Photograph by Tod Brilliant
BITTER SWILL: Scurvy, at least, is no longer the author's main worry.
O Master, My Master
Weight loss—a love story
By Scott Keneally
I love even writing the word.
Unfortunately, I haven't eaten any salt in the past 237 hours. In fact, I haven't eaten anything in the past 237 hours. I've been surviving solely on the lemonade I make fresh each day with maple syrup and cayenne pepper.
Welcome to the Master Cleanse.
Otherwise known as the lemonade diet, the Master Cleanse is a trendy 10-day food fast that, depending on whom you ask, either detoxifies your body or dangerously deprives it of nutrition. I could explain the theories behind each camp, but that would be incredibly boring. I'm not a doctor or a scientist, and, besides, this isn't about that. I don't really care if it actually "cleanses" my body, for I'm not on this trip to detoxify. I am shamelessly trying to drop weight before getting hitched to a certified personal trainer.
Whereas my fiancée, Amber, can eat whatever she wants—mainly choosing the greens and grains that make her look good—I prefer to eat sweet, starchy and savory things that strictly make me feel good. And it shows. I'm not talking about the gluttonous smile of the good life. I'm talking about my gut, which is, quite literally, a growing concern, one that's likely exacerbated by my habit of first licking and then individually resalting each tortilla chip before eating. Our impending wedding seemed like a good time to take stock, to shake things up.
Most literature suggests you prepare yourself for the shock of starvation by easing into the diet for three days. Raw fruits and veggies on the first day. Juices, broths, soups and smoothies on the second. Orange juice on the third. This makes perfect sense, of course, but I ignored "most literature" and took a decidedly different approach. My ease-in featured french toast and crispy bacon at 2am the night before the fast began. I hoped that stuffing myself with all of my favorite foods would hold me over long into the first day. I was wrong.
That evening was marked, or shall I say marred, by the Potato Incident, a transgression that involved swiping a roasted potato off my fiancée's dinner plate and sucking it voraciously while she was in the bathroom. I even chewed it for a few minutes before spitting it into a napkin. It was like a lap dance that went a layer or two of clothing too far, and, if anything, it only intensified my craving for food. Salt, mainly.
Of course, it'd be much easier if Amber was on board and not cooking roasted potatoes and whatnot in the kitchen. I didn't press it though, because, to be honest, if I looked, ate and exercised like she does, there's no effing way I'd go on a crash diet—because I wouldn't need to. Besides, as far as I can tell, she's already sacrificing enough by mostly eating grains and greens all day long.
Before moving to the North Bay six years ago, I was a tall, skinny writer living in a Venice Beach bungalow. Perhaps skinnier than I should have been, as I was a pseudo-manorexic with peculiar eating habits. You know who I mean. The guy who pats his pizza dry with a napkin. The manly man who orders a Jack and diet Coke. The one who claws out his bagel and requests light cream cheese. You might have even walked in on him in a restaurant bathroom, standing in front of the mirror with his shirt pulled up, rotating like a rotisserie chicken. Yeah, I was that guy.
At the time, I blamed Gloss Angeles for my assorted neuroses. Never before had I been so cripplingly fixated on my weight or spent more time self-loathing on a scale. And with some perspective, I now know that I was right. It was L.A.'s fault. I know this because, since moving to the North Bay, I've quietly padded myself with 30 pounds.
Some of this has to do with my ex, an impassioned foodie who quickly homed in on my more neurotic habits and encouraged me to stop doing things like, say, weighing myself before and after meals. Some of it has to do with the comfort of living in a small town, surrounded by really good friends who aren't obsessive, serial scalers. But the food, well, that's most of it. The local dining scene is nothing short of a mouth orgy, and I personally find it impossible to resist its siren song. But now, as I close in on my wedding date, I want to give back some of those 30 pounds. Half, to be exact. And the lemonade diet is my best bet.
I know this because it's all the rage in Hollywood. Beyoncé dropped 20 for her role in Dreamgirls. Jared Leto dropped 60 after his role in another film nobody saw. And most recently, Ashton and Demi took the plunge and tweeted their way through their Master Cleanse. All four days of it, anyway, before they quit. Of course I had some questions going into the cleanse.
Would I be starving?
Um, yeah. That's kinda the point. I'm drinking enough calories to function, but there's no way around the hunger pangs. At times, my stomach sounds like a Texas thunderstorm. And while I love those white noise machines with environmental sounds to help you sleep, I'm not a big fan of being the white noise machine. And that's what I am. In addition to looking miserable, I now sound it too.
Would I lose lots of weight?
Oh, yeah. After the first day, I had shed three-and-a-half pounds. After the second, six. After five days, I had lost 10 pounds and what appeared to be a full cup size from my man-boobs. And as of right now, just moments from finishing the fast, I've lost a whopping 16 pounds and look like a guy I used to know. Yes, I concede that much of this is water weight. But it begs the question, why am I retaining so much water? Again, I'm no doctor, but my best guess is: salt. Way too much salt. Which makes perfect sense because I'm the kind of guy who thinks salt needs to be salted.
Would I be exhausted?
One would think, but against any rhyme or reason, the diet hasn't left me feeling exhausted or depleted so much as amped on adrenaline, 18 hours a day. In fact, I've had enough energy to go on several long runs, and I've been insanely productive. I spend my days in my Healdsburg cottage, reading and writing and otherwise wired like a nine-year-old on Nintendo Wii. And of course, I weigh myself constantly, meticulously graphing the results. It's amazing what you can accomplish when every minute feels like six or seven.
Can I leave the house?
Now I can. But initially? Forget about it. In those first few days, I was at all times exactly one whiff of bacon away from caving. So I cleared my social calendar, shut off my phone and shuttered the world. But once I settled into the routine and started seeing results—like my chin for the first time in a while—I felt enough resolve to venture out to the movies and a taco night. (I went to see Salt, in case you're wondering, which, when you think about it, is kind of my dream movie.) And the taco night was fairly easy to manage because I was eight days in, the home stretch, though I did spend much of the evening circling the serving platters, sniffing at everything like a hopeful hound.
What would I eliminate?
As much as I'd love to share these kinds of details, my editor, for obvious reasons, would rather I didn't. She made this pretty clear upon assigning this piece: "You must absolutely, entirely, 1,000 percent swear-to-the-freakin'-goddess that any and all references to poop, excrement, diarrhea or any other defecatory matter be so smally noted as to perhaps not even exist." So while I'd love to explain the mechanics of the cleanse's suggested "saltwater flush" and explore why someone who wasn't lost and drifting at sea might chug saltwater, I can't. But the one word I'll leave you with is this: sediment.
It's over! Ten outrageously long days have mercifully ended and I feel positively euphoric. It's been exactly 240 hours since that last bite of french toast, that last crunch of bacon. And while you may assume I'll be racing to celebrate with some french fries, I'm not. For one, it's 2am and everything is closed. Second, I'm supposed to ease out for a few days with juice and soups and such. But even if those weren't factors, even if I was free to eat whatever I wanted right now, the bottom line is my perspective has shifted. I'm a new man.
Meet the new me. The reading, writing, running me. The very best me. I don't crave fries like I did before. Not yet anyway. An apple with peanut butter? Sure. Amber's healthy food? Absolutely. That's the thing about the Master Cleanse, perhaps the best thing. It makes you hyper-aware of your body and gives you ample time to reflect upon what you put into it. But like anything else in life, it's what we do with our hard-won scraps of knowledge that really counts. If I resume all my old habits, I'll have suffered for nothing. So moving forward, I know that if I want to see this guy in the mirror, if I want to slip into that skinny white suit on my wedding day and beyond, I need to modify my lifestyle. I need to make different decisions. Most importantly, I need to stop salting my salt.
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