My detox diary: Joe O'Shea is hitting the wall on the extreme 30 day detox
Joe O'Shea and wife Holly enter the second week of their extreme detox and diet. And while the spirit is willing....
Published 12/08/2015 | 02:30
Just over a week into our month-long extreme detox and the question that keeps coming up, in between the hunger pangs and the dizzy spells, is simple: "In the name of God, why?"
Why put yourself through something as difficult and soul-crushing as the Whole30 programme (or one of the many variants)?
It's a self-inflicted, month-long purgatory, a denial of everything that is good and right in the world (spuds, pasta, cheese, sugar, bread, beer and wine, to name but a few) in pursuit of what seems like a selfish goal.
Just five days in, it felt like we had hit what marathon-runners call 'The Wall'. The sudden and total elimination of everything bar meat and veg (and I mean everything) had left us feeling dizzy, extremely fatigued, plagued by headaches and very, very dopey.
A panicked google of "what to expect on the Whole30 programme" revealed dire warnings about another common side-effect, what one survivor baldly described as "prolonged and chronic flatulence".
Not exactly the picture of health and attractiveness, is it? Hollow-eyed and staggering, barely able to form a coherent sentence, rapidly emitting the kind of noxious fumes that would have shut down a Victorian gas-works.
Thankfully, I appear to have side-stepped the most, ahem, explosive side-effect. Which is a relief, as I'm due to go through an airport shortly and would hate to be responsible for the untimely deaths of three sniffer dogs.
So today marks nine days out of 30 on the American-devised programme, the latest in a long line of wildly popular detox and diet plans that includes Atkins, Paleo and Caveman.
The premise for myself and my wife Holly is simple. Nothing - and they mean nothing - but protein (in the form of fish, meat and eggs), vegetables, fruit and nuts. The luxuries? Black coffee and fizzy water. Yes, folks, the party has hardly stopped round ours this August.
Surprisingly, the total prohibition on alcohol has been the least difficult rule to follow, partly because when you are lying prostrate on the couch, moaning with hunger, a trip to the pub is far down your wish-list. Giving up bread and basically all forms of carbs has been far harder.
And simple things, such as watching the Great British Bake-Off (previously a shared pleasure), has become an exercise in torture: "Oh my God, look at that black forest gateaux! Turn it OFF!"
So, why do it? Well, the obvious answer is vanity, this modern need to conform to the ultra-thin and toned body image pushed at us from all directions.
But I think, for most people at least, looking good is not really the object of radically changing their diet and exercise regime. A number of recent studies have shown that in times of recession and economic uncertainty, the number of people who start to care more about exercise and diet significantly increases.
In the US, a study by researchers at Bentley University found that people are more likely to take up walking, running or swimming during a recession (but gym membership rates can suffer as people cut back on spending).
My own theory is that, in uncertain times such as we are living through now, changing your diet and getting fit is a way of taking control of at least one part of your life.
You may not be able to control the economy, your future career prospects or the way the country works. But you can control what you eat, how you look, how you feel.
Going for a brisk walk or a run in the park is a cheap, rewarding and fun way to get back some small sense of achievement and control. Foregoing a scooter-delivered pizza and making a healthy meal for yourself is another simple but effective way to both save money and feel better in yourself.
And as anybody who exercises regularly will tell you, it just feels good (at least after you have showered).
The brain rewards you with washes of fuzzy endorphins that can carry you through the rest of the day.
I have seen it with my friends and family. These past five years or more have been tough on a lot of us in so many ways. But lots of us have taken back some small measure of control by positively changing our lifestyles, changing our diets and getting some exercise.
Of course, going the whole hog and living like a monk with a lethal potato-allergy for 30 days is not for everybody. And the first eight days have been pretty hellish (in relative terms at least - we're not wandering the desert without food or water).
But apart from losing a couple of nights' sleep to cluster headaches, walking into the odd door (seriously, that really happened) or briefly forgetting my own mother's name in the middle of a phone call (that also happened), it hasn't been as bad as we might have expected.
Having said that, there's still two weeks to go and we are hoping for phase 2 - the boundless energy and clear-headed wonder - to kick in shortly.
This could all be worth it. Especially if (and I say this more for others than for myself) I can continue to avoid the "prolonged and chronic flatulence".