My favorite gossip site sang out the news: Jennifer Aniston was denying the rumor that she had embarked on the latest fad diet, the Baby Food Cleanse. A Google search was enough to make me, in my doughy new-mom state, salivate. Quick weight loss! Convenient! And best of all, I had all the components in my kitchen: pureed beans, apricot goo, and something that can most delicately be described as pregurgitated corn. My extra pounds would be gone in no time.
The gist of the cleanse is this: Eat 14 jars of baby food throughout the day and then dine on a mommy-size healthy dinner. Like most trendy weight-loss tactics, this program is highly unscientific, hardly balanced, and a regimen no doctor in her right mind would recommend (unless, of course the doctor was a pediatrician, and the patient weighed -- rather than aimed to lose -- 10 pounds).
Cleanses are buzzy these days in the land of weight loss -- short-term commitments that aim to purify your system by replacing the junk you usually eat with foods free of artificial flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives.
I certainly wanted to clean up my act when it came to my diet. I'd become shockingly lax about what I munched; at the same time, I was vigilant about every morsel my daughter, Evan, swallowed. My husband, Jamie, and I regarded her body as a pristine ecosystem. We were hawks as we observed each other feeding her. When Jamie mashed a banana into applesauce for Evan's breakfast, I rummaged through the trash for the container: Heaven forbid there's high fructose corn syrup in the sauce. When I fed her mashed black beans, Jamie accused me of "freebasing her salt" because the can in question, while organic, was not sodium-free.
In the interest of full disclosure, we probably played food cop while our own hands were buried deep in a bag of pizza-flavored Combos. It seemed too tall an order to change the careless diet that new parenting had delivered to us. But isn't egregious hypocrisy a hallmark of parenthood?
I finally realized that falling back on this excuse was a tad pathetic, so I prepared to cleanse my bod with three days of jar after jar of baby food. No big deal, I assumed. With 14 servings to eat before my sensible dinner, I'd always be grazing. So I dug in.
Jamie thought I was crazy. Who could blame him? I shivered with disgust that first morning as I dipped my spoon into a jar of peas and let it dribble down my throat. To be fair, these foods are not designed for an adult whose taste buds have been perverted by, say, a very recent Chalupa Nacho Cheese. Nonetheless, after half a day of slurping down purees, I doubted my stamina for the experiment. The pulverized fruit, while pleasantly sweeter, cried out for some spice, flavor, anything. "Baby food is nutrient-dense because it is simply pureed fruits and vegetables," says American Baby advisor Tara Gidus, R.D., a nutritionist in Orlando, Florida. "We're so used to added sugar, salt, and fat that it seems tasteless by comparison."
I played with spices, adding a dash of curry to peas and garlic powder to cauliflower. On day two, I mixed brown-rice cereal into blueberries, and it tasted like blueberry pie. I could get used to this! I thought.
My social life, however, could not. On day three, I met my pal Sarah for lunch and packed a few jars to tuck into while she availed herself of "grown-up food." When the cute young waiter brought her Greek salad and my tea, he smiled and asked, "Jennifer Aniston's diet?" I sheepishly said yes, and he asked, "Would you like me to bring you a bib?"
Sarah wasn't quite as supportive. "Why don't you just start eating healthier?" she said. "If you go through the trouble of shopping and cooking for Evan, why not add your stuff to the grocery list? Toss your vegetables into the steamer with hers."
Nutritionist Gidus echoed Sarah's sage advice: "Your body detoxes naturally, and it's much more realistic and pleasant to simply cut the junk out of your diet and focus on fruits and veggies, lean meats or soy, and whole grains."
As it happened, my three days of purees didn't help me lose any weight. But I did stop relying on convenience-type snacks. I swore off fast food. And just as I ask, "Is there something green to eat?" when preparing Evan's plate, I demand the same of my own meals. With this new mind-set, I'm closer to fitting into my skinny jeans. And no, I don't miss the taste of runny butternut squash.
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of American Baby magazine.