It’s pretty much a cliché by now: January arrives, and after a week or two of celebrating, heavy eating, and drinking more than usual, many make resolutions to exercise more, eat healthier, lose five pounds, etc. I don’t want to bore you with another tale of holiday over-indulgence leading to some half-hearted promise to become a healthier me. While I certainly did eat more and exercise less during the last half of December, I think that in general, I have a pretty healthy lifestyle, and I don’t see any reason to change much: I try to eat smartly, exercise regularly, and drink moderately, while still enjoying the pleasures of food and drink as much as I can. So, when January rolled around, it would seem logical that I would simply return to my regular, health-conscious habits, right?
This year, that didn’t quite feel like enough. I wanted something a little more, something to kick-start me back into those regular habits again. At Christmas, my aunt told me about what she does a few times a year when she wants to rid her body of the toxins of over-indulgence, or even of everyday life: she does a cleanse. For about a week, she told me, she cuts everything out of her diet that she believes might be possible irritants to her system: processed foods, gluten, refined sugar, fruit, caffeine, and alcohol. She eats a lot of vegetables, legumes, some lean meats, and drinks plenty of water.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical: it sounded a lot like a diet (as in, a strict dietary regimen that one follows temporarily in order to lose weight, or otherwise improve one’s health), and I am not a fan of diets. I am a firm believer that the key to physical health is to make lifestyle changes, not to temporarily follow an unrealistic diet that will only prompt over-eating once the diet is finished. But my aunt’s cleanse is not really like this. The point of the cleanse is not specifically to lose weight, it is to give your body a chance to rid itself of toxins and irritants. It gives internal organs like your liver and kidneys, which normally have to work hard to filter out anything potentially harmful to your body that you ingest, a break and a chance to clear out and clean up. This part of the concept made a lot of sense to me: a brief period with as few irritants and toxins as possible, then back to my regular, realistic, but still healthful eating habits. So, I decided to give it a shot.
I started last Tuesday, the morning after Andrew and I got back to Seattle from Montreal. (We arrived late Monday night, exhausted and famished, so we ordered pepperoni pizza and garlic bread sticks—talk about the exact opposite of what I planned on eating for the next week!) My own cleanse was a little different from my aunt’s, based on my own body. I cut out as much processed food as possible, refined sugar, gluten, white rice, dairy, meat (except for a little fish), anything fried, caffeine, and alcohol. I have been eating lots of vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and drinking lots of water. After dinner each night, I take a milk thistle supplement, an herb known for its beneficial properties to the liver, and which is often taken in conjunction with a cleanse. A few explanations:
-I saw no reason to cut out fruit: fruit is so full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, it almost seemed harmful to eliminate it. I didn’t gorge myself on fruit, either, though—it is high in sugar.
-I decided to eat pretty much vegan (cutting out meat and dairy), not because I believe animal products (in moderation) are unhealthy, but because I think that my body could benefit from a break from them. I did have a small amount of fish, though.
-Gluten: I wasn’t sure about this one. While to most people, there is nothing unhealthy about gluten—in fact, products made from whole wheat flour are high in fiber and very good for you—your body does have to work a little harder in order to digest and process that gluten. So, again, I decided my body could benefit from a period without.
A few things I have been eating so far:
-Roasted beats drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a little sea salt
-Brown rice pilaf with Edamame beans and flax seeds
-Vegetables dipped in homemade hummus
-Roasted nori, sprinkled with sea salt
-Oatmeal drizzled with maple syrup
-Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Grain Drink (a really delicious creamy, milk-like beverage)
-Soup of mixed beans, barley, kale, and cabbage
-Quinoa pasta with mixed vegetables and tuna
-Quinoa pasta with sage and roasted butternut squash
-Yogi Detox tea
-Lots and lots of water: plain water, and water with lemon
-Diced avocado tossed lightly with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and sea salt
-Detox shake of spinach, apple, banana, garlic, cayenne, lemon juice, and water (surprisingly delicious and satisfying!)
-Shake of whole grain drink, banana, and ground flax seeds
Everything I have listed above truly is tasty and satisfying. Could I eat this way for the rest of my life? No way. I don’t even know if I could handle a month of it: there are too many things I would miss too much. In fact, this diet is probably lacking in some of the essential nutrients that keep me healthy, so while this diet is beneficial, and even enjoyable, for the very short-term, I don’t think it would work for the long-term. Not for me, anyways.
Maybe I’m being hypocritical by saying that I’m not for weight-loss diets, but I am willing to do, and believe in, a cleanse diet. They aren’t quite the same thing, but some of the concepts are similar: they are both temporary food regimens in order to improve one’s health in some way. Hopefully, mine will have the desired effect of cleansing my body, and I will be able to adjust right back into my usual, health-conscious, but still deliciousness-conscious diet easily. Or, maybe I’m just kidding myself.
Some websites of interest:
I’m not the only one with the idea to cleanse in January: Bon Appétit has a Food-Lover’s Cleanse outlined for readers. It’s more lenient than mine, but lasts longer.
I got a lot of ideas from a website called Just Cleansing. It offers a good overview of why and how to cleanse.