Contributing Monkie Sarma Melngailis
Published on January 23, 2009
This is an extended, unedited version of an article I originally wrote in July for Get Fresh magazine… U.K.’s glossy raw food mag. You can get current and back copies of the mag at oneluckyduck.com. Dhru has been a contributor in the past too!
Thanksgiving was beautiful at Pure Food and Wine… and WLIR’s own Philip was there too. Now we’re full on immersed in the holiday season, so I thought it’s not a bad time to put up this post about fasting, eating and all the issues in between. Happy Holidays, and may everyone take really good care of themselves.
My Summer Adventures in Juice Cleansing
Some people call themselves experts or even gurus (yes, I have heard someone introduce themselves as a “guru”) on nutrition, raw foods, weight loss, or enlightenment, or all of those. They write and/or speak publicly about conclusions they’ve arrived at through years of experience and diligent research. I, on the other hand, don’t claim to have conclusively figured it all out, nor do I have time for hours of detailed investigation. I just try things for myself and write about it while I’m sorting it all out—like a guinea pig with a notepad, jotting down reports on the experiment phases, tossing out random hypotheses.
The latest trial? I finally did a juice fast. Yes… a juice fast, juice feast, juice fiesta, call it whatever you want. The point is, just juice. I’ve spent more than five years living on mostly raw foods and immersed in the world of raw foods, and I’d never done a juice fast. What kind of raw foodist am I? I have always felt like I should do a juice fast, especially reading about everyone else’s adventures with the 90-day juice “feast”. But doing something just because you feel like you should feels all wrong and not very motivating. The point was that I just didn’t want to do it. That is, until recently.
Late one Sunday night I was sitting on my couch reading a recent issue of Get Fresh and trying to think of what to write for my next installment. I came across an article titled “Detox in Devon.” With photos of lovely looking stone cottages in the sunny and green English countryside, the piece described a week-long cleansing juice fast getaway. It included mention of the retreat’s heated indoor pool, pine sauna, and on-staff masseurs. It also reported that guests experienced an average weight loss of ten pounds along with the clearing of emotional blockages, and that they “tend to sleep more than they’ve ever slept in their lives.”
As soon as I read this, I started to cry. I had some pounds to lose, blockages to clear up, and most of all, a serious rest and relaxation deficiency to repair! I wanted to go there, now. I immediately went to the website and sent them an email. Then I looked up flights to England. Ouch. The expense of flying overseas, plus the fact that their next availability was not for a couple of months, made me designate this as Plan B, and I turned to figuring out a Plan A.
After only a few minutes of searching online, I found a place that sounded comparable. It was called Gentle Earth Retreats and was in Ithaca, New York, only a four hour drive from Manhattan. There was a seven day program starting in just over a week. Perfect! According to the photos online, it looked like a sweet and comfortable place and was run by a pretty woman named Katherine. It was 2 o’clock in the morning, but I wanted to call the number listed and wake her up to check on availability. I wanted a spot now. What if someone else called before me? I settled for email, writing a note laced with enough personal details meant to elicit some degree of sympathy in case there was any discretion on her part in securing me a room.
When I woke up a few hours later, I had an email reply from Katherine telling me that she had just one private room left and that I could have it. Hooray! Everything is right with the Universe. Thank you. I was thrilled, and immediately started making a list of all the things I was going to bring (pajamas, slippers, etc.).
As per my usual pre-travel style, I stayed up all night long before I was to leave on a 5:30 A.M. bus. I had a lot to prepare for. I imagined that I would be having loads of free time during which I could finally finish writing my book. It was more than nine months overdue and I was feeling pregnant with a book that I desperately wanted to give birth to, so I could feel lighter. I had to organize and haul with me all kinds of research notes, my entire 400-page printed manuscript draft, and more. I packed a lot.
Arriving at NYC’s Port Authority bus terminal at 5 o’clock in the morning, I quickly understood why everyone had been questioning my choice of transportation: “You’re taking… the bus??” I had actually never taken a bus in my life, and didn’t understand what the big deal was. I don’t recommend going to the NYC bus terminal at 5 o’clock in the morning. Especially if you’re a girl in a summer dress—made extra vulnerable by having far too many heavy bags strapped on, like an overloaded donkey.
Maybe it was just lack of sleep, but the whole thing felt surreal. It seemed there were more bodies strewn along the floor (asleep, I hope) than there were standing up. The signage at this bus station was pitifully inadequate—non-existent even—and there was no information desk and no one standing around to ask. I stood there having no idea where to go. Finally, I asked a sleepy looking security guard. He stared at my ticket a bit too long and finally mumbled, “Gate 12” and directed me all the way to the other side of the terminal.
I hauled myself and my bags through the totally creepy and empty underground corridors. Finally at Gate 12 (and relieved not to have been mugged or otherwise accosted), I plopped everything down and pulled out a fresh green juice from my bag. It was sweet and bright tasting—a mix of cucumber, chard, cilantro, lime and pineapple. In this dirty and disturbing environment, it was like I’d opened a bottle from which rays of sunshine and chirping happy birds poured forth. Meanwhile, I looked around for some kind of confirmation that I was in the right place, but found nothing. There were even pieces of paper taped on the wall with schedule information scrawled on them, but nowhere did I see the name of my destination or even any other people. Shit. Now I wanted to cry.
An old janitor who I recognized from the other side of the terminal came walking by. He smiled at me and asked what I was doing all alone all the way over on this side of the terminal. I showed him my ticket and he said, “Oh, your bus leaves from gate 62! That’s back where you came from!” Oh how wonderful, that’s just perfect. I had trekked through the scary terminal dungeons for no reason and now I was running late. Then the old janitor pointed to the duck logo on my juice bottle and then to the same logo tattooed on my arm and said “Hey, is that your company?”
“Yes, it is!” I replied, happily reminded of the big picture. For a moment he made me forget that I was feeling wretched and that I was potentially about to miss my bus. It was one of those interactions where you can feel the person’s warmth and good energy, and I wished I’d had a bag of our yummy raw cookies to give him instead of just a quick smile and hasty farewell.
I strapped myself up like a mule again and started the trek back, trying to race walk steadily enough so as not to strangle myself with the bag straps crisscrossed around my neck and across my torso (I really thought I might cut off the blood flow to my head… not a good thing). I barely made it to the right bus on time, and the driver sternly reprimanded me while I tried to throw my bags in before he slammed the luggage doors shut. Why did he have to be so mean to me? He was gray haired and heavy set, with one of those big, protruding man-bellies that looks like it may pop at any moment. No wonder he was grumpy. I was a bit concerned about his role as our chauffeur in this giant metal box that would soon be speeding down a highway surrounded by other speeding metal boxes.
Finally in my seat, I looked around and got yet another sense of people’s overall concern with taking the bus. Everything looked grim. There wasn’t even a hint of a smile on any of the faces I could see and the rest were slumped over. Even the old lady I chose to sit beside glared at me. She looked like a muppet. The deep lines coming down from either side of her mouth made it look like her entire chin was a removable part of her face.
As we pulled out of the station, the driver barked into the speaker about the duration of the ride, the rules about cell phone usage, the bathroom on board (yeah right), and the weather forecast. It was oppressively hot and humid with dark clouds, drizzling rain and an overall air of major dreariness. A short-haired, old, and stout woman-that-looked-more-like-a-man a few rows behind me ignored his discouragement of cell phone use and began loudly shouting into hers in Russian. I was scared of her. I sat back in my seat and once again felt like crying. I was so tired and sweaty and was stuck in a speeding metal box with scary, mean, and unhappy looking people. Thank you to the Universe for iPods! I put my headphones on and fell asleep.
Then something remarkable happened. I woke up to an entirely surreal-feeling change of scenery. We were no longer in Manhattan. There were trees everywhere and loads of lush and freshly rained upon greenery all around. The sun was shining through the clouds, and the bright blue sky and everything else out there looked magical. I looked over at my once surly seat companion and she looked back at me with a lovely smile, as if a completely new person. It was quiet on the bus. In fact everyone looked peaceful, and everything suddenly felt peaceful. The air conditioning had kicked in and I was grateful to have my cozy, soft, (oneluckyduck!) hemp sweatshirt to put on. It occurred to me I might be dreaming, in a Dorothy-in-Oz kind of way, which was a bit unnerving. But then I relaxed into the surroundings and began to breathe easy. I was looking forward to my destination, feeling good, and peacefully excited. Except then I had to pee really bad, and there was no chance I was going to use the on-board facilities.
Finally the driver announced we were making a fifteen minute stop. We pulled off the highway into a Burger King. He advised us to use the bathroom quickly and to order our food “to-go” since we would be leaving again shortly. I was among the very few passengers that did not buy any food. Instead I pulled out another green juice, now slightly warm but still so good. While sipping it slowly, I became morbidly fascinated watching everyone eat Burger King’s “French Toast Stix” and French Fries at 7 o’clock in the morning. It made me look forward to my week of fresh organic juices even more.
Then I noticed the driver outside. My concern over his being our driver only grew as I watched him through the window sitting at a picnic table consuming a Burger King “Croissan’wich” with alarming speed. What if he has a heart attack while driving? Or slips into a food coma? What about his large cup of coffee? Is there a point to having both? Perhaps they kind of cancel each other out? One sedates and the other stimulates? And what must French people think of the overuse of their country’s name and signature breakfast pastry in our culture’s fast food fare? These questions and more filled my mind as we set off for the rest of the trip.
Arriving in Ithaca was a welcome relief. I spotted Katherine’s long blonde hair from far away. Up close, she was far more radiantly lovely than the online photos could portray. We loaded my bags in her car and drove off. Ithaca is a beautiful town. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen corn fields and grazing cows. Talking to Katherinewas easy and comforting and before I knew it, we had arrived. Pulling into the driveway, it all felt idyllic—like I was staying at a friend’s country home. In fact, it was her home, which made it that much more comfortable. Over the course of the day, I met the eight other guests. None were of a raw food or vegan persuasion, and all had very different backgrounds, but they were good company and really nice to get to know.
Aside from the totally optional daily group discussion and yoga class, there was no schedule. Juices were made fresh every two hours, plus a glass of tangy rejuvelac in the afternoon and frozen fruit sorbet in the evening. If you didn’t want the juice at the time it was made, it would be left in the refrigerator in a mason jar with your name written on it, to be picked up anytime. We made our own tea in the kitchen, where Katherine’s two lovely children washed vegetables and juiced pretty much all day long. Besides the lack of structure and formality, what I loved about all of this was the feeling of being cared for. A juice fast under these comforting conditions feels easy, and like a relief. I felt very lucky to be there. Katherine was extremely knowledgeable, warm, and engagingly helpful. She didn’t lecture about what we could or couldn’t do, or should and shouldn’t do. Everything was just offered.
On the first evening, we were each given a welcome bag full of fun things: hand-made soap, shampoo, a skin brush, and (most exciting and fun of all) our very own enema kit. Daily coffee enemas were part of the suggested daily cleansing. The coffee is meant to help stimulate the liver and speed up detoxification. While Katherine explained to the bewildered (and now slightly anxious) looking group how to assemble the bag with the tubing, as well as the proper insertion method, I was tempted to yawn aloud and brag that I’d already been through this ho-hum drill before.
The truth is, I had only done it once, and five years earlier. It was during my early days on raw food when I would pretty much do anything anyone suggested. I was in a relationship with my then collaborator in business and we were both totally new to raw food and full of eager enthusiasm—so much so that per someone’s recommendation we bought his and hers enema bags. We’d brewed the coffee, sat on the floor together to assemble the bags, and then retreated to our own bathrooms where we called each other from our cell phones to sort out the rest of the confusion along the way. I remembered having found the whole process very strange, and we’d never repeated it after that one time. Still, I figured it’s been five years now, why not give it another go?
The following day we were given big jars of freshly brewed organic coffee. It smelled good, and I wondered out loud if anyone ever took it back to their rooms and drank it (since a lot of people on this program were probably going through serious coffee withdrawal). Katherine’s reply surprised me. “Sure, go ahead and drink it if you want to!” I instead expected she’d say, “Oh no, you can’t do that!” After thinking about it for a while, I realized that if she had said the latter, I probably would have taken a rebellious sip or two alone in my room, in the spirit of asserting to myself the fact that I can do whatever I want. But since she’d just pointed that out, I didn’t need to prove it. What a relief!
My second try at the coffee enema ended much like my first. It felt more awkward and disturbing than cleansing or refreshing. While the logic supporting it seemed sensible enough, I concluded that the coffee enema was indeed not for me, not now. I still wanted to drink it, not force it into the other end. It just felt… dirty. Maybe I’m just a total prude, but there is something that feels very wrong about inserting any object in my own butt. Furthermore, whether the liquid is coffee or fresh water, I’m not convinced that bombarding your backside and insides with such frequency is a good thing. An occasional intestinal rinse by a professional colon hydro therapist who gives you nice tummy massages at the same time seems okay, but hosing oneself out willy-nilly day after day? Nope, not for me. During the rest of my stay, I never picked up my daily butt-coffee again, and I was never asked about it. Once more, this sort of freedom was much appreciated.
Overall, it was an entirely comfortable and peaceful environment. I had forgotten what crickets at night sound like. I felt so relaxed and noticeably not hungry. Of course, it also helped that, aside from a few melons and bananas here and there (that I couldn’t help eyeballing), there wasn’t anything tempting to eat lying around. This vacation from food was also a relief in many ways. Physically, I felt really good and like my body didn’t even want or need any solid food. I was feeling highly nourished on the juice.
On my third day I sat in my room sensing that there was a wildly deprived crazed junkie inside of me that wanted to chew on anything, including the bedframe. Despite the total absence of physical hunger, I just really wanted to eat and I had the strong sense that this particular urge would not be satisfied and relieved by a reasonable small quantity food (since I wasn’t really hungry anyway). No, I wanted to stuff myself. I was having visions of a giant bathtub (literally) full of my favorite salad and chowing down on the whole thing. At least my visions were of healthy food. I concluded therefore that it had to do with the actual filling of something, but I wasn’t sure what. An emotional emptiness that I want to snuff out in a giant salad avalanche?
I heard that eating numbs the emotions because when your body is eating you can’t actually feel anything else, so it’s like a way of switching your feelings off. Of course, if you’re also eating something you feel you shouldn’t be eating (presumably only to numb some feelings), then afterwards you only end up pissed off at yourself and maybe that’s easier to deal with. And the more I thought about it, the more I became pissed off. This stuffing myself fantasy was definitely laced with fuck you fury, like I wanted to stuff myself out of spite. Even better, I was thinking, would be if I could stuff myself and then go hurl it all out right afterwards (a habit from high school days). Ah HA! This had even better fuck you energy. But then I started thinking… wait, fuck who? Hmmmm. Something to think about.
A wise lady once told me that there is nothing but love and fear. If it’s not love, than anything else (anger, depression, etc.) is just a manifestation of fear. I wasn’t sure what I was afraid of, though I could imagine on some level that facing reality without the insulation of food in one’s belly could seem scary. Or, the insulation of extra pounds. Maybe it’s scary to lose those few extra pounds. Because then what would I obsess over? Maybe it’s my own ambitions that are frightening.
By the time day five rolled around, I was still waiting for the clarity to set in. Where was it? I’d heard it strikes around day four. Your mind opens up and massive productivity ensues. I needed this so I could finish my book, finish this article, finish all my emails, and outline grand plans. I wanted to be a machine of creative efficiency! Instead, I only felt the overwhelming desire to sleep even more. And I couldn’t even fall asleep, so all I could do was lie down and do… nothing. I felt too lazy to even sit up and write. Couldn’t someone please design the reclining keyboard/monitor set up that I have envisioned so many times in my mind, which would allow me to work while lying down? Instead I watched a DVD called “You Can Heal Yourself.” Yay! I was going to be healed! As the film recommended, I spent time staring into the mirror trying to say “I love you” without feeling awkward. Except in addition to feeling awkward, I kept getting distracted looking at the pores on my skin or noticing how badly I needed to pluck my eyebrows. I was definitely going to need practice at this.
Overall, I cried a lot throughout the week. Yes, just having no solid food to eat could be reason enough to shed tears, but clearly that wasn’t it, because I felt really good physically, and not hungry. What I felt was an unfamiliar and uncomfortable sense of… sobriety. Like I wanted to reach for a blanket to hide under, but there was no blanket (figuratively). I wondered if this was remotely akin to what a heroin addict feels while in rehab.
It seems very natural that people (and animals) just want to be free, and when we’re ordered around or constrained, it generally induces anxiety and resentment. So where is the happy medium? At thirty-five years old, I should be able to calmly self-regulate what I put in my mouth, right? It’s all up to me, and with so many choices. My brain and my heart had long known that a juice fast would be really good for me. But any time I had imposed on myself a sentence of juice-only at home, I didn’t even last a full day.
There is a tendency for some people (myself apparently one of them) to form addictions and attachments to food (and I’m talking food of the solid, chewable variety). Recognizing this is easier when you put yourself in an environment where there is no food but meanwhile there is ample fresh, organic juice to keep you from going hungry, as well as all sorts of other comforts and nothing to be stressed out about.
My crazy urges to eat did pass, such that by the end of the week I was even thinking that I could just live this way forever. Finally! I was feeling so good and I really liked the extra glow. And I was no longer craving solid foods. In fact, solid foods felt very unappealing because I was feeling so great and didn’t want to lose that clean lightness. I thought about the discomfort of feeling really full. Perhaps one just gets used to it? I never set out wanting to be full, and once that feeling comes along, I never like it and wish I could go in reverse and have eaten less (even when it’s perfectly clean, raw and organic food). I also realized how much I no longer want to eat mindlessly, while distracted and anxious with work or something else. I want to focus on my food. I want to appreciate it and enjoy it without that anxious awareness of a compulsive factor: either trying to control my eating, or slipping into being controlled by it. These are some of the old habits that don’t die easy, even on raw foods. I knew I could feel so much better without these tendencies, and this whole experience made me feel liberated from them. I was convinced that I’d return to New York and stay on liquids for some time—juices for a while and then I’d ease into my favorite green shakes.
Safely back home, sitting at the garden at Pure Food and Wine, my plan of staying on just liquid didn’t last too long. I drank plenty of juice, but there were also new dishes on the menu to try, like the Golden Chanterelle and Yuzu Ceviche with Heirloom Cherry Tomato Salsa and Avocado Pineapple Puree. Or Summer Truffle and Parsnip Ravioli with Horseradish Vanilla Cream, Baby White Asparagus, and Pickled Radish. YUM. Tasting these was nice, and I didn’t have any urge at all to have more than just a few bites—it was enough for now. I felt great… peaceful and happy. With that I had eased my way back into solid food, but what a nice way to ease back in.
I thought about the ride back to Manhattan from Ithaca (it was the same driver again, by the way). This time the stop-over was an Arby’s next to a Mini-Mart. I’d once more been fascinated by all the consumption of fries and fried onion rings for breakfast with soda and milkshakes. I watched one man walk back to the bus with a big bag of fried potato chips and a 2 liter bottle of orange soda. Why does so much have to be fried? And how is it that everyone gets so easily used to this way of feeding themselves? Even if they’re feeling okay, do they know that it’s possible to feel so much better?
I want to help! Whatever issues I still have to sort out, I only feel this trip reaffirmed my determination to keep doing all that I can to change the world (or at least what is available for breakfast along highway exits).
Sarma @ oneluckyduck.com
Read all of Sarma’s articles at welikeitraw.com