It was an innocent enough start. A link showed up on a friend’s gchat status: Take Buzzfeed’s Clean Eating Challenge, Feel Like A Champion At Life. Be honest you’d click on it like I did. Buzzfeed links and TWH are nothing if not seductively tempting to click on, even if you’re clicking to hate on them, as I did. What does Buzzfeed know about health? This isn’t Well & Good. Isn’t clean eating the most ridiculous and unscientific concept? Aren’t cleanses totally unnecessary for people who have functioning kidneys and livers? Isn’t it far better to eat your greens than to juice them?
All of these thoughts flittered through my mind as I started scanning the article. Well, scanning, then skimming, then a close, careful reading and a newfound resolve. The pictures were so bright and colorful! The meal plans were laid out in an easy to follow, logical, step by step format. There was even a grocery shopping list, helpfully broken down into week 1 and week 2 sublists. Sure, there was a lot of kale involved even some green smoothies and the stipulations to avoid gluten, almost all grains, processed food, coffee and alcohol seemed a tad unsustainable, but overall it seemed like a healthy jumpstart into good cooking and eating habits. Given that I had been averaging cold cereal at least once (and sometimes twice!) a day, change was needed.
So I woke up bright and early Saturday morning, printed out the shopping list, purchased everything on it, followed the pre-challenge instructions and prepared myself for a fantastic new me, starting Sunday morning. Sounds perfect, right? Here’s how it really went down.
Day 1: Wake up bright and early, all ready to make my first clean meal for the next two weeks: a kale, banana and almond milk smoothie. 15 minutes, a suspiciously hot smelling blender and hundreds of tiny frozen kale particles all over my kitchen later, I sit down to my bowl of cold kale soup and start munching. Time to add a blender to my Amazon wishlist and get on with the day. By 2pm, I’ve given up on the idea of giving up coffee it’s good for you, right? and by 4pm, I’m sipping a glass of rosé. I go to a friend’s house to watch Game of Thrones. They cook and eat bacon mac & cheese in front of me. I resist. For now.
Day 2: Overnight blueberry oatmeal is delicious and adorable in a mason jar. So is the crunch in the shaved fennel, kale, quinoa, chickpea and shaved parmesan salad (so much shaving in this plan!). But I’m hungry within two hours. Coworkers are impressed with my resolve. Friends, a little less so, as they start sharing ice cream recipes with me. “Friends” indeed.
Day 3: Kale. Kale kale kale kale kale. Kale; kale.
Day 4: Google pictures of cows; feel empathy.
Day 5: Google various permutations of “does gluten-free make you hungry/angry/hangry/emo/tired.” As I suspected, the answer is yes. So hungry. So angry. So tired. Why am I doing this again?
Day 6: My entire office is now thoroughly informed of my healthy eating plan. I feel guilty calling it “clean eating,” so I variously describe it as “gluten-free,” “paleo,” or “some Buzzfeed healthy eating thing.” Several people seem curious the ones who are already bringing in the telltale piles of plastic containers filled with vegetables. Others are more matter of fact: “it seems like a lot of effort.” Indeed it is.
Day 7: Something I am enjoying about this is trying different recipes. Most of them are beyond simple, but it is still exciting to put together something delicious and healthy that isn’t sourced from the Whole Foods salad bar. I eat a pile of asparagus for breakfast, an enormous bowl of kale salad for lunch and then make meatballs for the first time ever. Turkey, natch, with oats for breadcrumbs and a homemade tomato sauce over collard greens instead of pasta. I start to wonder if I’ll ever eat pasta again. I decide I just might not. The world is my gluten-free oyster.
Day 8: There is a reason why they told us not to drink alcohol on this cleanse. After an eventful Saturday night, spend Sunday in bed and drag myself out to eat half a hamburger patty, five falafels and a coconut water. Not on the plan but at least gluten-free. My Game of Thrones fan friends offer me homemade salted caramel ice cream. In my weakened state, I cave in. It’s delicious.
Day 9: Back on the wagon. Eating raw collard greens as I sit on a Soho park bench during lunch, I finally have a reason to feel superior to the supermodels and green juice drinking fashion people walking by.
Day 10: The anger has subsided, along with the worst of the hunger. I’m not really feeling full after meals, but feeling satisfied it’s kind of nice. Until I’m starving at 3pm and running to the fridge. “Snacktime, eh” the coworkers note, as I make yet another trip to the kitchen to wash the endless plastic containers that have multiplied and tower at my desk. The Buzzfeed piece never said anything about the amount of dishes I’d be washing, but it’s monumental.
Day 11: I’m averaging 45 minutes of chopping, prep time, dishwashing, cooking and cleaning every morning. I thought giving up bread was unsustainable? There’s a reason why people do take out: it’s easy. I stop into Whole Foods to pick up an avocado and am suddenly faced with XTREME temptation. Maybe once a week stops at grocery stores are the way to go.
Day 12: The end is in sight, as is a dinner at a decidedly non-Buzzfeed-challengey kind of restaurant. I feel nervous all day knowing that I’ll be faced with temptation. Will I be that person who natters along endlessly about their healthy eating plan? (Yes.) Will I cave and eat exactly one small piece of smoked (!) bread with chicken butter (!)? (Yes). Will I eat a minimal amount, primarily vegetables and lean-ish protein (octopus is lean, right?) to keep to the spirit of the law if not the letter of it? (Yes.) And when offered a German chocolate cupcake, will I eat it? Sometimes, life is just too short to say no.
Day 13: This is really the last full day, as I’m headed out to stay with my sister over the Memorial Day weekend, and can’t really be that person who shows up with unnecessary food rules. Because of this, I’ve started improvising my meals and not exactly following the recipes. I’m keeping to the principles, however, and it’s good to note the suggestions (put all the weird things in the salad!) and see them work out in my own recipes.
Day 14: Cooking three meals a day for myself for the last 14 days feels like an accomplishment near the level of climbing Everest. Or at least Kilimanjaro. Has it been worth it? I do really feel better a little more alert, a little more energetic. Is my skin a little brighter? Maybe that’s just the light. Have I lost a little weight? Definitely a tad. It’s hard to say if it’s the gluten-free living or the enormous quantity of vegetables I’ve consumed over the last two weeks. Cooking so much certainly felt restrictive only one restaurant meal in two weeks in NY is a rarity but I can see how making my own lunches and some of my own dinners is worth it. Just as delicious as some of the crap I normally eat but far, far better for me. Is life without bread a life worth living? Maybe so. But life without ice cream is not.
Verdict: I’m glad I did Buzzfeed’s challenge. Feeling like a champion at life should not be determined by what you eat, but being more thoughtful, planning meals, shopping ahead of time, not giving in to spur of the moment cravings and eating tons and tons of leafy green vegetables have made my life a little better over the last couple of weeks. And the overnight oatmeal is the best thing ever. If you’re game, give it a try! Just don’t go blaming me when you get hangry.