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.
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.