If you were a woman living in the UK towards the end of the last century, you almost certainly spent some time talking about Carol Vorderman. Carol might be described as ‘game show gal turned best-selling author’. She might be seen by some as the UK’s version of America’s letter-turning Vanna White. But Carol’s story is more intriguing. Carol Vorderman studied engineering and graduated from Cambridge with honors. Her talent for adding columns of numbers is what helped her gain decades of employment turning digits on the BBC’s game show Countdown. Thinking back, it’s astonishing (and shameful) that we should be amazed that a woman might be beautiful AND have great computational skills. But there you go.
I don’t think I watched Countdown more than a few times. Instead, I remember Carol for a book she published: Carol Vorderman’s 28-Day Detox Diet. The book, an instruction manual on how to look as svelte and vivacious as Carol by eliminating wheat, soy, meat, alcohol and caffeine, was a huge best seller. This diet would change our lives! We had all the proof we needed. Over the course of a summer Carol transformed before our eyes from beautiful to – well – more beautiful. Finally! A diet that worked! And one that promised to cleanse and detox our dirty, dirty bodies.
Who hasn’t been tempted by a detox diet? My first was during the summer of 1979 when I lived in Tucson. My friend Sissy and I tried the 10-Day Lemon Fast – a concoction of lemon juice, pure maple syrup and cayenne pepper mixed with water and sipped whenever hungry. I managed to survive ninety-six hours before I was chugging maple syrup from the bottle. I don’t know if Sissy fared much better.
Fifteen years later, in my little corner of Donegal, I along with the majority of women I knew carried Carol’s book with us like a Bible and dreamed of her cheekbones.
At the time it didn’t occur to me the message I was sending to my psyche. There are deep, negative connotations in the words ‘cleanse’ and ‘detox’. The truth is my body is not in need of an internal scrubbing. And no matter how many times Brittany Spears tries to convince me through song, I am not toxic.
And yet, in a few days time my NCLP and I are going to embark on a 21-day ‘quantum cleanse’ – a plant-based/vegan diet that also eliminates caffeine, alcohol and sugar. Given my cynicism and the revulsion I feel whenever I see the words ‘cleanse’ or ‘detox’ you might ask “Why?”
Because, for me, they work. Carol Vorderman’s food plan is not too far from Kathy Freston’s (Oprah acolyte and designer of the quantum cleanse). Stepping back, simplifying my diet for a set period of time, setting aside moments for journaling and contemplation (as Freston’s plan encourages) is a positive act of self-love. It encourages a mindful approach to eating. It asks me to consider what it is I want and why I want it. It challenges the relationship I’ve built with food over the past few years – the relationship that sees food as comfort and reward rather than my source of nutrition and energy.
And, believe it or not, I’m looking forward to it. Not because I’m expecting a miracle (or Carol’s cheekbones) but because it seems to me that I’ll be entering a few weeks of mindfulness training. There is a meditative quality to the process that I embrace.
So here I go. Just don’t tell me I’m on a cleanse.