If you haven't already, you know you want to. Cleanses and detox diets are absolutely everywhere. From water fasting to juice cleanses and smoothies to elimination diets, a cleanse appeals to something inside of almost everyone. Who doesn't want to lose weight, rid their body of toxic junk, and emerge from the experience as a glowing, fresh, and rejuvenated version of themselves?
I'm a sucker for the big sell. Anything requiring you to go all in, I say, unapologetically "YES." Special exercise routines that require specific and expensive equipment, retreats, huge home organizational projects, parenting techniques, skincare routines, whatever. If it looks big and daunting and requires you to put all of your boring regular life stuff on hold while you try something radical and new, I want to give it a whirl. You know where I'm coming from, right? Isn't it so much more fun to ignore all the dirty dishes and the queue of unread emails to purge your closets, go to IKEA and buy all new shelving, and ignore making dinner so that you can spend the evening sorting and re-organizing until everything is shiny and new? YES! Of course it is.
And a cleanse and detox diet is exactly like the closet project, except you do it on your body. And a couple weeks ago, my husband asked for my help with losing 20 lbs. Like a lot of us, he's slowly gained weight over the last few years. He works a bazillion hours a week and already rides his bike 21 miles a day to commute, so he felt like the change needed to be mostly in his diet. SO, I concocted this brilliant plan!
A Labor of Love
I announced we would do a cleanse and detox diet following the methods of Dr. Alejandro Junger, the author of "Clean", one of the most popular manuals to cleansing and the clean eating movement. And we weren't messing around either, we were going skip the one or two weeks program and plunge right into the 21 day detox. He would lose weight and I would support him by joining him in the diet. We would totally bond over the difficulties and splendors of detoxing and I would document our journey for all of you faithful readers out there! What a story!
But What Does It All Mean?
If you're not familiar with "Clean", here's a very, very simplified version of the ideology:
Dr. Junger feels the human body has a natural ability to detox, or rid itself of toxins that come from the environment, food, and stress. However, because of our modern diet and lifestyle, the body is often so overloaded with toxins that it can really only perform the most basic detoxing functions. If we rid our lives of the sources of toxins as much as possible via diet and lifestyle, our bodies can go into a deep detox mode and get rid of the accumulation of old toxins that are rooted inside you.
Dr Junger says, "A focused period of detoxifying is a reset for the whole physical and mental body. It delivers an all-access pass to boundless reserves of energy you didn't know you had. You find that every part of your body works better, imbalances are rectified, and irritating symptoms get a chance to melt away on their own-all by your simply 'switching on' a [detoxification] system that you were born with and that has been patiently waiting to serve you."
Dr. Junger says that if you embark on the cleansing journey, these are the riches that await you on the other side:
If you finish Week 1: "...you will experience a surge of vibrant energy and clarity of mind, as toxins are released from the tissues they have been trapped in and are recirculated for neutralization and subsequent elimination."
Week 2: "Longstanding symptoms of imbalance on the 'surface' such as skin problems, weight issues, allergies, and intestinal issues, begin to disappear."
Week 3: (this passage in the book was so verbose I had to break it down into bullet points so you don't die from boredom while reading it)
- Slow down and reverse the aging process
- Feel vital, clear, and optimistic
- Drop stubborn pounds
- Complexions firm, tighten, and glow
- Whites of the eyes get whiter and brighter
- Sleep more soundly
- Higher energy levels
- Relief from issues like constipation, sinus infections, joint pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.
- Heightened state of self-awareness and fresh vision of the world
Nuts and Bolts (or Veggies)
Here's a breakdown of Dr. Junger's detox diet plan:
- You eat a blended meal for breakfast and dinner and a solid meal for lunch.
- Eat breakfast no less than 12 hours after dinner the night before.
- You only eat foods that are on the Elimination Diet list.
- Try not to snack.
Why these rules? Well, Dr. Junger says the elimination diet and detox plan will:
1. Reduce the workload of digestion: Gives your body a break from digesting so it can focus on detoxing.
2. Restore the twelve-hour window: Give your body a total break by having a 12 hour fast every night.
3. Rebuild the inner environment: Lower body's acidity and rebalance gut flora.
4. Support the liver: So it can can do its job as efficiently as possible.
5. Enhance elimination: Drinking water, sweating, peeing, and pooping.
Food Dos and Don'ts
Dr. Junger wants you to throw out all grains with gluten, white rice, corn, rye, etc. No red meat. No dairy. No processed sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, or evaporated cane juice. No soy. No eggs. No oranges, grapefruits, bananas, tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes. No shellfish, pork, or beef. No peanuts or peanut butter. No alcohol or caffeine. And there's other stuff.
But you CAN eat fruits and veggies (excluding those above). Coconut and nut milk, rice (not white), quinoa, avocados, olives, small fish, wild game, lamb, duck, chicken, turkey, peas, lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds, olive/sesame/coconut oil, decaf herbal tea, brown rice syrup, stevia, vinegar, spices (except cayenne?), raw chocolate (ew), mustard, and some other stuff.
You will need:
- Source of pure water (A jug filter does not count. It must be a filtration system.)
I already have a Vitamix (the only nice kitchen thing I own) but not a juicer. And we only have a Brita, not filtered water. But I figured I could blend up stuff and strain it for juice and maybe I could buy a few jugs of filtered water just for the cleanse. And I went out and bought a couple of big containers with lids and straws so we could carry our smoothies around while doing stuff and feeling amazing. Soooooo, totally ready!
Now. Let us embark together on this glorious journey to health and vivacious renewal. Here are excerpts from my detox diary with added comments from my husband. I'm a fitness professional who goes by the moniker, This Fit Mom. So he's dubbed himself, That Fat Dad.
Monday. I did not really even attempt to forgo coffee. I just needed it and I drank it. Breakfast: Smoothie, including greens, vegan protein powder (PP), cashew butter, dates, frozen blueberries, almond milk. Fine, not good. I was a little hungover because I felt like I should tie one on Sunday. Felt gross all morning. Did monster workout, 90 minutes. Almost died. Ate canned wild salmon, capers, olive and sesame oil, broccoli cooked w/ jerk seasoning, avocado. Pretty good. Felt good after lunch. Got hungry around 4, had some dates and sunflower seeds. Dinner: Smoothie-almond butter, greens, PP, lemon juice, almond milk, frozen blueberries. So gross. Drank half and felt sick. Gave other half to That Fat Dad and he could only drink half of that. Realized I didn't buy the pure water yet, whoops. Went to bed expecting to sleep well but I tossed and turned all night. WTF.
Tuesday. BKFST: Coffee. Smoothie-greens, almond milk, PP, lemon juice, blueberries, walnuts. So grody, choking it down. Feel tired and cranky due to lack of sleep, I think. Have very heavy major sweats. Toxins coming out? Feel in my head about it. Worried about having enough energy to get a good workout. Took forever this morning to prep everyone’s food and stuff. Feeling cranky about the whole thing. Tired during workout, had to drop reps. So so sweaty. Better after solid lunch. Worse after smoothie dinner. Calling it, "Smoothie Sick." Long, rolling nausea that reminds me of pregnancy morning sickness. Realized I still forgot pure water. Still no good sleep. Weird dreams. So sweaty I had to change jammies in the middle of the night. Pooping 3-4 times a day. WHATS HAPPENING-WHERE IS THE BEAUTIFUL GLOWING VITALITY.
Wednesday. Food same as yesterday. I did my hour long HIIT class and was so weak and seriously almost passed out a few times. Destroyed after. Felt sick mostly all day but felt better after liquid dinner. I did sleep really well. Accepted that I was probably never gonna buy the pure water. Feel slender and muscles look well defined. Maybe this is the turning point! Yes. Now I will emerge from this sweaty pile of destroyed flesh to be reborn. Lots of sweating, peeing, and pooping. Will leave you to imagine it.
Thursday. No rebirth. Ran out of smoothie stuff so had celery and almond butter for bkfst. Felt tired and sick. Nauseous all day. Just-no workout, couldn't face it. Did solid lunch and smoothie for dinner. Felt so yuck after dinner smoothie that I had to just lie motionless and sweaty on the couch. Fantasized about chewing stuff. Then it occurred to me-aren't my teeth just blending my food in my mouth??? Got confused thinking that. Felt so nauseous all night that it kept waking me up. Very sweaty and pooping all the time still. Brain felt slow and weird all day. Getting weird. Things are going to a strange place.
Friday. I had eggs and toast for bkfst!!! I had to do an exercise class for a review for this magazine and I just felt so bad I had real concerns about actually fainting. Eggs and toast made me feel much better and I had a good workout. I sweated so much it was alarming and people commented on it. Felt energetic and had nice conversations with people. Now the forbidden food glow is fading and I don’t feel so good anymore. I plan to have liquid lunch and dinner to make up for the bkfst. (Ended up having salmon and brown and red rice. So so so good. Aaannnnd a small glass of bourbon. It was Friday night!!!) Slept horribly. Prob because of all the naughty foods and drink.
Saturday. Here's a conversation I had with That Fat Dad. TFD: "I need to have a serious talk with you. What are the real implications of putting one or two shots of tequila in a glass with some ice and soda? Is it gonna mess up the [gestures to midsection while making tongue pop noise] you know, the dojo?" This is what I'm dealing with. We both agreed we feel depressed after lunch knowing that the solid meal is done and there's nothing left for the whole day but another smoothie and the smoothie sickness (which TFD doesn't experience). But I slept great! Sweats and pooping continue.
Sunday. Had liquid breakfast and coffee. Felt actually not too bad. Solid lunch at the beach of rice, salmon, and cucumbers. Spent the whole day at the beach and when we got home we were just crazy starving. I tried to be good and ate celery and almond butter. TFD had tortilla chips, which he called nachos to make himself happy. Slept like a freaking LOG.
Monday. Had liquid breakfast and headed off to gym for class. Was pretty tired and noticed on the scale that I actually GAINED weight. I give up. SO depressed. So tired. Can’t workout or play with my kids. Can't have any fun. And I guess I'm getting fatter? I’m eating my eggs and toast for lunch and quitting this bullshit. I’m ready to get back to regular life.
I felt better almost immediately after resuming my normal eating routine, which was already pretty "clean" to begin with. And a couple days later I stepped on the scale and noticed I had lost 5 lbs. I think TFD lost weight (even though he swears he didn't) and this was his summary of the experience, "I didn't really feel any better or any worse."
The Expert Weighs In
To try and discover why I felt so bad during the cleanse, I spoke with Alexis Lieberman, Integrative Nutritional Health Coach, who specializes in helping people detox using some of Dr. Junger's methods.
First off, Ms. Lieberman let me know that while she used a lot of Dr. Junger's methods, many of her own techniques differed from the strict guidelines of the "Clean" program. She said in general, she really encouraged less fruit and more vegetables. For example, while looking over my smoothie recipes, the said that although Dr. Junger said dates were okay, she would probably advise against them. "Fruits like dates are really high in fructose. When we eat fructose it's poorly metabolized by the liver. And fructose doesn't tell your body to produce leptin, a hormone that helps your body know that it's not hungry. When we eat food like dates, there's nothing happening where your body says, hey, stop eating, I'm all full!"
Ms. Lieberman also said that she probably wouldn't advise anyone to eat the same smoothie twice a day unless they just really loved smoothies. "A liquid meal doesn't have to mean a smoothie. In fact, I really recommend people try to eat soup. A really good, homemade-like two days on the stove-bone broth is a nutritious whole food and works wonders to help restore balance in your gut." She went on to explain that I might not have been getting enough variety in my diet, and that coconut oil can be hard on an empty stomach.
But she was quick to point out that she wasn't sure exactly why the smoothies made me feel nauseous. "When we decide to detox, it's because we don't feel our best. If you already felt fantastic before you started the cleanse, it just might not have been the right time for you to attempt one." And she was right on the nose there. I DID feel great before I started the detox. It was my That Fat Dad who wanted to make the change. And he felt just fine during the ordeal.
She went on to add, "I find that the alcohol drinkers and coffee drinkers are the ones that usually don't start to feel really good until after about a week has passed. When I work with clients who don't drink at all, they usually report feeling incredible about 3 days in." Well, she had my number on that one. I don't like to think of myself as a "drinker" but I usually have one cocktail in the early evening, almost every day. And I didn't even try to give up my coffee.
Ms. Lieberman also pointed out that I might have felt tired because my body was going through some stuff. "If you try to do ambitious workouts, you might not really feel 100 percent. Your body is very busy during a detox. You said you were sweating like crazy, right? That was your body doing a lot of hard work. When that's happening, sometimes it's best to try and dial back you activity level so you don't feel so depleted."
Finally, she questioned my reasons for attempting the cleanse. Ms. Lieberman explained that the food on our plates is really only part of the equation of our health. We also feed ourselves with the primary relationships in our lives. How are they? Are they calm, meaningful, loving relationships? What about the rest of my life? Was I stressed out or worried? "You can wear all organic cotton clothing and eat all the kale and broccoli in the world, but if you're so wracked with anxiety that you can't sleep at night, you're never going to feel good or healthy. Detoxing isn't always about food. We also need to find a calm, fulfilling path in life if we want to be at our most healthful." And she was totally right. I thought that if I ate a magic combination of foods, I would unlock a spell that would make me a young, glowing beacon of health. In reality, I was stressed out and pouting, bored of prepping what I felt like was gross food, and snapping at my kids and husband. I didn't really want to rid my body and mind of toxins in my life, I just wanted a glittery make-over.
Right before we hung up, Ms. Lieberman also said something that really stuck with me. "You know," she said, "I don't know what you have going on or anything about your past, but sometimes when we detox, it brings up stuff. Like if you ever had issues with food or control or depression, it can kind of bring that to the surface as well." And it was true. I did have a lot of issues with food in the past! I feel like I've mostly them go, but I still struggle with self-worth. And control issues. Maybe attempting the detox wasn't a healthy thing for me. Maybe it was just anther chance for me to try and control my food intake because I feel like everything else in my head is in such a state of chaos.
Moral of the Story
Ms. Lieberman suggested that if I ever wanted to re-attempt a cleanse it might be a good idea to work with a group or a coach so I would have all the support I needed. And maybe I will try again! I think next time I'll try some soup, have a more mindful approach, get a group of detoxing friends together, try to skip coffee, buy some jugs of water, and carefully examine my motives.
Did I actually detox anything? I think definitely, yes! I know something happened physically because of all that crazy sweating and pooping. And doing the detox diet really helped me realize some things about myself and how I'm living right now.
My life is full of nutritious, loving relationships, and I work daily on being a healthful person. This detox really reminded me to be so very thankful for those things. It also helped me to see that I need to work more on staying calm and letting things go. So, actually, I don't think I failed. In fact, I think I really gained some valuable stuff.
What about you? Have you ever attempted a cleanse or detox diet? What was your experience like? Have you ever had a detox fail? I'd love to hear your story.
Follow Sarah on Facebook: This Fit Mom
Related on Organic Authority
Detox Photo via Shutterstock