veggie, you even thought about how you were doing to feed your son before he was even born. Just because you don’t dip into the ice cream carton if you’ve had a bad day doesn’t mean you’re not emotionally attached to food.
    How are the other 2 goals going?

  15. No reason to feel like a failure at all. Giving up solid food is so hard. I was thinking of doing a 2 day green smoothie diet cleanse (of my own inventing, nothing special just living on greens for a couple days) and it didn’t happen for me. And I pretty much subsist on veggies anyway, so why is it so hard? There’s an emotional attachment to solid food, and I really think there is a physical thing too it as well. Your body probably needs to be breaking something down and processing it for at least a few hours (or however long it takes) to feel energized. Anyway, if your wanting to be the guinea pig gets the best of you, you could always give it another go in a little while 🙂

  16. I have never gone through a cleanse like this on purpose, but I was forced to. I already expected some discomfort before getting my dental braces, but…damn, it hurt like hell! I had to take painkillers because I couldn’t sleep at night. If my mouth was already hurting when I was not eating, munching solids was just impossible. A plain torture. And it lasted almost three weeks. Yes, three weeks without solids. I survived on juices, green smoothies, pureed soups and oatmeal.

    But I was forced to do it: I don’t know if I’d lasted so long if I wasn’t. Like with anything new, the first days were the hardest. Then I got used to it and even felt in love with green smoothies. As you, I incorporated them in my morning routine even if now I can chew 😉

  17. You gave it a try! You don’t see me trying, do you? Good try!!

  18. Michelle Novak says:

    You definitely didn’t let me down, I learned A LOT from your experience, as I’ve been toying with the idea of a cleanse myself. Every new experience is a new victory of sorts. In the words of Richard Dreyfus in “What About Bob” “baby steps, baby steps!”

  19. I definitely do NOT think that you’re a failure, or that you’ve let anyone down. Actually, I appreciate you being so honest. Giving up solid foods is tough. I’ve only done it on a short term basis, and I can’t imagine going more than 24 hours. I think it’s admirable that you tried it and that you’re aware of your reasons for stopping. …And, in the end, the fact that you learned about the emotional attachment to food (maybe something females are naturally more aware of than males…?), is definitely something that’ll be extremely helpful, just in the day to day AND if/when you decide to try again.

  20. You kept trying to convince us you were human after your 50 mile marathon. I’m now convinced =)

    Nice attitude on going through this and life with an open mind, and giving everything your best shot.

  21. I just wanted to weigh in here, because I’m one of the few high-raw vegans I know who does NOT believe in juice fasting. I think it can have certain positive effects for people who are very, very ill (though I’ve also heard that it can deplete the healing resources of others who are very ill), and I don’t believe that it’s necessary, optimal, or even healthy for normal eaters.

    “Cleansing” and “a cleanse” are words that get bandied about constantly, often without understanding of what they are. And oh so often, the illness and fatigue one experiences while fasting isn’t “detox” at all, but rather the hunger, fatigue, and general listlessness associated with undereating.

    I’m glad that you were honest and balanced in your approach to this one, and that you stopped when it wasn’t granting you optimal health.

    Just my (sometimes unpopular) two cents 🙂

  22. It’s interesting to see how you reacted. I’ve never tried a liquid cleanse myself and don’t think I’m about to but it does make you wonder!

  23. Matt we need to fail in order to succeed. If we don’t learn from our failures then we don’t grow. What I have learned from shortened feasts is that the abundance of yeast in my body is controlling my urge to cheat. Most of us healthy or not have candida issues we may not be aware of. Candida demands sugars & sugar forming carbs to survive, creating difficult to control cravings and urges. It’s the beast inside of us that is very difficult if not impossible to resist some days thus the obesity of America. If it was so easy to resist the demands of candida it would be simple to stay on track with diets and cleanses. After doing a 3 day cleanse and eating raw for 90 days my cravings for more solid dry food became something I could control. I presently eat about 80% raw and 20% warmed veggies or solid healthy foods but I feel completely in control. I do feel satisfied with some solid dry foods each day but doing a juice feast now is a cinch. Getting past the cravings means you have conquered your candida issues. Yeast is the root of most every disease thus optimal health and vibrant energy are waiting for you when you reach this level. If you are keen to try a guided approach to juice feasting David runs a 30-92 day Program of drinking 4 Quarts of fresh juices and superfood concentrates each day here at
    http://www.juicefeasting.com/ This is serious stuff but incredibly empowering.
    His daily educational info is invaluable, I highly recommend it.
    There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you have taken charge of your body and it’s cravings. You may still fail again but you know you’ve done it before and can regain that control. I am certainly not perfect and dark chocolate calls my name really loud some days but a short cleanse and I am back on track and fully in control of any candida issues. If you are curious if candida is a problem for you I recommend a live blood cell analysis to identify the problem– it will be visible as plain as day right before your eyes on the computer monitor. Happy cleansing to you brave souls.

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