NEW YORK CITY (SBG) - Back when I was in college, I ate a diet that frankly may have been more fitting for a small woodland creature than for a human. Though my snacks were scavenged from the Whole Foods produce department rather than off of the forest floor, I grazed primarily on an assortment of fruits and nuts throughout the course of any given day. Even as I’ve entered adulthood and appropriately added more variety to my meals, I can still polish off a two-pound bag of grapes in one sitting and will sometimes choose cherries over an actual dinner when the mood strikes.
Compared to my consistent love affair with fruit, my experience with cleansing is far less involved. I’ve completed exactly one cleanse in recent years; a one-day juice cleanse inspired by a holiday season marked by way too many sweets and the uncomfortable bloating that came along with those questionable dietary choices. The juice shop offered three different levels of cleanses, and I chose the one designed for beginners, which meant that half of the drinks were actually somewhat filling smoothies instead of super-low-calorie green juices. But I still found that single day to be a challenge, wishing all the way from sunrise till bedtime that I could chew on something instead of simply sipping my nutrients.
It was a combination of that juice cleanse attempt and my broader passion for fruit that led me to believe that I could survive a five-day melon cleanse.
The email came into my inbox in early August from RA MA Institute, a Kundalini yoga studio with a location in lower Manhattan. “Introducing the Fruit of Living Melon Cleanse: an end of summer melon mono-diet for deep clarity, mega hydration & ultra radiance,” it read. I was immediately intrigued. It seemed like an appropriate way to make the transition from summer to fall, and it also didn’t seem like it would be too much of a struggle. That’s not to say I expected it to be a walk in the park, but the accompanying PDF emphasized that you could eat as much melon as you’d like each day of the cleanse, and the idea of being able to eat, instead of just drinking juices, was appealing. The PDF reaffirmed my beliefs: “When done correctly, this diet is easy & pleasurable.”
The structure of the cleanse wasn’t quite a free-for-all melon party. For the first day, you’d eat only cantaloupe, followed by a day of just watermelon and a day of papaya. On the fourth day, you went back to watermelon before finishing where you started, with cantaloupe.
According to the guide, each fruit served a particular purpose. Cantaloupe would “cleanse the colon, heart, arteries & blood.” The watermelon would “cool the body & work on the liver & kidneys,” while the papaya was meant to “clean out any poison & toxins.” It was all a little bit vague, but it had my attention.
Starting was the hardest part.
Despite my initial impression that the cleanse wouldn’t be so hard, I struggled to convince myself to start. I pushed the cleanse back for a full week by telling myself that it wasn’t a good idea to do a five-day cleanse right before a three-day backcountry camping and canoeing trip that I had scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Even if that was a perfectly valid reason to delay my start date, it was also a sign of hesitation.
On the morning I was set to begin, I woke up and immediately felt the urge to reach into my cabinet for a protein bar. A devil on my shoulder told me that it was fine to postpone it for another day or two. But after some internal turmoil, it was the angel on the other shoulder that won the argument. I left my apartment sans-protein bar and went to the grocery store in search of cantaloupe.
That first hour of the first day was the only time during the entire cleanse that I was inclined to cheat. Even on the fourth day, when I went out to dinner at a vegan restaurant with a taco menu that made my mouth water, the temptation never arose to eat anything but melon. Once I started, I was determined to see it through. As a master procrastinator, that’s a lesson that I can take with me into my everyday life.
It made me much more mindful of my eating habits.
Before the cleanse, I knew that I often ate out of boredom. I didn’t realize how often.
When you’re on a mono-diet, eating out of boredom isn’t a thing. Even on the first day, I found myself so ambivalent about melon that I wasn’t mindlessly reaching for it during a lull in the workday. I only consumed it when I was truly hungry.
This was a far departure from my normal eating habits. To be perfectly honest, hunger isn’t a feeling that I often experience, because I’m usually grabbing a snack way before it gets to that point. Instead of eating the typical two or three meals per day, I snack constantly, and that snacking comes without any real consideration of my appetite. I keep a lot of food in my apartment, and I eat it because it’s there, not because I need it. While I wasn’t necessarily overeating in terms of calories before the cleanse, I wasn’t giving my nutrition the proper consideration.
Since the cleanse has ended, I’m without a doubt more likely to ask myself if I’m hungry before I open the fridge.
It helped me focus on things other than food.
I expected to spend the entirety of the cleanse daydreaming about food, but that wasn’t the case. Sure, the first day, there was an overarching feeling of, “Wow, I’m really stuck doing this for five whole days,” but once I accepted my fate, the idea of food shifted toward the very back of my mind. Although my energy was lower than usual, as you might expect given the caloric deficit, it did feel like I had more space in my brain to think about my to-do list when I wasn't busy planning out my next snack or meal.
I had been aware of similar effects on productivity reportedly brought about by intermittent fasting, but without conclusive scientific results, I had been skeptical. Though my individual experience remains far from scientific, it was nonetheless interesting to personally experience that clearing of headspace during the melon cleanse.
Salt and pepper change the game.
I grew up in a family that puts sugar on fruit. I have fond memories of my grandmother serving me a plate of strawberries or cantaloupe loaded with extra sugar as if the fruit wasn’t already all sugar. When I asked my mom about the reasoning for this, she told me that they wanted to make sure that my brother and I enjoyed fruit.
The seasoning instructions for the cleanse went in the opposite direction. “Do sprinkle salt on your melons to increase electrolytes in the body and cellular communication, and pepper to reduce bloating and gas,” the guide said. To convince myself to do this, I purchased fancy pink Himalayan sea salt and a fun pepper grinder with several different types of peppercorn in it.
For anyone who did not grow up in a sugar-on-fruit household and has tried savory seasonings, like Tajin, on their fruit, the fact that this was delicious might not come as quite as large of a surprise. But even though it took me 26 years to discover this trick, I’m now fully converted. I’m not sure I’ll ever eat cantaloupe again without salt and pepper.
And did it help with bloating? I can’t say for sure, but I can tell you that my stomach never felt better than it did during this cleanse.
Always listen to post-cleanse suggestions.
I expected to get sick during the cleanse, but I felt perfectly healthy the entire time. With a little too much confidence in my stomach, I woke up the morning after it all ended and immediately ate a fruit and nut bar. This seemed like a reasonable choice, even though the guide told me that I should introduce only new fruits the day after finishing, followed by yogurt and vegetables the next day and nuts once two to three days had passed.
An hour later, I was very, very, very sick, followed by a brief period of intense dehydration. Not fun.
Would I do another cleanse? Absolutely, but I’d be sure to listen to the full instructions, including the ones that specified how to transition off the cleanse. In the meantime, I’m working to apply the lessons that I learned on this melon cleanse; I’ve shifted to intermittent fasting to continue on a journey of consuming more mindfully and incorporating more structure into my eating habits.
I still love melon.
I thought that eating nothing but melon for five days would turn me off to the fruit entirely, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Since the cleanse ended, I’ve eaten watermelon every single day. It continues to satisfy my tastebuds, and my body certainly appreciates the whole ingredients over more processed snack options.