It’s that time of year, where holiday season is looming, so detox diets start appearing in magazines and on websites – everywhere you look – promising rapid weight loss so you can fit into that bikini you’ve been eyeing.
But be warned: I have done it before, and I can tell you what happens to your body and it’s not pleasant.
A couple of years ago I went on an extreme detox diet. For two weeks I ate no food, just drank foul-tasting Chinese herbs (imagine the taste of old cigarette butts floating in brackish creek water), then for the following three weeks I ate only small amounts of cucumber and poached chicken.
I lost 14 kilograms, which I put back on by the end of the summer.
I won’t be doing an extreme detox diet again but if you’re considering it, here are some of the weird effects you can expect to experience.
You will smell.
It was day four of no food when I noticed the smell. I was lying in bed with the windows open, and thought, “Maaaannn, someone must have left a bag of old chicken carcasses out in the sun. Chicken carcasses and off milk.” I closed the window in disgust before realising the smell was coming from me. I smelled like chicken carcasses and sour milk.
Over the following weeks, friends recoiled from me when I hugged them, and I noticed that when I cried, even my tears smelled bad.
You will be bored.
Not shopping for, preparing, eating and cleaning up after a meal means that days are no longer filled with food-related tasks. Without meals, there’s no marker or divider so time takes on a different dimension. There’s so much of it!
I avoided food-related socialising while dieting, so did not spend any time in restaurants or bars. I had nothing to do during the day, which was lucky because I slept a lot. I also had no plans at night.
I was bored. Really bored. Each day I weighed myself, had some acupuncture and a (very hard) massage. Then I’d go home to just … hang. I had no energy to do anything else. When I met people on a rare outing, I was hyperactive. I was so excited to meet a friend in the park one day that I arrived an hour early.
“Soon I will see her!” I said, looking at my phone, “In 43 minutes!”
Then, your skin goes blotchy, eyes bloodshot, hair lank, tongue coated, and of course you stink. Then one day you wake up and look in the mirror and there’s no other word for how you look: AMAZING.
My nails were strong, hair shiny, the whites of my eyes luminous. Who was this person? I was afraid, though, that if I kept on not eating, I’d look like an infant by August.
By day five, I felt like I was on heavy sedatives. I could barely do anything except sleep.
When awake, I spent hours staring out the window. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read more than a couple of lines of my book. TV programs, even the dumb ones, were too much effort.
I was no longer able to think very much, about anything at all.
Days four to seven are really hard.
The first couple of days are fine, almost a novelty. I felt too waterlogged from the gross herbs to be properly hungry and I didn’t leave the house much so was safe from temptation. There were headaches – probably from caffeine withdrawals – but they went away after three days.
But by day four, bad moods, boredom, hunger, lack of energy and brain fog were bumming me out. I was no longer able to think very much, about anything at all.
In the second week, things improved considerably, including memory and concentration.
You will only think of food, to the point of obsession
Food preoccupied me like never before. I spent a lot of time thinking about various meals of the past that I have enjoyed. Seeing a picture of pizza made me feel so much longing that I couldn’t sleep. It’s like being horny, times a thousand. I would stop outside restaurants to watch people eat. I licked food, secretly at home, then threw it in the bin. I missed chewing.
When I was out with a friend who was eating hot chips, I snatched one from her plate, licked it and felt it in my mouth, then threw it in the bin without swallowing it. She was disgusted. She also told me that my new gaunt face made me look like “a PR chick”.
On day 10 I woke up with chest pains. “Am I having a heart attack?” I panicked. The pain subsided and I visited my GP who was surprisingly mellow about the fast. He told me that fasting had been around forever and human beings are quite good at it due to long periods of time not catching things in the wilderness. He also said that fasting is good from an ethical perspective because you get to understand what it’s like to go without food.
Stuff comes out of your body.
This was a mystery. Why, if I was not eating anything was my body expelling so much STUFF? It was gross. What was it? Where did it come from? A Google search revealed weird pictures of things in toilet bowls that other fasters had taken. It was horrible, yet in that deprived state, strangely compelling.
You reassess food intake.
When I started eating again, I was full after one bean and a tiny piece of fish. It was delicious. I did not need any more food. I thought back to all the times when I needed a snack after two or three hours. I needed it! Well, perhaps I didn’t need it.