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Cleanse, Eat Clean, or Both?

photo by lollyknit, via flickr creative commons

photo by lollyknit, via flickr creative commons

A few years ago, our neighbor did a 3-week cleanse, during which he progressively eliminated certain foods, fasted for a day or two mid-way, and then slowly added foods back into his diet.  He raved about it after he finished it (like most people seem to when they complete a cleanse), saying he felt younger and fitter and more relaxed….he was a changed man.  He was so convincing that Sean and I decided to give it a shot.  We weren’t sure about the 3-week commitment, so after some cursory web searching, we set our sights on doing the master cleanse for 10 days (this is the shortest recommended duration).  A few days later, our kitchen was stocked with lemons, cayenne, maple syrup, senna tea (that’s all you eat/drink during the master cleanse) and some glass bottles to make the sludge look pretty, and we began.

The first few days our heads pounded (caffeine withdrawal), which we had expected.  As the days wore on, our bodies felt increasingly weak and tired, our workouts were half-hearted, and our primary “dinner” conversation topic was when the high-energy, glowing feeling might begin.  We unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) never found out.  Near the end of day 5, the sound of my phone interrupted one of many spacey moments at work I’d been having, and when I picked up, Sean had two words for me: “Sushi tonight?”  “Done,” I replied, and as quickly as it had begun, our cleanse was over.  We celebrated that night by toasting bottles of Sapporo and filling our empty bellies with sushi.  I felt a little bit guilty/disappointed for quitting, but to be honest, I mostly felt relieved.  And despite lingering curiosity about all of the hype, I haven’t been able to get myself to try another formal cleanse since.

What I have done, however, is found something that works for me: focusing for a week or two at a time on drinking a ton of water and eating a very basic gluten/sugar/dairy/alcohol-free vegan diet (note: caffeine is not on this list…I know it’s terrible, but I just can’t seem to bear the headaches during “normal life”).  I don’t do this often (I’ve done it 1-2 times per year for the past few years), but I do it when I feel like I need to press reset on my diet.  This plan is restrictive enough to make me think about my patterns and figure out what needs to stay versus go, but it’s not complicated.  I can buy all the ingredients at the grocery store.  It’s inexpensive.  There are no weird supplements, no unnecessary calorie restriction, and I can actually go out to eat with other people (instead of dragging yucky cayenne water into a restaurant and politely declining a menu).   The irony is, I’ve probably landed on a very relaxed version of what my neighbor did and loved.

I’m not a scientist or a doctor or a dietician, so I’ve come up with my plan not based on data (although from what I can tell, the data about cleansing is highly inconclusive), but based on what it takes for me to re-think what I’m putting into my body everyday, what’s realistic, and what’s sustainable.  In the absence of consistent research confirming significant benefits of cleansing, that’s enough of an anchor for me.   (I couldn’t find much data showing that cleansing is harmful assuming people are still getting nutrients, but I couldn’t find consistent information about benefits.)  I’m open to trying other formulas (the idea of Blueprint Cleanse or Pressed Juicery or Suja dropping a 3-day raw, cold-pressed juice cleanse on my doorstop does sound delicious), but they all need to meet a few basic criteria:

  • Must include only real food
  • Must include enough calories to enable me to go on with my daily life
  • Must be relatively easy (no labor-intensive meal/shake/etc preparation)
  • Must be easy for Sean/a friend to do too (dietary changes are much easier with an accountability partner)
  • Most taste pretty good

In an ideal world, I’d have a pure enough diet to make the idea of cleaning it up a moot point.  But since that’s not the case, I think the occasional reset is a great practice (just never give me cayenne-spiked maple syrup/lemon water ever again).  It’s a way to become more conscious, reflect, and where necessary, make changes.  What’s been your experience?  Do you “eat clean,” cleanse, or both?  If you cleanse, what benefits and drawbacks have you experienced?  And if you’ve sprung for the expensive yet delicious juice-on-your-doorstep service, what did you think?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. ebriceno #

    a lemon-cayenne-maple syrup-tea water exclusive diet sounds pretty horrible. 🙂 and also not nutritious at all?!?

    My whole life until 10 or 15 years ago, I NEVER ate vegetables. I hated them. I didn’t touch one. Then I started being a little more civilized just living with other people, still disliking vegetables. Then my body broke down and I had to change lots of things, including the way I ate, but it wasn’t until I read this book: Eat for Health ( that I truly completely changed the way I eat every day, and I love it. I eat as much as I want to, mostly fruits and vegetables, preferably real foods (some of TJ’s salads are really tasty, making it very easy), but I eat anything – if we go to a party, I don’t feel guilty eating anything at all, but I focus on what I do put into my body (micro-nutrients) rather than what I don’t put into my body (hence the term ‘vegetarian’ not being appealing since it’s defined by what you don’t eat). I highly recommend to anybody this book, it educated me big time, and also includes truly delicious recipes, but my secret weapon is spending 1.5-2hr/week making smoothies for the week. Anyway, then I feel great all the time and don’t feel the need to cleanse. Works for me.

    January 26, 2013
  2. Ed – Thanks so much for sharing your story and the book recommendation. I haven’t read it — will check it out!

    January 26, 2013

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