I’ve never heard anyone say, “I’m doing a cleanse and it’s the easiest, most intuitive fun I’ve ever had!” I’ve never said it, and anyone who does is creepy, in a Stepford wife kind of way. At their worst, cleanses can be a miserable week of hungry, sweaty, deprivation. At their best, cleanses can be a detoxifying break from your regular routine filled with refreshing recipes and a burst of energy.
No matter your attitude or methods, you will have some negative detox symptoms along with the positive. Your body is always flushing out toxins, no matter what your diet is, but when you abstain from meat, dairy, refined sugar, processed foods, gluten, caffeine, alcohol, and other common allergens and intolerances, you are simply supporting that natural system. Consequently, your body will probably unload a lot more toxins during a cleanse. Detox symptoms usually only last for a few days to a week, so if you are experiencing detox symptoms for longer than that, you should talk with your doctor and make adjustments to your diet. Typical detox symptoms include but are not limited to: sweating, bad breath, headaches/body aches, gas/bloating, constipation/diarrhea, fatigue, brain fog, intense craving, breakouts. If you feel excessively dizzy, weak, or nauseous, that’s a sign that a) You aren’t doing your cleanse right, b) You need to make adjustments or adaptations to your cleanse, or c) You just need to stop cleansing.
Cleanses can be extremely beneficial for your body, especially if you suffer from digestive troubles or poor health, but you should always consult your doctor before undergoing a cleanse just to make sure that it’s safe for you. You can come up with a plan with your doctor, dietician, or naturopath, or pitch a cleanse that you’ve read about. Either way, I’m not doctor. I’m a writer with fibromyalgia and who’s sick of being in pain, so I’ve been experimenting with food-as-medicine for years. Also, you know your body best. For instance, I have very low blood sugar, basically always, so I feel absolutely awful during water fasts. Even though they are very helpful for some people, they are terrible for me. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do them, but not now. My doctor said it was fine to try it, I tried it, and it didn’t feel right at all. End of fast. Well, not quite.
These days, my cleanse of choice is a raw vegan diet, in which you consume only raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. When I need something a little more intense, I like a nice juice fast (sometimes lovingly called a “juice feast,” but I think that’s pushing it). I usually cleanse for a week, but some hardcore raw foodies with do 92-day juice fasts, which strikes me as insane and magnificent. But no matter how long or short your cleanse is, the challenges are more or less the same.
I promise I won’t tell you it’s easy, but I will tell you it’s not as hard as you think. Most people who try and abandon a cleanse have committed some combination of these 10 mistakes, all of which I am very familiar with because I have personally dallied with each of them. Learn from my mistakes — that’s what I try to do.
Set Realistic Goals
Cleanses are intense, and for some reason, they tend to bring up feelings. You’re purging all the things and food is very symbolic, with many psychological associations, and if you’re prone to it, a cleanse can easily slip from self-care to self-abuse. It’s important to set an intention for this cleanse that is meaningful enough to keep you on-track and loving enough to keep you happy and healthy. If you’re starting out with “I want to lose 20 pounds because I look gross in my bikini,” that’s a self-punishing goal with not a lot of substance that will give way to misery, particularly if you’ve already been dealing with your misery with comfort food or self-denial. Instead, set intentions of self-love, acceptance, and care. If you tend to eat badly to deal with stress, anger, or sadness, your goal might look something like, “I nourish my body and deal with my emotions with more supportive tools like journaling, counseling, talking with friends, working on my art, etc. I treat my body holistically.” Your mind is part of your body, too. You can talk with a friend, a counselor, and/or journal to keep you on-track. In your journal, make a note at the start of each day about what your intention is. It can be the same goal/intention all week, or you might see it change or adapt. At each meal or snack, write down what you consumed and how you feel. This is a good way to keep you accountable, make sure that you’ve consumed enough, record your recipes and preferences, and notice if you feel better or worse after certain foods. At the end of the day, take a minute to answer these questions: What did I struggle with? How have I progressed? What can I let go of? If you like, you can spend more time journaling, or you can try using mantras if you like them. A favorite from yoga class is “I am not my mind,” which basically means, “All my crazy, self-destructive thoughts don’t reflect my true nature.”
Plan Ahead Carefully
If you’ve never done a cleanse before, or if you struggle with them, have a game plan and start out easy. One way to ease your way into a cleanse is to go mostly raw vegan but allow yourself some rice and cooked vegetables for the first week. Then you can transition to all raw the next week, and if you want, try a juice fast the third week. Some people prefer to do a raw day, or a juice day, once a week, and then slowly build up to a whole week. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something achievable and challenging, but not intimidating. When you plan out your cleanse, make sure your grocery list reflects your plans. Pick out meals ahead of time, with lots of variation, and shop for what you’ll need. This saves money, time, and frustration. If you’re going to be out all day, make sure you bring juices in a big thermos or food in a little cooler in your car. I keep snacks in my purse, like nuts, fruit slices, and seaweed, and I always bring water, herbal tea, or juice with me. Don’t leave yourself hanging. You’re most likely to crack when you’re in the car, lightheaded and starving, and driving past a Starbucks.