Learning From The Cleanse

Eat the rainbow of vegetables (c)2013 La Domestique

The husband and I made it through the cleanse, learning a lot in the process. It was challenging, but so rewarding. For one week we followed a meal plan inspired by the Whole Living Action Plan and Dr. Junger’s book, Clean: smoothie for breakfast, satisfying vegan meal for lunch, pureed vegetable soup for supper. We were hungry, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. I gave up caffeine, and was surprised to find that once I got through the first few days, I actually have more energy without it. I also feel more calm and focused during the day. More than just a week- long detox, the cleanse caused major upheaval in our physical and emotional lives. Planning meals and preparing all the fresh produce took a lot of time and effort. The first four days were the toughest, with us crashing into bed at 8:00 p.m. most nights and a nagging fatigue. Towards the end of the week energy returned with renewed vigor and we both felt a spring in our step. Here are five lessons I took away from cleansing:

5 Lessons From the Cleanse

#1  Taste the Rainbow of Vegetables

Before starting the cleanse I was stuck in a rut, cooking the same old vegetables over and over again. It’s easy to get lazy during the bleak days of winter, eating more creamy comfort food and less fresh produce. But winter provides her own rainbow of vibrant colors to make cooking with vegetables interesting. It’s so important to choose colorful vegetables and fruits, which are richer in anti-oxidants, protecting our bodies and decreasing inflammation.

#2  Travel the World in Your Kitchen

The first week of the cleanse was restricted to a vegan and grain-free diet, which forced me to get creative with the vegetables and legumes I brought home. Inspired by India, I prepared a curry stew with coconut milk, winter squash, okra, and chickpeas. Dreaming of Asia lead to a hearty soba noodle bowl with shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, carrots, and cilantro in a garlicky ginger-infused broth. I learned to make my own Berbere (an Ethiopian spice blend) to make a fiery red lentil stew. To keep fresh salads interesting, I looked to the Middle East and took note of their talent for combining fresh vegetables in unexpected ways with spices and fresh herbs. Not only did these exotic cuisines add flavor to our meals, but also health benefits. Cilantro, garlic, and ginger aid in detox and decrease inflammation, as do spices like cinnamon, chili, and turmeric.

#3  Make Meat a Garnish, Not the Main Course

During the cleanse our main source of protein came from legumes (beans and lentils), which provide long-lasting energy. Now that I’m beginning to add meat back into our diet I’m thinking of it more as a garnish for adding flavor than as a source of sustenance. Normally I would buy three sausages for supper (two for the husband, one for me), but last night I only bought one chorizo sausage to grill and serve sliced atop black bean soup. Don’t get me wrong, I am a meat-lover. But with more satisfying vegetables and healthful legumes on the plate I don’t need as much meat to feel full.

#4  Consider Portion Size

Doing a cleanse is like hitting the reset button and starting over. A week of light meals and small portions brought to light the relationship between my acid reflux and eating too much at one time. I can put down some serious pasta in one sitting, but eating a more balanced, nutritious meal made me feel fuller faster. While on the cleanse, I did not have any episodes of acid reflux. Going forward, I know I’ve got to stop eating before I’m FULL and enjoy smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.

#5  Try New Things

I’ve been preaching about “trying something new” for a long time, but this cleanse taught me to take my own advice. Being an omnivore, I had a prejudice against certain ingredients I considered to be for “health nuts.” Last week I tried almond milk for the first time and discovered that I actually REALLY like it. I’ve also happily incorporated an array of coconut products into my diet (milk, flakes, oil). For some reason dates are a new thing for me, having become a favorite snack in our house. The next new thing I’m planning to try is seaweed. Balance is key here, and it’s easier to incorporate new ingredients into meals you are comfortable with than go all out with a whole new diet plan.

Healthy Vegetables (c)2013 La Domestique

Now that the cleanse is over I’m slowly incorporating meats, whole grains, and dairy back into our diet. So far I haven’t noticed any food sensitivities. It seems my issues lie in an unbalanced diet (carbs carbs carbs!) and portions that are too large. I’ve also been avoiding things that are known to trigger acid reflux, like caffeine, alcohol, mint, chocolate, tomatoes, and citrus. However, the last week felt very restrictive, and I’m looking forward to enjoying my favorite foods again (cheese, pasta, meat). In the book, Clean, Dr. Junger suggests enjoying your favorite foods as part of a rotating diet. It’s nice to know I don’t have to give up my favorite foods forever, rather, truly savor them as a special treat. The plate looks a lot different now, though, mostly covered in the freshest, most vibrant produce and fiber-rich legumes. The greatest thing I learned from cleansing is a renewed appreciation for the link between the food I eat and the way my body feels.

Have you done a cleanse or detox diet in the last year? What was your greatest lesson? Share it here.


  1. Glad to hearthe u made it thru the cleanse enlightened. :) Very pleased that it helped u realize some triggers for ur acid reflux! Beautiful pics! I know rewarding urself with food is counter-productive, but u should celebrate with a bowl of buttery noodles with parmesan ;)

    • Thanks, sis! We did celebrate with a pizza and it was so good! :)

  2. How wonderful! I am really proud of you. I have done something similar to this off and on and the results are pretty dramatic. Yes, the carb routine is a tough one. I would be happy eating carbs for every meal. We struggle with not eating enough vegetables but when I have to take the carbs out, it is amazing how the veggies start filling the plate. Good luck to you on this journey.

    • Sarah,
      Thanks for your support! It’s funny, even though I love my carbs I don’t really miss them when I’m eating a flavorful plate of veggies.

  3. Hey Jess, So cool that you got so much inspiration from your cleanse! A rainbow of veg always make me happy too! Once we step out of our ruts, I find that there are so many interesting things to eat. When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and had to give up gluten, it was the greatest gift and inspiration to my cooking life.

    • Erin,

      Thanks for sharing a bit of your story- it’s encouraging to read! As we ease out of the cleanse it’s a treat to see how much more vibrant and alive our meals are becoming. Great idea to look at it as a blessing!

  4. I’ve been wanting to do a cleanse/elimination diet for quite some time (I even own both the books you referenced). But I struggle with the work / life / health balance. Sounds like it was a lot of work, but worth it! I think I could probably manage 1 week. From your experience, do you think that would that be worthwhile?

    • Else,

      Oh yes you should do it! The cleanse was not easy, but it wasn’t as terrible as we thought it would be. :) Len and I could only make it through a week, but I’m trying to take some of the most important stuff and continue the healthy lifestyle. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, so I took advantage of the approved snacks. Also, it might be helpful to know that we did not seem to spend any extra time in the bathroom (whew!). I’m so glad we did it. Keep me posted if you give it a go!

  5. What an inspiring post, Jess! I haven’t done cleansing for a long time, but reading your experience made me feel so energized as if I went through the same journey. Thank you for reminding us to appreciate varieties of tasty food that are available to us and the portion of food our bodies actually need. We (I ) tend to foget! By the way, seaweed is not so bad if you dress it with roasted sesame oil, vinegar and a dash of soy sauce!

    • Thank You Emi! I really appreciate the seaweed tip.

    • Yosef,

      True – it was fun. :) I’m sure you can relate to a certain pleasure in planning all the details and preparing the ingredients. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Sounds like a great experience! I’ve never done a true cleanse, but when I need to feel better cutting out grains seems to turn things around for me quickly. I love your takeaways – eating a variety of color does keep things interesting in the kitchen. We also try to use meat for flavor as much as we can – bacon and ham hock are my flavor meats of choice. Thanks for the healthy inspiration!

    • Elizabeth,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! The whole idea of meat being a flavoring rather than the main event was quite a revelation for me.

  7. Thanks for sharing all of your wisdom, Jess! All of your cleanse meals looked seriously delicious on Instagram. These are really great tips!

    • Thanks Nicole!

  8. Refreshing to read about a healthy cleanse! Congratulations!

    • Thanks Ginny!

  9. WOW! This is great news! I’m so happy to hear that you had no reflux for the week of the cleanse! That is awesome! And it’s so inspiring to hear that you are trying new “health nut” food – get yourself some chia seeds and throw them in your smoothie….just saying – I was pleasantly surprise by that one!

    • Thanks for the tip, Suzanne. I promise to try the chia seeds. :)


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