New Year, New Who?

January 13, 2016 · 29 comments


The new year started with a detox, which didn’t go well.

Day one was like being shot out of a cannon: a high-fat green smoothie for breakfast that tasted, as my friend Lisa says, like lawn clippings.

I was hoping that our new Vitamix would do something spectacular to it, like turn it into poached eggs on toast.

We can make it better, I said to Susan, who managed to drink the whole thing; I choked down two gulps and poured the rest down the drain, praying that the chia seeds didn’t hold a convention and plug it up.

Day two began with trepidation: a high-fat fruit smoothie that was more palatable. Even throwing a whole quarter lemon — pith, peel, and all — into the Vitamix didn’t turn me off. The result was pleasant enough — fruity, a little bitter — even though the chia made the consistency more like drinking almost-set jello than a smoothie.

Day three started with the same thing, except that it actually began on the night of Day two, when Susan dutifully soaked the chia seeds and the nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts) to make them more digestible. Which they were, mostly. Susan gets up every morning at five a.m. for a very long daily commute into New York, and the first few days I got up with her as a show of solidarity while she stood in the kitchen, bleary-eyed, and turned on the Vitamix long before the break of day. She put it on the smoothie setting, dumped in the ingredients, flipped the switch, and woke the neighborhood.


Lunches and dinners were easier; there was always a lean protein (4-6 ounces; I weighed everything), salads, greens, non-starchy vegetables, no grains, no dairy, no gluten, no wine, no fruit, except for the tomato that was part of one of the dinner recipes. It’s January in New England: Go find a fresh, non-mealy tomato that doesn’t taste like you’re chewing on cotton balls. There’s a reason why we eat food that’s fresh and seasonal; this is just a very small part of it.

We made it into day four; Susan’s mild sugar cravings had in fact slowed. Mine were non-existent to begin with because I have no sweet tooth. Never have. At the end of the four days, I had gained a pound; Susan lost four ounces.

We were depressed; we’d had enough.

This particular detox is part of a diet that I hold — and I’m quite serious about this — in very high esteem; the folks who have developed it did so as a way to help people unravel severe sugar addiction and blood sugar issues which come as a natural by-product of the SAD (Standard American Diet). It’s brutal — it has to be; even though we don’t eat the SAD in my house by a long shot, I experienced a massive migraine by day two and some flu-like symptoms that go hand-in-hand with detox — and for the people who desperately need it, I believe it works and results, ultimately, in saner, less deadly eating habits and lower blood sugar, industrial food complex be damned.

But in our house, like many detoxing households, we don’t have deadly eating habits; we have good eating habits. To be clear, it was not a total flop for us: we came away from it — even just four days of it — with a better sense of portion control and the ability to acknowledge when we’re actually hungry versus bored, which helps us make better choices about what, and when, to eat. And that’s key.

So the reasons behind our doing the detox were murky. Sure: we wanted to feel clean, and a bit lighter after the onslaught of rich holiday foods. But again, we don’t have the standard American diet; the quality of the food we eat is very high because we are lucky enough to be able to afford it; our portions are never outlandish, even at the higher end of normal; we don’t need to detox from sugar or dairy — I’m not much for either and even when I eat cheese, it’s generally only goat or sheep, and almost always raw. I eat gluten free because bad things happen if I don’t, and they have since I was three years old — this is not something I need to prove to some self-anointed, self-appointed naysayer (and if you are GF, neither do you) — and I almost always feel better when I eat more fish, less meat, and I move my body: walking, light running, yoga. Being outside.

So, why the detox? Why the diet?

Because, like many women of a certain age — I’m 52, and a former serious athlete (tennis, squash, swimming, skiing) — I look in the mirror, and it appears that my bubbe from the old country is staring back at me, even though she’s been dead for years. I’m carrying fifteen extra pounds that, no matter what I do — detox, no detox; five-day-a-week workouts; small portions; less wine; on and on and on — I can’t drop.

How’s the gym going, my mother asks every day when I call to check in on her. This is her backhanded way of asking: lose any weight lately? My mother is five foot five (she’s dropped two inches in recent years), rail-thin, slender, an ectomorph. She wasn’t always; as a child, she was round and chubby, and carried her weight in her cheeks and her belly, the way I do. She became a singer and a model; she starved herself into size two thinness, which is where she remains, even now.

Dieting works, she says to me, apropos of nothing. Just look at me. 

So I look at her. And I look at the magazines and blogs and books that dangle the promise of a different, more fabulous me over my parched, non-pouty, middle-aged lips like I was Tantalus himself.

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, in the twisted part of my cerebral cortex that understands that skinny is better and beautiful is best and young is the prize that every woman wants, I have received and absorbed like a sponge the message that I am not thin enough; I am not pretty enough; I am not young enough. If I drop fifteen pounds, I’ll be thirty-five again. Almost certainly, my blood pressure will come down; I’ll get off my beta blocker and my statin, and that’s great. But that’s not why most women of a certain age, once a year, hit the reset button, and try again.

And it’s not why I do it.

This is the root of it; the gnarly spider’s web that catches us in its sticky threads and won’t let us go.

January 1st: we detox. We diet. We wipe the slate clean. We inhabit the promise of being someone else: the me without the fifteen extra pounds, the double chin, the aching joints, the graying hair, the dimming complexion.

We inhabit the promise of happiness, of acceptability.

We become the woman we used to be.

Would that we could simply take care of our bodies and souls as the years pass — eat well, be physically active, love, be loved, take time to breathe and slow down — and be who we are.


{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peggy January 13, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Right there with you – if I lost forty pounds I’d be forty again, right? – alas.
This time around the calendar I am trying to yes, simply take good care of myself, make some changes because they will feel good, not because poof I will suddenly be a better person.

2 Sharon eisen January 13, 2016 at 1:49 pm


3 L E January 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm

I struggle with this at the beginning of every year. I read the messages and posts of friends and family who are enthusiastically detoxing and starting new diets. I spend my January avoiding the mirror and hoping for warm enough days to get back to walking. I keep feeling like I should get to a certain age when being healthy will be good enough. I throughly enjoyed your post.

4 mimijk January 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm

Oh Lissie, would that you could see yourself through my mirror, Susan’s mirror – ANY mirror other than the one that your mom placed in front of you (and my mom placed in front of me). Society further skews things further. I’m with you my friend – though in my eyes, you look pretty damn fantastic. Vitamix or no.

5 Deborah Madison January 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm

I too have to say, Amen.

Is the detox over now?

6 Elissa January 13, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Yes ma’am. We’re just back to eating good food: tonight, your red lentil soup with lime. x

7 Elissa January 13, 2016 at 2:02 pm

I’m learning to bundle up and just get out there. Be well, be happy. x

8 kathleen January 13, 2016 at 2:04 pm

And take care of each other!

9 Elissa January 13, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Yes! x

10 Kathleen January 13, 2016 at 2:18 pm

I’m nearing 40 and already needing to challenge myself regularly to embrace aging. Generally, I am happier as I age. Probably because I am more true to myself. I take less bullshit and let loose with greater ease. I just wish wrinkles, rolls and a problematic back never bothered me. (Your chia convention comment was hilarious. I pictured them turning into chia pets.)

11 Elissa January 13, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Every time we made a smoothie, I sang Ch-Ch-Ch- CHIA…… Sigh.

12 Jude January 13, 2016 at 2:25 pm

I liked your post. I don’t think I could down a green bitter smoothie first thing in the morning either. I like coffee, so I drink coffee first thing in the morning. I do get up at 4:45am and go to a gym and work with a few weights and then walk 2.25 miles on a treadmill. Really fast. I work in 12 story building and three times a day I go to the bottom floor and climb the stairs up to the 12th. I eat lots plant based foods. I’m 5’10 and have joint issues. I have to try to keep the weigh off to keep moving and feeling well. I’m 62 and plan on working until I’m 70. It’s not going to make me younger or prettier. Just healthier so I can continue to support myself.

13 Joy January 13, 2016 at 4:43 pm

I also grew up with a mother whose life’s work was being thin and beautiful. And I was constantly urged to solve whatever issues or sadness I had with losing weight. That stuff is, or seems to be, almost impossible to let go of. And though I slipped up and went a little paleo last year, for this year, I’ve resolved to guard against the strong temptation to diet, detox, cleanse, fast, delete food groups from my diet or anything like that. I’m also struggling mightily to accept my body exactly as it it, to stop criticizing it and blaming it. To turn off the permaloop in my brain repeating “you need to lose weight” that plays just under the level of my conscious attention. Losing weight is terrible for me, and for most people. It only adds up to weighing more later. Detoxing is just another name for dieting. I’m glad you guys quit! Thanks for this post. I often feel like I’m the only smart adult woman who struggles with these feelings until something like this reminds me how pervasive it is and how few of us are immune.

14 Amy @ Thoroughly Nourished Life January 13, 2016 at 5:12 pm

I’m probably too young to start reminiscing about being younger (I’m still just sub-30) but the topic of detoxing, and the idea that we can ‘cleanse ourselves’, is something I think about a lot. I come from a health professional background, but also the background of a family that loves to eat, and my own twisted disordered eating in my early 20s. I’ve found peace with my body. It’s squishy parts that won’t harden even though I run 25 miles a week, and lift weights. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the women in my Scandinavian family, well, we get a little lumpy in our old age. And that’s okay. My Mama has been a great example of embracing the aging, and keeping active and remembering that you are beautiful and worthy and whole even if you don’t look like Christy Brinkley or Elle McPherson. Your body is for holding your children, or your friends, your pets, your beloved. Your body is for taking you on adventures, and seeing new horizons. And, no amount of detoxing can make up for a bad personality either – and it seems to me that your personality rocks Elissa. You are one of my inspirations for sure 🙂

15 Elissa January 13, 2016 at 5:17 pm

What a magnificent response Amy. Thank you. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

16 Myrna Greenfield January 13, 2016 at 5:43 pm

I really enjoyed your post. I try to follow a healthy lifestyle and encourage others to do so, but seems like everyone is always striving towards unrealistic extremes. Thanks for your honesty and common sense!

17 Wendy January 13, 2016 at 7:27 pm

I am also 52 and tend to hold weight on me. My mother was obese, and my sister, my most wonderful, loving, brilliant, sassy, and, yes, obese, sister died of a sudden and seemingly out of the blue heart attack at 53. If that isn’t incentive to try to keep the weight off I don’t know what is.

I will never wear a two, I will never be thin and I will probably never look any younger than I do right now. I just want to be alive and healthy for a few more decades.

I am fit, I walk daily and do yoga and meditate, occasionally hike and play tennis. I eat wonderful vegetable forward, somewhat healthy food most of the time and once in a while eat the less healthy dishes I might be craving in smaller portions. I do not detox and I don’t eliminate anything I love because I know I can’t sustain that. This is my life. I can not let myself diet because I know I will regain. I taught myself to think longer term and go very, very slowly toward better eating so that I might be able to fight my genes and keep at a better weight for me.

18 Elissa January 13, 2016 at 7:51 pm

You are a wise lady, Wendy!

19 Nancy January 13, 2016 at 11:18 pm

My sister is forcing me to do a gluten-free, sugar-free thing this month. I can’t really say that I feel any more fantastic than I did before, but when I dared to have chicken udon noodle soup the other night, I did get a slight headache.
I do like Detoxinista’s cookbook, and Blue Apron is helping me enjoy cooking again (for a long time, I found it stressful and anxiety-inducing trying to come up with a meal every night that was nicely balanced.)

20 Suzanna January 14, 2016 at 10:21 am

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog.
You never disappoint. Always injecting humor and relatable.

Hope you and Susan are enjoying your post-detox days!!

Love from Arkansas.

21 Elissa January 14, 2016 at 10:53 am

Thanks so much Suzanna. Love to you and your beautiful family. X

22 Jeana January 14, 2016 at 11:45 am

Thanks for sharing your story. I enjoy all of them. I’m 51 a former size 4! I have learned to embrace my size 10. Beauty does not have a #. I just couldn’t imagine denying myself something because of the fear of not fitting into my jeans. I’m healthy and happy and truly blessed. That’s really all that matters.

23 Barbara Marrett January 14, 2016 at 3:22 pm

Hi E! Loved your blog. Bill & I are doing the Whole 30 diet, for the first time. I am sick of meat and vegetables and literally am having dreams where I sip a glass of wine only to feel like I’ve tasted the forbidden fruit and will it ruin my diet?

On the Whole 30 you don’t weigh yourself for the whole month because it’s supposed to be about eating healthily, not losing weight. Of course, I want to lose at least six pounds, which is exactly how much Bill lost after the first week (he cheated and weighed himself)! I don’t normally eat much sugar unless it’s strained through a grape. I dearly miss my wine, though, especially after a Port Commission meeting. Bill, on the other hand, will consume a whole package of cookies, a whole pint of ice cream or big bag of M&Ms in one sitting! So for him it’s a major deal and is working well. I’ll report in after the month is up.

24 Barbara Marrett January 14, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Hi E!
Loved your blog. Bill & I are doing the Whole 30 diet, for the first time. I am sick of meat and vegetables and literally am having dreams where I sip a glass of wine only to feel like I’ve tasted the forbidden fruit and worry will it ruin my diet?

On the Whole 30 you don’t weigh yourself for the whole month because it’s supposed to be about eating healthily, not losing weight. Of course, I want to lose at least six pounds, which is exactly how much Bill lost after the first week (he cheated and weighed himself)! I don’t normally eat much sugar unless it’s strained through a grape. I dearly miss my wine, though, especially after a Port Commission meeting. Bill, on the other hand, will consume a whole package of cookies, a whole pint of ice cream or big bag of M&Ms in one sitting! So for him it’s a major deal and is working well. I don’t feel too much difference, other than more even energy-wise.

We need to be grateful for what we have, that’s the real resolution for New Year’s, because most of our resolutions will go by the wayside. I’m grateful for you and Susan!

25 jeanne January 24, 2016 at 1:06 pm

i did mark hyman’s 10 day detox, and used his berry-based smoothies and they were great! strawberry-almond in particular was really yummy. i also thought his dinners were really delicious too. I can do anything for 10 days! at the end I felt much better and had dropped 5 lbs. maybe you could try again, only make sure you buy the cookbook — honestly, it’s really good healthy food, nothing weird at all! good luck!

26 Elissa January 24, 2016 at 2:01 pm

Jeanne, thanks for your comment! In truth I’m probably going to keep it as a regular sort of cleanse but will get the cookbook! Thanks!

27 Donata January 26, 2016 at 1:39 pm

Loved this post! I fight the same exhausting fight every day and here’s what I say to my 54-year-old self and my not so flat stomach and bountiful thighs: I do not want to be on my death bed looking back through the years and not relish the good food and the good fun that came from eating and sharing that good food. Cacio e Pepe anyone?

28 Sam January 31, 2016 at 9:22 pm


29 Jean February 14, 2016 at 8:00 pm

I tried the same program before I turned 50. I took pole dancing classes and reduced my calorie intake. What seemed to turn the trick is for a period of time I doubled my running distance. 6 miles instead of 3. It was hard to do but it broke the metabolic rut that my premenopausal body was stuck in. I also did much more stretching to be flexible enough for the pole dancing. It worked, but then I had to do it again at 57. By that time I changed to walking, which meant walking for 1 hour or 1.5 hours every other day. The weight seems to always want to come back for a visit, so now with 4 months to go before my 60th these last 5 pounds are going to have to be shaken off once again! Best to you!

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