Spring Cleaning:

The I-Hate-Fad-Diets Diet

by Robin Bonner

To Diet or Not To Diet . . .
I really do hate fad diets. For that reason, I never do them. I don’t eat a ton of only one thing. And, I don’t starve myself or otherwise abuse my body.

Or do I?

Do I eat nonorganic, GMO (genetically modified organism) foods? Do I include enough cruciferous vegetables (what kind of vegetables???) in my diet? Do I consume refined sugar? Processed foods? Farm-raised fish? Do I even know where my food comes from? Do I take supplements with fillers? Or toxic medications? Expose myself to pesticides or poisonous cleaning agents? How about things I put in my hair and on my skin—are they natural? Do I get enough sleep? Drink enough water? Use caffeine? Alcohol?

Yikes! Anyone who knows me knows the answers to those questions . . .

So, I had been dragging my sorry butt into my chiropractor’s office month after month, seeking adjustments and telling woeful tales of how tired I was, how I just couldn't lose those last few pounds, how my joints were killing me. During one such visit to Ridge Chiropractic, after doing an adjustment, Dr. Dan Young says to me, “You know, I did the Standard Process program recently, and it was amazing. I’ve never felt better. You might want to try it.” I had received the mailings his office sent out about the diet, but it looked like one of those fad-diets with costly supplements. You know, the nighttime meeting, the hard sell, and so on. I told him I didn't want to get involved in something expensive. He said, “I hear you. I’ll give you their booklet. Look at the recipes. You can get an idea of what it’s about without signing up for the program, and maybe do it on your own.”

Wow, that was generous.

And, that’s why I like Dr. Dan. I thought about it some more. I noticed that Dan had lost weight, and he did look healthy and happy. And, I do trust him. I know he wouldn't try to rip me off. (After all, I let him twist my neck once a month, and that says a lot about trust!) After I left, I flipped through the booklet. It was all about eating healthy. I was already doing a lot of it. Yes, there were shakes, but you made them yourself with fruits and vegetables you buy at the grocery store. Sure, you use the “SP” organic non-GMO supplements. But you cleanse your body of toxins, find out if you have food intolerances or allergies, and, within three weeks, you realign your eating, drinking, and general lifestyle habits.

Hmmm, I’ve made a lot of changes for the better this year, I thought. Why not add to that success by developing some good eating and sleeping habits that could affect everything else I do: losing excess weight, improving alertness and focus, relieving joint pain, reducing allergies. It sounded too good to be true, but I made a resolve that the next time one of Dan’s flyers came my way, I’d go to the meeting and check things out.

Spring Cleaning, Standard Process Style
April had arrived. The daffodils were in bloom, the tulips coming up, the birds chirping. Not a snowflake in sight—the perfect time to get my bod in shape for summer. But it was always such a chore and my efforts never quite succeeded. I was in the middle of an Easter-time jellybean high (we forsook the chocolate bunnies this year) when Dan’s letter came. The meeting would be April 22nd. I called right away: I’ll be there.

It was interesting. There were about 20 of us. Kim, the Standard Process rep, was the picture of health. Rail thin, she had a cute smile and pixie haircut. (I found out later she was a grandmother. Amazing—I thought she probably wasn’t yet 40.) She explained the program and went through the booklet. We would drink shakes made with fruits, vegetables, and Standard Process supplements. For the first seven days, we would take “Cleanse” capsules made from organic plants several times a day to aid our body “eliminate toxins.” (Thus, the “spring cleaning”!). Then, we take “Green Food capsules” a couple of times a day for the rest of the program. We’d be off meats, dairy, eggs, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar for 10 days. On Day 11, we’d add small amounts of lean meat or fish, but that’s the only change. After we finished the program, we would gradually add back the other foods, to see if we have any intolerances or allergies. Simple enough.

I was immediately attracted. If I could do this, I could do anything. I am a wine, margarita, and dessert lover. I would have to give them up for now, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I didn’t really buy living without coffee, but the timing was good there, as well. The program began Thursday, May 1. I had to teach class that day, then give an exam on May 6, the following Tuesday. So, as the program began, I’d have to deal with only two classes (plus marking final papers and exams, and posting final grades). I pictured myself comatose on the couch in the afternoon without my coffee. We'll see, I thought.

I did get sticker shock, however, when I learned the cost: $299. The supplements added up, evidently. But Dan gave everyone who signed up a $50 gift certificate toward services at his practice. With that, I saw my end-of-program reward in the form of a massage, and that, I think, sealed the deal for me. I imagined that at that point Dan gave up any commission he was going to make by sponsoring the program. This was mostly about concern for his patients’ well-being.

Another draw was that the program came with support: Daily e-mails from Standard Process addressed FAQs for each phase of the program, and you could e-mail “Alison” at the “support” e-mail address with any general program questions. Plus, Dan would be on call for all participant locally during the program. If you had any questions at all about any symptoms you might be having, you would be able to call him about it, or leave a message, and he’d get back to you quickly.

I was in. I handed over my Visa card, justifying my decision in a couple of ways. First, I had already quit my gym, deciding to work out on my own. It was a conclusion I had arrived at separately—I just wasn’t getting over there—but needing to find some cash to fund my Big Nutrition Experiment made the timing impeccable. Second, I had a hunch that purchasing all the supplements for a 21-day program such as this would be expensive anywhere. Later, I confirmed that similar products from GNC would cost about $269. So, with the support from the company and from Dan, and the massage, Standard Process would truly be a deal—and an investment!

Day 1 and Beyond: A Whole New World
Those of us participating had a “team” meeting and pep talk with Kim and Dan on Tuesday evening, April 29, two days before we began the program. It was good to see the others and bond with them a bit, and to get any last-minute questions answered. I found that I learned from questions the others asked, as well. That night, we picked up our Standard Process "kits." (Wow, look at the size of those jars of supplements!) The next day, I was out of town on a Geographical Society trip, so on May 1, I was in a tizzy. My daughter was in town until the day before, then I needed to prep to teach my last class of the semester, so I hadn’t had time to do any shopping, or even to get too deeply into the SP booklet. I hoped I had enough fruit and vegetables in the house to get through Day 1!

I did. My fridge always had salad stuff (albeit nonorganic), and I rooted through to find enough fruit to make my first shake. I made 48 oz, which I figured should get me through the day. I took the “Cleanse” pills very early in the morning (I was up at 5:00 a.m. to finish marking papers) and found their laxative effect to be gentle. Good thing: I had to take seven of the capsules three times a day! The shakes got me through, though, and I learned quickly that to get all those capsules down, it was best to take them with the shakes. I stopped for groceries on the way home from class, and perused the aisles carefully, SP shopping list in hand. I was seeing many of the items for the first time! Coconut oil? Stevia? Organic anything? I got my loot home and unpacked, and after a baked sweet potato with unsalted butter and cinnamon for lunch, I was feeling better—fuller. Dinner consisted of a large salad: arugula, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, and carrots. And more shake. In fact, I found myself making small meals of the shakes throughout the day, and this worked just fine. I had already been making fruit shakes (but with nuts) for myself, so I knew I’d like them.

The second day I was able to read more of the booklet; apparently, lentils and quinoa were also on the menu. I found that I liked quinoa and was happy eating it alone, or with a little butter, or with vegetable broth, which had fewer calories. Salads, I found, would be my mainstay. Adding avocado made them even more tasty and filling. (How I loved avocado!) Throwing in some quinoa or lentils from dinner the night before was also fun! There was a lot to like about this diet. I loved fruit and vegetables, and I also liked the “pseudo grains.” It was mostly about not eating the other things—cane sugar, meats, nuts, eggs, wine, and coffee. And that wasn’t a problem as long as I could find things I *did* like to eat. (After all, I didn’t want to mess up The Experiment!) The Standard Process booklet came complete with long lists of what to eat and what to avoid. My biggest challenge was finding room in the refrigerator for all the veggies!

I did feel pretty weak and tired the first couple of days, which was easily remedied by napping and generally getting more sleep at night. My body was cleansing itself, and I needed to get out of the way and let it do its job. Some light exercise was in order, too—as much as I felt up to. One morning, during Week 2, we did a lot of yard work, and I made several trips into the house for water and snacks (a luscious fruit platter). Sweating is in order on this program; it helps the body remove toxins. Dragging downed branches to a burn pile and clearing understory certainly produced that effect. So did racing our sailboat and making those last few trips to the gym before my membership expired. I also found I like to simply walk out my front door in the morning, with weights, and do a mile and a half. I can be back in half an hour! (I was eventually able to extend that trek to 2.5 miles in 45 minutes.) Finally, stretching and working through a floor routine became another simple favorite. Any exercise is good exercise. If you can’t get to the gym, work out wherever you are. It's faster, anyway. Getting outside first thing in the morning is a great start to any day. You should get some kind of exercise each day you’re on the program.

I thought my Waterloo would be mornings and green shakes. For some reason, I found drinking green stuff in the morning particularly offensive. (Green eggs and ham, anyone?) To ensure weight loss, the program recommends that you eat a lot of vegetables (especially cruciferous varieties—spinach, kale, swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, broccoli—which are green). In fact, you should eat twice as much vegetables as fruit in a given day. That was something to get used to, and I’m not sure I ever achieved it. (My shakes were most likely closer to half veggies and half fruit.) About the green shakes, though: If you’re really, really hungry (which I was by Day 3), a green shake will look very, very good. And, once you try it, you’re pleasantly surprised: It tastes good, too! So, I was very quickly on board with them. I’ve used kale and swiss chard (in my run-of-the-mill blender—no expensive equipment needed), but I have also used frozen spinach in a pinch. (Canned or dried fruits or vegetables are a no-no.) My local supermarket has only a small organic section, but Wegman’s offers a larger variety if you can find one near you.

The one thing I had a reaction to was organic celery, go figure. I ate carrots and celery sticks one afternoon and realized my face was breaking out in a rash. My lips and tongue were tingling and swelling, as well. I quickly reviewed what I had eaten (we keep a food journal just for that reason) to attempt to identify the culprit. I narrowed it down to either sesame seeds or organic celery, neither of which I had had the day before. The next day, I ate only the organic celery, and it happened again (by then I had a pink crust across my face as the rash began to heal). So it was the celery, and the rest of the stalk was thus slated for vegetable soup. (Once cooked, it would lose its sting.) That news had Kim and Dan stymied when I told them about it; Dan responded to my SOS right away with a phone call and then text messages. Throughout the rest of the program, I had no other reactions. I continued to enjoy sesame seeds in my salads. I expanded my repertoire to snack on seaweed crisps, pumpkin seeds, and organic vegetable broth (and after Day 11, chicken and beef broth).

A challenge came my way around Mother’s Day. My daughter Sarah was planning to come home to celebrate with me. I told her about the diet. “Well, you’re going to have at least one margarita, aren’t you, Mom?” She knew they were my favorite. I promised I would. When the big day came, we made plans to go out to dinner. It was also Day 11, the first day I could eat meat or fish. So, there were several reasons to celebrate! (Hey, and I just went a week and a half without even a glass of wine!) And celebrate we did. I’d like to say it was all a good time . . .

I thought Sangria would be a better choice than margaritas because of the fruit, but in the end, both probably had the same amount of sugar. Sarah made a delicious batch, and we enjoyed a glass before we went out, then took the rest with us. The restaurant—19 Bella, a Mediterranean-style tapas joint located in Skippack, PA, that featured organic food—also offered a complimentary glass of, you guessed it, Sangria. So, let’s just say that my “one drink” turned into a small but, for many hours, bottomless glass. I have no idea how many I had, as I was telling stories (which, according to my husband, Gary, got louder and louder as the evening wore on) as Sarah continued to top off my glass. Since my stomach had no bread or other starch to soak up the alcohol, it was quickly absorbed by the tissues in my body. By the time I got home, my head was spinning. I went to bed with a bucket next to me, just in case. I hadn’t had bed spins like that since college. Lesson learned! (Older daughter Amie chided me the next day, “You needed to hydrate, Mom! You should have had a big glass of water when you got home.” Nothing like your kids telling you how to avoid a hangover.)

In general, except for special occasions, I found I could “party” with just my green shakes and be happy. I had just as much (even more?) fun while socializing with a clear head. And, I might add—I dropped 5 pounds almost overnight and eventually worked my way up to 12 by the end of the 21-day program. I hadn’t weighed even close to that since the week of my daughter's wedding, six and a half years earlier, and even then, it was only for a few days. Hey, if I keep this up, I thought, I can break 120, which I’m sure hasn’t happened in 20 years. I started pulling clothing out of my closet that I hadn’t been able to get into in a long time. The longer I was on the program, the less likely I was to intentionally undo any of the good I had accomplished. I’ve heard it takes three weeks to form a habit. Well, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this program is 21 days long.

I think back to the beginning days of the program and how it felt as though I were living in a universe parallel to but not on the same plane as everyone else’s. How odd I felt, not being able to socialize over food, as I always loved to do. But now I socialize just the same way—I serve food, I converse, I connect. I just don’t eat or drink exactly what everyone else is eating or drinking. We had a house guest one week during the program—a former work colleague of mine. What to serve for dinner? “Organic” steaks, brown rice (yes, they let us add that to the list with quinoa and lentils), and stir-fried asparagus and broccoli, plus salad, and bread for the guys. Dessert? Fruit salad over pound cake, with whipped cream (mine, minus the cake and cream). I came to know a resilience and resolve I didn’t know I had. I learned to drink a shake before a social event (or to bring it with me), and to make sure I had appropriate snacks in my purse, should I need them. Many times, I could eat many fruits and vegetables that were served, but not the dairy and grains. If I was full when I arrived, I found I was also fine with just holding a glass of water. No one noticed that I wasn't eating the food!

As for coffee, I found myself at an afternoon workshop at the college, and thinking while listening to the speakers that I could really use some caffeine. I think my natural metabolism is just slower than everyone else's. So, I got myself a third of a cup of black coffee and took one sip every 20 minutes until I felt like I could get through. (That amounted to about three sips.) And that was the only time I did it. Green tea was another recommended drink, and although the program recommended the decaffeinated variety, I must admit I drank the regular green tea with pomegranate that I had on hand. I don’t think there’s much caffeine in it. I did have some orange herbal tea that I particularly enjoyed. A lot of what’s nice about drinking coffee is the ritual—holding a hot cup—and a cup of herbal tea will serve the same purpose. And, sweetened with non-GMO organic agave nectar, it's not even a hardship.

Today is Day 23. On Day 22, I added eggs back into my diet: one in the morning, one for lunch, and a couple for dinner. No reaction! Tomorrow, 48 hours later, is dairy day. I’m going to find me some organic vanilla ice cream, if there is such a thing. (Ben & Jerry’s?) Why waste such an important event on plain old milk? It’s a challenge to keep on the program until the very end. But I’m doing it, and feeling great. If all goes well, on Sunday we’ll have our first traditional brunch, with eggs, in weeks.

I’m looking forward to adding other foods back into my diet but will use grains, sugars, and alcohol sparingly. And my everyday coffee habit could be a thing of the past. We'll see! Of course, it's best to just get rest when I need it, especially at night. I’m going to bed around 10 or 10:30 p.m. now and getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. Just in time to take a walk and welcome another beautiful day. After all, I’ve always been more productive in the morning. Why not make my mornings as long as possible?

Once I hit 119 pounds, I’ll schedule that massage and officially welcome the “new me”!

Robin Bonner is editor of Empty Nest. For more about Robin, see About Us.

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