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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