It was 4pm on a Thursday afternoon. I'm hunched over the 13th (!) bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I've had in four days. My brain feels as soggy and limp as the little squares soaking in the milk beneath me, and on a scale of one to GERRREEEEAAAAAAAAAAT, my stomach is a solid "You're on your own, dude." This is life on the Cereal Cleanse.
I embarked on a regimented, cereal-exclusive diet for seven days. That's 21 breezy meals of only my favorite Well-Balanced Breakfast™ in a bowl. My goal was to bring awareness to millennial awareness of cereal, and also, I just wanted to see what would happen. Guys, I went full coo-coo.
Day 1, Monday: I'm living a blessed life
I'm late for work, so I begin my first cereal-only day on the subway with Froot Loops (as dramatically recreated above). Normally, I consume approximately 2,000 calories a day. To keep my diet stabilized, I want to match that number as best I can. This means I need to eat about 13-15 measured standard serving sizes of cereal with a half-cup of skim milk each and every day. I also plan to add in fruit to one meal a day. You know, so I don't die.
I feel fine. For lunch, I throw caution to the wind and eat two bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I'm living a blessed life. For dinner, I have more Cinnamon Toast Crunch (CTC from here on out). I've had nine bowls of CTC today, fell well under my average daily calorie count (I'm hitting about 1,400), and feel satisfied. This is great. I go running, like I usually do on Mondays, and head to bed smiling with a spoon in my hand and milk in my spoon. I'll have to wash my sheets tomorrow. I'm pleased with what life and cereal are giving me. Which reminds me I need to pick up some Life cereal at some point. It's a classic.
Day 2, Tuesday: I still feel pretty good!
I feel a little sluggish in the morning, but my energy's quickly rejuvenated when I crack open a fresh box of Lucky Charms for breakfast. I have two bowls, and hum on pure, high-fructose Irish luck until lunchtime, when I toss back one bowl of Special K with some banana slices. Overall, I'm feeling pretty good, and I think this is a damn fine idea. Though licensed dietitian Jennifer Christman disagrees.
"A lot of mass-produced cereals are fortified with many of the vitamins and minerals you need," she tells me, "but there's no way you can get everything you need without a well-balanced diet." She says this very gently, after politely laughing at me. Though, with my current intake, I get about 80-120g of protein in my skim milk, which is right where I need to be. Also, my calcium intake is a-booming. My bones have never felt girthier.
This evening I eat a bowl of Kix. A really weird, sweet taste overwhelms my mouth as I settle into sleep. Part of me thinks it's just my new toothpaste, another thinks it might be foreshadowing. That like, maybe this cereal thing was a bad idea. In the middle of the night, I grab a handful of CTC on my way back from the bathroom. It's still good. My fears are assuaged. For at least one more day.
Day 3, Wednesday: I crave fruits and vegetables
I eat my morning meal with two millennial co-workers who were inspired to take up the spoon with me in solidarity. The support feels good. But, I find myself suddenly repulsed by CTC, delicious as it is, because I've eaten like, 2lb of it in the past 48 hours. I eat Frosted Flakes instead, then Special K with fruit again for lunch, and an extra bowl of Raisin Bran, to keep me regular. Cereal has kind of lost its taste for me, though. I'm actively craving fruits and vegetables. I tell Christman my symptoms. "Here, you are probably experiencing food fatigue -- your body is trying to intuitively tell you what it's lacking, what it needs," she says.
The time I spend eating has drastically reduced, as cereal is a quick meal. I am more productive. For dinner, I eat Cap'n Crunch with soy milk, which apparently, was Prince's favorite combination. I do this while listening to Purple Rain. RIP to a fellow cereal connoisseur. I welcome the soy milk, as I feel sick from the amount of dairy I've consumed. I have trouble running, and go home early. I weigh myself before I go to bed -- I've lost 2lb. My mouth is torn up from repeated Cap'n Crunch lashings. I swear the cereal off, as my immune system is lowered, and I cannot take the risk.
Day 4, Thursday: Focusing is a thing of the past
It is the halfway point of my oat-filled hero's journey and I have hit a wall. Weird things are happening. I'm having a hell of a time focusing. I find myself standing up and walking around. I talk to people I don't normally talk to, and my words are senseless. I force myself to eat plain Rice Krispies. I do so without milk. The sheer amount of milk I am ingesting is making me feel nauseated, as I normally only consume dairy in my coffee. I feel like Manny Pacquiao is using my gallbladder as a speed bag.
Technically, oatmeal is called hot cereal. I've never heard anyone actually call it hot cereal, but somehow I know that someone out there calls it hot cereal. I am in too much pain to have this debate right now, though. I'm certain if I don't switch things up my insides might shrivel like the Grinch's heart before he loved Christmas. For lunch, I have instant oatmeal with apples and bananas placed in it, like little nutritious land mines in a field of ready-made, steamy garbage. For dinner, I force myself to eat Smacks.
"You are probably experiencing brain fog," Christman says. "Your blood sugar is spiking then dropping, you aren't getting the nutrients you need." I'm beginning to think: is all this cereal too much of a good thing? Have I, like Icarus, flown too close to the sun, only to see my wings burnt off in a horrible blaze of Franken Berries? Am I literally going insane right now?
Day 5, Friday: My outlook is bleak
I cannot bear to drink any more milk, so I eat my Frosted Flakes breakfast serving raw dog, no liquid. I've lost my lucky spoon. It's impossible to get work done, and I feel slightly intoxicated. I crave weird and random foods and flavors. I find myself wanting to taste ketchup. I smell a phantom plate of celery. My craving for meat has reached peak levels and as I walk through the meat-filled speciality market Dean & Deluca in Manhattan to get coffee, my mouth waters so much a guy must follow me around with a mop.
Today, I rely on the charity of co-workers, as several of them meet with me in cereal solidarity at the first (maybe bi-annual?) Thrillist Cereal Luncheon to prove that cereal is very much still alive in the hearts of the young. I have Rice Krispies with friends, then do my best not to pass out until the end of the day. For dinner I put homemade granola -- made by my colleague Elaheh -- in milk with some bananas because I worry I'm going to get gout or scurvy or maybe both. It counts as cereal, OK?
Day 6, Saturday: I never thought it would get this bad
I wake up and don't do much for a while. I feel OK, actually. I do errands and then go running. My legs feel as if they are submerged in a bowl of soggy Wheaties -- and I don't get far. Afterwards, I eat a bowl of Special K. I eat some beerios (cereal -- in this case, Rice Krispies -- with beer as milk) to pregame for the night. I do not enjoy this.
I drank alcohol just once during the week, and felt its effects fast because I'm eating way less than I normally eat. I go out to the bars this particular Saturday and feel like myself, possibly, even, a little more charming than usual (probably riding the dizzying peak of sugar high). I try to drink a beer, but feel weak immediately, and want to go home. When I get home, I eat a serving size each of Reese's Puffs, Cocoa Puffs, Pops, Waffle Crisp, and Rice Krispie Treats cereal in a big ol' Frankenstein combo bowl. A supercut of 'real might reinvigorate my quest and push me through the finish line in trademark style, like Jordan winking at the Philadelphia bench.
I fall asleep quickly after, clutching my stomach and cursing the day I decided to go spoon-deep in the surprisingly dark world of supermarket oats and grains. I cry a little, to be honest. I manage to put up just over 2,000 cals today. A new record high... going out with a bang.
Day 7, Sunday: My brain may never be the same
I wake up. Eat two bowls of dry Waff. I think here, at the end of all things, I might have found some peace in my journey. Some zen among the hordes of rice crisps and sugar balls and fake marshmallows. Ultimately, I think I proved my point, though, now I kind of forget what that point was, or if I even had a point. I give myself a final weigh-in -- I've lost 5lb in one week, but the mental toll this cleanse has taken surprises me the most. I am slower, more air-headed, and less able to focus. I feel like Charlie from Flowers for Algernon, and like him, I hope they let me keep my job when this is all done.
To finish off the Cereal Cleanse, I hit Momofuku Milk Bar for cereal ice cream. As I eat it, I reflect back on the 81 (yes, 81) bowls of cereal I consumed over the last week. I ended up averaging approximately 1,735 calories of cereal a day. I had sugar-blasted highs, and soggy-bottom lows, but one thing is for certain: I'll probably never eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch again. All great things, even cereal, should be enjoyed in moderation.
"I wouldn't recommend this cleanse, or diet," Christman says. "It's not very healthy. Cereal has a place in our diet, but maybe one bowl a day. And a healthier option than most of the kinds you've been eating."
I can only hope I don't feel like this for the rest of my life.
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