Despite my well documented, above-average coziness with juices, smoothies, and good, clean food, I’d never attempted a cleanse before now. Reason being, eating is awesome. I really like doing it. I really don't like the idea of spending more than a few hours in a row not doing it. And I definitely don't dislike myself enough — freak flag flying, late 30-something that I am — to do a cleanse as some sort of ascetic punishment or experiment in A-type control freakishness.
Obsessive, nurturing attention
But I got to thinking as the new year rushed in. Maybe a cleanse didn’t have to be about dislike. Maybe it could be about liking myself enough to pour a little bit of obsessive, nurturing attention into my daily practice of nourishment. I’m already a pretty thoughtful eater. Some days this means I pay close attention to the source and quality of my food. Other days it just means I think about food all the time. But there’s something to be said for taking a pause, for resetting, for taking thoughtfulness to a more detailed level. There’s also something to be said for having spent the summer eating Europe, and for the enthusiastic reacquaintance I’ve made in the past few months with such health halo American junk foods as Annie’s Mac & Cheese and Whole Foods brand sour cream and onion potato chips. That particular something is best expressed in the form of a burgeoning hip-to-waist ratio, or as excessive difficulty finding one’s center of balance in crow pose.
Slowin' it down a bit
All things considered, I was ready to slow it down a bit. And starting January 5, the yoga studio where I practice was hosting a three-week cleanse based on the Clean Program. Just to put it out there, I haven’t read the book by the creator of the program nor done any real independent research on it — I just paid a small fee to be led through the process by a local health-supportive chef.
Hello from Day 13
I jumped in, and here we are on Day 13. After a three-day settling in period, each day is a liquid breakfast (usually a smoothie or juice); a “normal” lunch (for me, normal has meant gentle panic that I will never eat again, followed by mindful face stuffing with all sorts of delicious foods from the “approved” list); and a liquid dinner (usually a pureed soup). There’s no coffee, no alcohol, no anything that anyone in history has ever been allergic to (give or take), and a 12-hour fast between dinner and breakfast.
Here are a few highlights from what I’ve learned so far.
Cleansing is two parts sense, one part voodoo.
From where I stand, it sure seems like paying attention — really paying attention — is the key to doing just about anything well. Thinking carefully about what you’re eating, what you’re not eating, and why, and then following through on those thoughts, is a useful and grounding exercise. Taking a break from addictive substances like caffeine and alcohol, as well as processed junk foods, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates seems like a good idea as well. And for people who haven’t spent much time in the past paying attention to how different foods make them feel, or those who have chronic symptoms that may be caused by low-grade food allergies and sensitivities, eliminating the likely culprits and assessing whether it helps could be the ticket to a more comfortable life. All of that seems very good.
It's not because of the gluten
But that’s about where it ends. For me, the problem starts when sense gives way to the enticing but unsupported language of detox and cheating, protein powders and gluten villainization. Giving your body a chance to do its normal thing unimpeded by overindulgence? Sure. But active detox is for drug addiction, and daily detox among the unaddicted is the work of our livers, our kidneys, our lungs and skin. Those organs don’t need help from a fancy tea. Crowding out bagels and spaghetti with fresh fruits and vegetables is probably a good plan, but unless you have Celiac disease or another specific condition, it’s not because of the gluten. And once you start adding expensive packaged goods in the name of cleansing, you’ve lost me. If anything, Clean does less of this than many other cleanses, so I don’t mean to pick on the program I’m following. It’s just that in the world of cleansing in general, the slippery slope from sense to nonsense is steep, and for many, it’s an awfully easy sell.
Group accountability is key
One thing I can say for sure about this process is that being part of a group is everything. If you’ve read more than six words of this blog, you probably realize that I’m more of a lone wolf howling on the roof than a sorority sister, and even so, it’s group or bust with this thing. I imagine I’d have doubled my normal coffee and wine consumption and eaten a side of bacon (even though I don’t eat bacon) out of some poorly understood fringe brand of spite at this point if not for my accountability to a group of similarly occupied women. It’s a nice thing about humans that we pull for each other in ways we might not man up and do for ourselves. I’ve found it useful as I slurp on my 11th, 12th, 13th consecutive dinner of pureed soup.
Perfect is the enemy of good
Full disclosure. I’m sitting next to something while I write this, and that something is my second lunch. There is no second lunch on the cleanse, and I do not make a habit of eating one. But today I was damn hungry three hours after first lunch, which I’d had to squeeze between two girls’ basketball games. I suppose I could be berating myself for falling off the wagon, or I could have chosen to starve until my meager bowl of dinner. But dude. I realized early on that it’s more important — on this cleanse and frankly most places — to show up and do a realistically good job than to stress over whether I’m achieving perfection. Show up, get it done, go to bed. That’s the plan to stick with.
Along the same lines, an entire mashed avocado is an acceptable complement to a liquid meal. Don’t ask questions. Just go with it.
Coffee is awesome. But we already knew that.
Finally, I am in a rare position to hold forth on the beauty of coffee from the perspective of someone who does not currently needcoffee but simply desperately wants it. Coffee is amazing and magical like sparkly unicorns. It turns a shitty morning into a beautiful ritual. It makes peaceful world domination seem eminently possible. Starting January 26, I hope to drink it every day for the rest of my life. The end.