Five lessons from my stupid smoothie fast

Last week I decided to do that smoothie fast where you eat nothing but green smoothies for over a week — and I mean nothing. No caffeine, no alcohol, no snacks. And the only ingredients in the smoothies are leafy greens, fruit, and water.

Just you and your blender full of spinach and mangos. For days and days and days.

(Joe said he would join me if he could add bacon to the blender. He was completely serious.)

I did a bunch of research, thought about it, prayed about it, and decided that this is what I needed to do to get my health back on track.

On Sunday, I began, and my suffering was great. Like the woman of grace that I am, I handled it by complaining on Instagram

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Complaining live on Periscope…

And, of course, complaining about it on Twitter

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The fast is supposed to be for ten days, but I cut it to seven. For the first four days, I thought I was going to die. I felt better during the last three days, but I was still weak and foggy headed. (Smoothie people on the internet kept saying “you feel bad because your body is detoxing!”, to which I wanted to reply, “umm, no, I think I feel bad because I’m eating nothing but kale mush.”)

I went to favorite restaurants, watched Joe grill steaks, fed the kids their meals, all the while sipping my green sludge. As miserable as it was, the endeavor accomplished what I had hoped it would accomplish, and I’m certain I was meant to do it. I walked away with a renewed perspective on what I eat, what I drink, and why.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Fasting changes your habits

It doesn’t have to be a green smoothie fast — any set time period where you restrict what you consume to a small range of options will force you to take a new look at your habits.

In fact, one of the things that kicked this off was the great book The Power of Habit. It got me thinking about the deep grooves that I tended to slide into as I drift through my days. I no longer thought about chugging coffee all morning, popping greasy chips in my mouth every time I walked through the kitchen, or drinking wine while I watched a TV show on Friday night. I didn’t make conscious decisions that these were things that I really wanted to do; I just did them.

Taking all of those old habits off the table for a week gave me the space I needed to think about why I keep gravitating to these things, and what I can do to satisfy those urges in a different way.

2. You need a payoff to forge new habits

I lost 10 pounds in the week that I did the fast. Weight loss was not my primary motivation, but let’s just get it out there that I probably would not have stuck with it if dropping a few pounds hadn’t been part of the equation.

Another insight I took away from The Power of Habit is that habits work on a craving-reward basis: you have a craving, you undertake your usual habit, and you get a reward. In order to respond to cravings with different habits, there needs to be a new, equally satisfying reward.

For me, the goal of this fast was detachment from food addictions and spiritual enlightenment and a bunch of other stuff that did not help me one bit when I smelled steaks on the grill as I slopped my moss-colored smoothie into a cup. I am not spiritually mature enough to stick to a fast like that only for the purest reasons, and the idea of fitting into that favorite pair of jeans at the end of it was the extra boost I needed to help me stay on course.

3. Be careful whose counsel you seek when following a crazy call

Before I did this, I talked to Joe and a good friend about it. I explained my reasons and what I hoped to accomplish, and they agreed that it was worth a shot (after telling me I was completely insane, and asking again if bacon could perhaps be part of the process).

Meanwhile, I received some discouragement from folks on social media and acquaintances who weren’t familiar with my discernment process. Now that I’ve seen the great fruits of the fast, I’m reminded again of the lesson a spiritual director once taught me:

When God calls you to do something crazy, you should seek others’ counsel to verify the call…but be selective in whose advice you take.

(Translation: your cousin’s neighbor on Facebook doesn’t know anything about the backstory, so when she tells you not to do this, take it with a grain of salt.)

4. It makes life simple

I was amazed by how much it simplified my days to have only smoothies to eat — not just in terms of physical meal prep, but also in terms of mental effort.

Any kind of fast would have a similar effect: because your food choices are pre-determined, there’s no flurry of energy expended on deciding what to eat. There are fewer plates and dishes to set out, and less to clean up.

I was surprised by how much more mental energy I had when I wasn’t bogged down in food prep and cleanup.

5. It reveals the “graves of craving”

On Day 2 of the fast, I was delighted to see this as the first line of the first reading for the day’s Mass:

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I prayerfully thought, O Israelites, I AM SO WITH YOU!!!

I went to Numbers 11 to read the rest of the chapter, which told of the Israelites railing against God in the desert, complaining that the manna he sent wasn’t enough for them. They said they wished they were back in slavery, where at least their tastebuds were satisfied.

Finally, they got their wish. A great wind blew in quail from the sea, and the people had as much meat to eat as they wanted. (This is the Old Testament, so you know where this is going…) Then they all died from eating the meat.

The survivors buried the dead and moved on, and they called the place Kibroth Hattaavah. I looked at the footnote to see what Kibroth Hattaavah means in Hebrew. It is translated as:

The Graves of Craving

That was God’s message for me for this fast: blindly following bodily cravings always leads to some sort of grave. It might not be a grave in the sense of your own death, but it might be the death of your health, your spiritual life, your relationships, or simply your dreams.

Letting your cravings rule your life always leads to a grave.

. . .

I’ve never done a fast that restrictive before, and I probably won’t do it again for a long time, but I’m so glad I followed the prompting I felt to go through the process.

And now I’m off to eat a steak.

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for this. I really like your link to the story in Numbers and about being slaves to craving…or habit. The quote from the spiritual director was helpful too, sometimes there can be so many voices giving conflicting advice that I can end up frozen in procrastination on occasion. What’s right for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for me.

    I’m not sure I could drink green slop for a week, I’m very impressed! A day’s fast would be enough for me!

  2. says

    p.s. I’m not sure why the scary Mexican Batman Vampire picture comes up when I comment…LOL…did I log-in to something and pick it as my profile picture??

  3. SaRaH says

    I am working through the book Made to Crave by Lysa Terkeurst, it’s about turning our cravings toward God instead of food. You might like it, if you haven’t already read it. It’s been soo helpful to me!!

  4. Gerry says

    Neat story. Thanks for sharing. Beware the kale…. It’s loaded with oxalates. If your body does not process them efficiently enough, the massive influx of the stuff can land you in the ER with kidney stones. You probably won’t know if you have a problem with oxalates until you’re on your way to the ER. But the weight loss IS wonderful.

  5. Davida says

    I love kale, but I don’t eat it raw, or daily. It can mess with thyroid function if eaten too often, especially raw. Loved the reflections, though, especially about simplicity.

  6. Frank says

    Thanks for sharing this Jennifer, but If I may, I think you needlessly suffered. Your body needs food. When we deprive our bodies of food, our bodies then begin to think that we are starving, (which you were) and start to produce fat. The thing to do is to eat about every 2 hours, but to eat healthy. This will generate a faster metabolism, which will in turn burn away fat. Snacking on things like apple slices, carrots, and nutrition bars, (which come in chocolate by the way) is the way to go. Also, drinking plenty of water is a must! Dehydration sometimes feels like hunger, when really all your body needs is a drink (of water). Anyway, those are some tips. God bless you and your family.

  7. Sherri says

    Thanks so much for this reflection! I’ve been struggling with not feeling healthy lately. I did a “reset” a few months ago, lost 9 lbs and gained it right back. I felt great during the process, but the cravings got the best of me. I then reverted back to the emotional eating. I just can’t figure out how to get out of this vicious stress/eating cycle. Bleach! Short of selling my four younger children to gypsies, and completely isolating myself, I’ve got to find a way to get a handle on this. It’s hard!

  8. WSquared says

    I actually do drink green smoothies: Kale and frozen pineapple, spinach and frozen mango. The frozen mango works best, because the texture is smoother– and so you get a smoother smoothie.

    That said, I have had breakfast that consists of bacon and eggs with that smoothie.

  9. Mark. says

    Intermittent fasting is getting popular. I nowadays eat only breakfast and dinner, which makes occasional dinner-only days a breeze. (It also helps that I’m on a low-carbohydrate diet that keeps me satiated.) Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, dinner only, fish or cheese, are now too easy: I could barely get through them a few years ago.

    Anyway I have a low opinion of green smoothies — too enamored of low-carb and Paleo — but considerable admiration for your fortitude. (There’s a couple called Jaminet with something called the Perfect a Health Diet that you might try. Okay, too much unsolicited advice.)

  10. says

    I love smoothies! I could eat them every day for every meal! The triple chocolate brownie kind with whipped cream and sprinkles of course 🙂

  11. Barbara C. says

    This is totally unrelated to this blog post, but the other day I passed a store that made me think of you, Jen. It’s called Long Tall Sally: “At Long Tall Sally our mission is to be the first choice for tall women clothes worldwide. All of our tall clothing is designed in house, carefully proportioned to flatter tall women 5’8″ (173cm) and above, in sizes 4-20. Shoe sizes range from 9-15. Tall shopping is now so easy.”

    I recalled your shopping woes, especially with shoes. Here’s a link: http://us.longtallsally.com/

  12. says

    Love this reflection… I started bfast smoothies too to add veggies in the morning. It’s still a fruity smoothie using the formula 60/40 60% fruit 40% greens.

    I don’t think I could drink smoothies for a week… How can an actresses or VS Models do that before the oscars or a runway show??? And once a year or maybe more!

  13. says

    I am fascinated by the smoothie fast and I have longed to try it. I’ve never approached my husband about it though. He seems to think I turn into a bear when I’m without sustenance. I disagree, but I fear he would file for divorce within a couple of days and try to expedite and finalize the proceedings with haste. I guess it’s best that I don’t.

  14. Diana says

    Ha! I was planning to do the same smoothie challenge for a long time.
    Next week I’m going on vacation (actually only visiting my cousin) and it would be the perfect time for it. I’ll have time to clear my head and think about important things I was neglecting so far.
    I’m printing this out, together with the recipe list. 😀

  15. KarenC says

    This speaks to me more than you know right now. I am reading Rediscovering Catholicism and Matthew Kelly is always talking about changing our habits is so important. I also just read about fasting and how beneficial it is to our spiritual health. I, like you, am not holy enough to do something just for the spiritual aspect, but if there is some other great thing (like losing 10 pounds in a week!!) associated with it, it just moved up on my radar. Thank you for posting. And I love that you posted your struggles. It will make me feel better when I do this, knowing that you suffered, but that you endured and pulled through it!! Good for you!!! You are an inspiration. If you can do it, I can do it!