Pre-tox (aka the period of blissful ignorance)
This is the gradual weaning-off period, where over the course of four days you try to prepare your body for the barrage of nutrients it’s going to be ingesting – and more importantly for the absence of all the crap it’s used to.
Day 1 saw me drink my last cup of coffee with ceremonial deliberation and hold a kind of impromptu hen party with Rasha (a lot of beer; no male strippers) to say goodbye to my old habits.
Days 2-4 involved a gradual reduction of all the food and drink that needed to be cut during the detox, which I undertook with all the nonchalance of one destined to be felled by hubris. Thai beef curry …who needs you? Bread and peanut butter? I laugh in your face. Chorizo and batata? I could give you up anytime.
I am now seeing so many batata carts as I walk around the city, I suspect they might be a mirage. Meanwhile my poor bemused colleagues have got used to my plaintive face as I ask to inhale their open jars of peanut butter and steaming cups of coffee, treating me with the cautious sympathy you would reserve for someone who’s just on the brink of losing the plot.
Days 1-4 (aka the period where pride comes before a fall)
The first day of the proper detox program I admit felt easy. The way the program is structured means that you eat regularly, so unlike a lot of dieting or even fasting, hunger pangs are not really part of your experience. Breakfast is a mixture of fruit supplemented by vegetable juice (prepared by Anni and delivered to your door); you snack mid-morning – fruit or nuts; lunch (also with vegetable juice) is a salad with some protein; mid-afternoon you drink another juice, this time sweet; dinner is another salad. You are encouraged to vary the fruit and veg you consume, as you will be getting different vitamins from each item. You are also advised to eat organic food, as an essential part of the detox is eliminating any chemical residue from pesticides.
All went well until the evening, when I decided to go for a walk. In 30 minutes of meandering through Cairo’s streets, you would imagine I would have encountered enough to keep my mind off food.
You would be wrong.
I walked past the Yemeni restaurant, Hardees, Pizza Hut, shops selling nuts, shops selling sweets. They might as well have been calling me by name. Before long, I had Yemeni bread, curly fries and pieces of baklawa dancing along the street next to me. I’m telling you, those carbohydrates know how to move. They are funky. Were they real? I was certainly in no position to judge.
After that low point, things stabilised.
There are definitely worse things to be eating every day than fresh fruit and vegetables. And once you know that salad is basically all you’ll be eating for three weeks, it turns out you become a lot more creative about what you put into it. You discover combinations you had never realised would be so delicious – like strawberries and basil, delectable when eaten together. You also learn weird and wonderful facts with which to dazzle others in the future (ahem). Whoever knew for example there were so many different kinds of lettuce, and that some of them could be almost creamy in texture or have bright red stalks?
The most immediate, and most welcome, surprise was how much and how well I started sleeping. Having struggled to fall asleep unless absolutely exhausted for all of my adult life, I suddenly found myself sleeping easily and deeply – and for long, long periods. It was almost as though a switch had been flipped in my body, telling it that now was the time to catch up on the 15-year sleep debt it’s been walking around with. And now my body just wants to sleep all the time – although when I’m awake I feel more alert than I have in ages.
Days 4-8 (aka the period where I just don’t know what’s going on)
After a few days of essentially hibernating at home, it became necessary to interact with the real world – and not just by going to work. There were birthday parties to go to, friends to see, things I needed to take part in.
I rarely think of myself as having a will of iron, but really after this period they will have to name a new house after me in Game of Thrones.
Test number one – work event at the GrEEK Campus, hosted by Abraaj. Voya and I enter a room in which there are probably more glasses of wine and juice than there are people. “Mmmm, imported beer” Voya effuses, while I sip my water and try not to look like Scrooge. Later as we leave, Voya eschewing the free food in a gesture of solidarity, the manager of the GrEEK Campus comes running after us to ask why we are leaving before we’ve eaten. I growl inwardly.
Test number two – Rasha’s (first) birthday party, at her house. I arrive with my large salad and start munching it while we await the birthday girl and everyone else awaits pizza. People keep asking me, innocently, why I’m dieting and I keep trying to explain that it’s a detox intended to increase energy. I sense that my constant yawning is not helping my cause. My friends are kind people but they can’t resist waving pizza, luxury chocolate cake and beer under my nose gleefully. “Trust me – I’m a doctor” Wael says, eyes gleaming.
Test number three – Rasha’s (second) birthday party, a salsa night. This night is essentially a blur of faces and hugs, the occasional drink being waved at me in friendly deliberate provocation. I start crying for no discernible reason as I’m getting ready to leave. Strange times.
The see-sawing emotions and the craving for sleep as if it’s an incredible drug continue for days, accompanied by vivid, perplexing dreams. I honestly can’t remember my sleep being this refreshing and restorative since I was a child and when awake I find I’m much more capable of focusing and remembering information than usual. Whatever is going on in my head, it’s clear that there is some deep processing taking place, as my mind and emotions try to sort out my feelings about incidents old and new.