You begin as a decent guy. Remember that.
You're a decent guy staring down the barrel of a 30th birthday, and you've spent the last decade indulging in pedestrian vices that have taken their toll on your body. A recent examination of the Body Mass Index puts you just in the "overweight" category. You tell yourself that it's probably just muscle. You vaguely remember hearing something about Tom Cruise being "obese" by BMI standards. It cheers you up briefly.
But it's not muscle. It was never muscle.
You decide to start your 30s by kick-starting your health. You remember your mom mentioning a juice cleanse she recently completed. At the time, you dismissed it, but now you're calling her like a junkie. "Overweight" keeps flashing in your mind.
She hooks you up with a company that doesn't sell diets but "transformations." You sign up for the "10-Day Celebrity Transformation."
The package comes and you see the majority of the "food" you're going to eat for the next 10 days, distilled into two giant, plastic capsules and a bottle of pills. Your wife wonders, in earnest, if one can die from such a diet. "We'll see," you say.
Day 1: It's not even three hours in, and you want it to be over. "Lack" becomes your Sesame Street word of the day. The emptiness feels like a weight inside you.
You drink a power shake, and it tastes simultaneously delicious and repulsive, like strawberry-flavored Nesquik and rabbit pellets. Between this and the 15 protein pills you shove down your throat each day, this cleanse also marks a reintroduction to your gag reflex.
You sneak into a gym to use a scale. Prison-rules dieting, you think for some reason. You feel sorry for everyone in there, improving their bodies the old-fashioned way. Suckers, you think. Smugness is the best feeling you'll have today.
For dinner, you mash up an avocado and eat it with slices of cucumber. You eat savagely, this being your first solid of the day. Before bed, you drink your fiber shake, which looks and tastes like somebody dropped a cup into a river. Your nightcap is two tablespoons of cherry concentrate in water, and you consider saying a holy invocation upon tasting a recognizable flavor, but you don't because that would connote your belief in God, which, after enduring the first day, doesn't exist.
Day 2: Upon waking, you feel great. You strut—strut!—downstairs to greet the accolades and recognition of the sacrifices you've endured for one day of doing the absolute basic requirements of a (let's face it: pretty common) nutrition program.
The euphoria is short-lived once you see plastic capsules containing your daily regimen of powders and pills. The realization hits you: You have to do another day of this.
Not just another day, but nine more days.
You count out five protein pills and place them on the back of your tongue to reduce the bitterness.
You float through the second day. On the way home from work, you make the mistake of walking through North Park's farmers market, and suddenly your Spidey sense is activated. The food trucks, the Indian food—hell, even the organic soaps beg you to eat them. You run madly to the Redbox in an attempt to escape the delicious aromas, end up renting The Lego Movie and then get pissed when your food-deprived brain can't keep up with the self-aware references.
You switch to Lars von Trier's Antichrist, and during the scenes of genital mutilation, you feel nothing.
Days 3 and 4: Everything sucks. Cranky. Tired. A constant need to urinate. Can't even muster the effort to use pronouns.
You gauge time with child-like simplicity: I will be able to eat in six more sleeps. There's nothing to do except watch movies, read or play on the Internet. Alcohol turns out to be pretty easy to ditch, but you realize how much dining is tied to your social life. A drive past a Jersey Mike's sandwich shop triggers grief-like symptoms. You mostly stay inside and away from people. You consider the aesthetic qualities of boredom and how every model in every magazine looks bored.
Maybe that could be me, you think while taking the ninth piss of the day.
Day 5: Your wife exclaims that she "hates The Cleanse"—The Cleanse now being a nefarious title, an evil that possesses you. She hates that you can't eat, go out or do anything fun together. You exclaim: "What's so bad about a nutritionally rich, vegan diet?!" It's promotional copy from the company and maybe the most pretentious thing you've ever said aloud. You watch her eat dinner by herself.
Days 6 through 9: The process becomes routine, and you begin to see the benefits of "transforming": maintained levels of energy throughout the day, considerably less anxiety and the frequent shitstorms that arise from your suspected-but-ignored lactose intolerance and caffeine-intake disappear. The changes in your physical shape are subtle, but you walk around with an unexplainable feeling of tightness, as if you're becoming more compact. And that vile, sedimentary-filled fiber shake begins to taste good.
Day 10: You've lost 10 pounds, but your wife is out of town visiting family. You celebrate alone.
The day after: huevos rancheros. It's the dish you've been dreaming about for 10 days—the first meal after full transformation. You wonder what long-term impacts The Cleanse has brought, both evil and good.
The dish arrives. You sink your fork into the steaming eggs, cheese and salsa. You hold it in front of your face. You hesitate.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford