Chelsey Clammer

The Cabbage Soup Diet

♦  He was always saying “tomorrow.”

♦  “I’ll start my diet tomorrow.”

♦  Mom: “Why not now?”

♦  Dad: “Tomorrow.”

♦  Cookies, donuts, three servings of spaghetti. He would start the Cabbage Soup Diet tomorrow.

♦  Cluster headaches are worse than migraines; they squeeze every nerve from neck to temple and last for hours, sometimes days.

♦  He will die with scabs on his forehead from trying to rub away the pain.

♦  My dad drank to ease the cluster headaches.

♦  My dad was an alcoholic.

♦  Alcohol and pain made him take his life away.

♦  Mom: “When are you going to stop drinking?”

♦  Dad: “Tomorrow.”

♦  He tried to be good for a week. No sweets. No liquor. He caved. He binged. He suffered.

♦  What tomorrow was supposed to bring:

♦  Lose weight fast!

♦  Low-fat and high-fiber for quick weight loss!

♦  Get slim now!

◦     Day One: Fruits (no bananas), cabbage soup

◦     Day Two: Vegetables, soup, and the reward of a baked potato with butter!

◦     Day Three: Fruit, veggies, and soup

◦     Day Four: Bananas, skim milk, soup

◦     Day Five: Beef, tomatoes, soup

◦     Day Six: Beef, veggies, soup

◦     Day Seven: Brown rice, unsweetened juices, soup

◦     Then stuff, stuff, stuff yourself!

♦  Tomorrow.

♦  Seven days after the tomorrow finally began and he would stuff stuff stuff! He did not stop stuffing until my mother nagged on him about his eating habits, again. Once a month they had the tomorrow argument.

♦  Alcohol and food. His devices. Intense suffering (detox) to try to alleviate the pain (head). Intense restriction (diet) to try to suspend the inevitable decline (body).

♦  My father died of alcohol poisoning. He had been sober for a week, being good and clean, then his body snapped back into the binging routine. His autopsy report stated he was overweight.

♦  Perhaps the alcohol contributed to weighing him down.

♦  Question, Part 1: How much liquor can a 250 pound man drink before the toxicity kills him?

♦  Answer, Part 1: About 30 drinks.

♦  Question, Part 2: How much vodka did a 250 pound man drink in one night in order to end up—and literally to end—with a 0.46 blood-alcohol level?

♦  Answer, Part 2: Do you really want to know?

♦  Suffer.

♦  Binge.

♦  Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

♦  Sober for a week. Fit for a week. Then.

♦  Restriction increases anxiety. Anxiety prompts binging.

♦  Binging is the dark side of restriction.

♦  This was the dark side of his life, the side that always showed itself, that shined the brightest.

The Zone Diet

Her thighs are suctioned into her navy blue spandex shorts. Her floral thong leotard clings to her body; her sweat clings to the fabric.

My mother bounces on the stage in front of me and the twenty other students in her Jazzercise class. We are in the basement of a church. It is a Wednesday night. She brings me to her class after she picks me up from school. Because I am a teenager with some babysitting experience, I come to her classes to watch the mothers’ children for an hour while they desperately try to sweat back into their pre-children bodies.

Tonight there are no children, and so I join my mother for the hour-long class.

My mother immediately hits her Jazzercise-groove, that concentrated and expert zone in which her body moves with precision and ease. She tackles each routine with enthusiasm and skill, and still has enough breath to call out the instructions. She practices these routines forty hours a week. She is in shape. She is in her zone.

The Zone Diet:

♦  “Lose fat and increase wellness by reducing cellular inflammation.”

♦  Get out of the “fat trap.”

♦  Meal plan:

◦     1/3 of the plate should consist of low-fat protein.

◦     2/3 of the plate should consist of carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables).

♦  “The Zone recipes tempt your taste buds and satisfy hunger for four plus hours.”

When we get home from her Jazzercise class, my mother finds my father eating a whole bag of chocolate chip cookies in their bed. He has broken his week-long diet, again. Tonight we aren’t able to tell whether he is drunk or not. Not yet. The sugar conceals his breath. She berates him about his diet. I go upstairs to my room, not wanting to listen to this argument again. As I get to my door I hear her usual words. No ice cream. No cookies. No donuts. If you’re hungry eat an apple.

There are always bowls of fresh fruit and jars of nuts on our kitchen counter. Healthy snacks. It’s what her Zone book tells her to do. Protein and carbohydrates, she wants to keep her body running at its peak performance. She needs all the energy she can get to put up with him. She tries to set an example for my father. Don’t drink. No sweets. Exercise.

Once a month he will follow this plan for almost a week. And then he will not. And all the while my mother is in her zone, her anger at him grows as her fat cells recede. A growling stomach. More room in her body for anger, for her emotions to growl.

Ten years of this fight.

He dies. And the fight ends. And I am not sure who won.

After my father dies of alcohol poisoning, we find desserts hidden throughout the house. We excavate the house, spend two days filling a trash bag with stale cookies and empty liquor bottles.

The first night after my father died, I went into the kitchen and found his ice cream in the freezer. I devoured the whole carton standing in front of the refrigerator, wanting to feel something in my body, anything but the numb, the grief. I engulfed the ice cream, and instantly got a brain freeze. There, something. After this food binge I drank vodka until I passed out. The next morning I began to restrict, to make my body show how it is that I felt. Empty. Hollow. Gone.

The Marya Hornbacher Diet

“The anoretic operates under the astounding illusion that she can escape the flesh, and, by association, the realm of emotions.” –Marya Hornbacher, Wasted


♦  1 grapefruit (100 calories)


♦  2 fat-free pretzels from a bag (20 calories)

♦  4 carrot sticks (12 calories)

♦  4 celery sticks (5 calories)

♦  3 tsp of mustard (5 calories)

◦     Total: 42 calories


♦   ½ cup of fat-free, sugar-free yogurt (60 calories)


♦   202 calories, 0 grams of fat

Restriction increases anxiety, anxiety prompts binging.

I have tried this diet. It turned me into a bulimic.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. The cycle spirals.

Side note: A pro-ana organization created this diet, named it after the author who gave anorexia a voice. They need to rename it. I lived with Marya Hornbacher. She did not eat like this. She lived like how I wanted to live—in the world, and with a body.

The Master Cleanse

♦  One day changed my life. It was that one day of a father found dead. Twenty-one years of knowing him, and our relationship suddenly changes within one day.

♦  One day.

♦  Despised when he was alive. Confused when he died. A 180 of a relationship. Six feet under.

♦  At what point do the memories of a drunk father fully leave your flesh? When will the toxic memories be cleansed?

♦  It has been three years since my father’s death. I have been trying the Marya Hornbacher diet for three years. It is not going well. It is just before I experience the dark side of restriction (the binging, the purging, the wash rinse repeat) and I attempt the Master Cleanse. I feel something building up inside of me. I want it out.

♦  For months, years after my father dies I am in the zone of self-destruction. Odious amounts of alcohol. Blackened lungs. A stomach eating itself away. After my father dies, this is my zone, the only way I know how to live. My cells bloat with alcohol. I run off the hangovers. I have my pack-a-day. I have my drinks at night. My mouth consumes 1/3 nicotine and 2/3 liquor. Every day. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Get it out of me. Get him out of me.

♦  This is not an emotional diet.

♦  Ingredients for The Master Cleanse:

◦     Fresh squeezed lemon juice

◦     Rich maple syrup

◦     Cayenne pepper

◦     Water

◦     Laxatives

◦     Salt

♦  I am twenty-four and in my room the day before I have promised myself I will start the Master Cleanse. Tomorrow. I will be good. Tomorrow I will start.

♦  I sit on my window sill, window open, exhaling nicotine from my mouth in between gulps of vodka. I do not want to give these things up. The drunk. The numb. The intoxication. That muted grief within me. Or maybe I do want to give them up, but not permanently. Maybe for just a week, for just enough time to remember what it felt like when I was not stuffing myself with liquor.

♦  Tomorrow.

♦  The next day I start the Master Cleanse while hungover. The salt water flush pushes brown liquid out of my intestines for hours, days.

♦  Something is weeping out of me. I am too fatigued to figure out what it is.

♦  I sleep a ton. No dreams of my father. Perhaps the cleanse is working.

♦  I feel dazed, zoned-out.

♦  My tongue turns white from the toxins being released through it. The taste of my father’s death slowly seeps out of me.

♦  Day Four: I tell my therapist (the one I see once a week who specializes in eating disorders, not the one I see three times a week who specializes in grief and trauma) how great I feel on the Master Cleanse.

♦  “That diet will kill you. Especially with an active eating disorder. Your electrolytes will get off balanced. You will die.”

♦  I stop the cleanse right then.

♦  I am quickly out of my restriction zone.

♦  Straight from therapy I go to a bar.

♦  I am back in the zone I know so well.

♦  This zone does not and will not restrict the pain. Though what I hope for it to do is to extract this agony from my flesh.

♦  To cleanse myself of the grief.

♦  To deal with the grief instead of drinking it away.

♦  That is my goal.

♦  I will start it soon.

♦  Tomorrow.


Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has been published in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor’s Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt, as well as a Pushcart Prize nomination. Clammer is a weekly columnist for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as the assistant nonfiction editor for both Eckleburg and The Dying Goose. Her first collection of essays, There is Nothing Else to See Here will be published by Thumbnail Press in Fall 2013. You can read more of her writing at: