About two or three years ago, when I was still waitressing regularly, a bunch of my coworkers decided it was time to do a little spring cleaning: from the inside out. Someone had read somewhere that the “Master Cleanse” was a healthy, no-fuss way to kickstart your natural mechanisms and boost your energy, mental function, and overall well-being. If you’ve never heard of it, read all about it here. Essentially, it’s a juice fast that typically lasts ten days and involves, ahem, flushing the toxins in your body out the back door, if you know what I mean. You drink lots of the special spicy lemonade, which is a mixture of fresh lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and filtered water, and you also do what’s known as a “salt water flush” daily. It can get a little gross but it’s suppose to be very good for you. At least, that’s what we reasoned.
Turns out doing a juice fast is extremely difficult. It sounds wonderful and scientifically proven on paper, but when you get right down to it, you’re not eating for over ten days straight and whatever the long-term benefits, that can be a little psychologically intimidating, at the very least. I watched my coworkers begin the cleanse with high spirits, optimistic and energized, and then I watched almost all of them quit four days later, realizing that working ten-hour shifts on your feet — in a restaurant — while not eating solid food is about exactly as hard as it sounds. “Why are we doing this, anyway?” I heard one of them say as she dumped the last of her lemonade down the drain. “There have to be less extreme ways of healing your body.”
Okay, that’s not a direct quote, but I’m sure someone said that. At least, I asked myself that. What, after all, is the goal with these cleanses? Is it to lose weight? To “detox”? To “healthify”? “The Master Cleanse, for most, is about a transition to a healthier lifestyle,” says their website. I can get down with that. But watching my friends choose to starve themselves in the name of long-term health seemed so counter-intuitive. And, as many have observed, your body does a pretty good job of healing and cleansing itself without your help. So what’s the point?
There are literally thousands of faux-nutritional diets out there, many of them appropriated by the latest “Lose Weight Now!” companies, life coaches, and celebrities in an effort to sell their particular brand of ultra-processed products and easy-as-1-2-3 cleanse plans (like Gwyneth Paltrow–sorry Gwyn, I love almost everything else about you). Many of them also seem to be endorsed by some nutritionist guru with or without an advanced degree (because, as may be evident to you, you don’t actually need any sort of education to be a nutritionist. A dietician has gone through rigorous training and committed to lifelong education through a government-regulated certification program; a nutritionist could be anyone who has an opinion about food and access to the internet.) And much of the western medical community thinks this whole movement is, well, of questionable validity. It’s a lot to take in.
If you couldn’t tell, I was pretty much a full-fledged skeptic. So, I decided to ignore all of this contradictory information and just keep on eating (sweetly) as I always have. I never worried about what I ate; through genetics or pure luck I’ve been gifted with a metabolism that seemed to regulate my body enough on its own such that I could drink whole milk and eat double bacon cheeseburgers with seemingly no adverse effects. I ate plenty when I felt like it and I also blithely and routinely skipped meals, especially when I was stressed out or “too busy to eat.” Then, two years ago, without going into too much detail, I developed intense stomach pain overnight and was admitted to the ER on the evening of opening night of the play I was directing. Turns out my stomach lining had begun to dissolve and I was now at greater risk for a host of chronic ailments. They prescribed me some basic medication and I began to slowly change my life, beginning with reducing my overall stress and examining my eating habits a little bit more closely. And it was during this period that I discovered the brown rice cleanse.
I heard about it from a friend of a friend and got forwarded a Word document containing the parameters of the diet. At the time I was ready to try anything, but due to my particular condition, I had to avoid all citrus, tomatoes, spicy food, alcohol, and coffee. Honestly, I figured cutting out bread and cheese as well wouldn’t make much of a difference. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it was still pretty difficult. The first three days were an endless trial of endurance, complete with dreams about eating entire loaves of bread, but by the fourth day I noticed a marked change in my desire to reach for the pizza rolls. I felt…cleaner. Focused. Optimistic. I started to notice an increase in energy and mental function (I know, you’re probably thinking, “how could you be any smarter than you already are, Carol?” Well, I’m here to tell you that, incredible though that may seem, it did happen). All joking aside, it was a profound experience that taught me a number of things about how my body responds to food and specifically how tied my emotional health is to what I eat.
Of course, these cleanses are a limited-time deal, and once it was over, you better believe I enjoyed that giant slice of chocolate cake topped with butter and washed down with a glass of bourbon (what?). I don’t think I will be pursuing this kind of diet from here on out, but my trial run forced me to examine my eating habits from every angle, which led me to the realization that I could eat this way all the time, if I wanted to. I was capable of exercising that control. (And it’s worth pointing out that I was extremely privileged to be able to do so. There’s a whole economic side of this healthy cleansing craze that I’d love to explore more — suffice it to say those of us with access to fresh produce and enough time to prepare it well are the 1%.) My friend Neil put it another way: “I find that imposing restrictions for a limited time do have a longer term effect on my eating habits. For example I’m not a veg/vegan now but I was both at one time or another, thus I tend to lean more that way in my food choices.” Basically this cleanse pushed me (and I hope it will do so again) to eat healthy every day. Even if I give into temptation now and again, I feel so much more aware of what the other options are. These days, instead of feeling like I’m avoiding certain forbidden foods (which only makes me want them more), I can make a positive, confident decision to choose a healthier option. And that, as far as I understand it, is the point of every cleanse.
So, I’m jumping in again. It’s spring, I know I could use the extra energy, and I have the time to do it. I’ll be blogging about my progress throughout the next month and sharing vegan & raw recipes that manage to fit within the boundaries of the diet while still remaining utterly delicious. I seriously crave a lot of this food all the time now! I’m planning to start on Monday, if anyone wants to join me! And if you’re not interested in the cleanse, trust me, I’ll be back to eating mostly sweet within the month.
The Brown Rice Cleanse
adapted from this website, although having done it once I recommend my revised version
Ryan pointed out over dinner tonight that what I’m planning on doing doesn’t really sound like a cleanse. Maybe that’s why it appealed to me in the first place. I don’t think I would have been as drawn to it if was called “The Brown Rice Diet,” but I guess that’s pretty much what it is. (“If Dr. Atkins was still alive, he would have called his diet the ‘South Beach Cleanse’ and made a million bucks that way.”) Because “cleanses” have caught on so much in recent years (see above references to celebrity endorsements), that has become the phrase that expanded in meaning and replaced “diet,” and is now being applied to everything from juice fasts to going caffeine-free for a week. I also found this article while doing research for this post. So maybe this should really be titled The Modified Alkaline Diet-Slash-Cleanse Written By An Amateur With No Health Background But She Tried It Once So Please Read This With A Grain Of Salt But Only One Because It’s A Cleanse Duh.
Whatever you call it, cleansed is how you will feel at the end.
This cleanse lasts seven days, after which there is a period of twenty two days during which you must slowly incorporate other foods back into your diet. You don’t want to shock your system by immediately grabbing a loaf of bread, and you also want to observe your body and understand what it will tolerate and what it will not.
It helps aid digestion if you drink liquids or eat fruit ½ an hour before or 2 hours afterwards, instead of with your main meal.
It also is a good idea to plan out a few meals in advance (if not most of them) to help you through the first half of the week. It will be difficult at first, especially if you’re used to having a morning cup of coffee and a muffin. You will need to think hard about what you have time to prepare, as well. In the past (and this is what I’ll do again), I’ve made a big pot of brown rice and kept it in the fridge, so I just needed to steam it lightly to warm it up when I was hungry instead of having to wait 45 minutes for my rice cooker.
|DAY 1-7||Eat anything and everything on the “allowed” list. Eat as often and as much as you want. It helped my tummy to begin and end each day with herbal tea or lemon water, but do what feels right to you.
1) Organic brown rice, with or without lentils, rinsed and steamed with no salt.
2) Vegetables: Make sure to wash them very well. They can be eaten raw, steamed or baked. Combine them with rice if you wish. No frozen, canned or jarred vegetables should be eaten.
3) Fruit: All kinds of whole fruits can be eaten. Make sure to wash them very well. Eat fruit raw. Eat fruit by itself.
4) Condiments: olive oil; lemon; herbs and spices such as fresh garlic, chili peppers, cilantro, ginger, and parsley; flaxseed oil.
5) Beverages: filtered distilled or spring water; herbal teas, such as chamomile, mint, or lemon; freshly made vegetable and fruit juices.
6) Other: sprouted tofu, tempeh, lentils, rice cakes, sesame seeds & tahini!
Not Allowed (read your labels!):
7) Salt (if you must use it, as I must, go reaaaaalllll easy)
|DAY 8-12||Now you can start to add in the following foods, one at a time and as often as you wish (if you are tolerating them well):
dairy-free ice-cream (e.g. rice dream)
|DAY 13-15||Go nuts! Try these on for size:
|DAY 16-18||If you like, add fish back into your diet at this point. Check out this website to help you make a healthy choice for you and the oceans:
|DAY 19-21||Time for EGGS! and more meat, if you so choose. I recommend finding some free-range, organic farmers in your area and checking out their goods–it’ll taste better and there’s a host of ethical and economic reasons to do this, too:
|DAY 22-25||Delicious beans (and a few more grains!). You may have been eating lentils this whole time, but if you haven’t, now’s the time to add them in.
|DAY 26-27||Oh sweet, sweet buttery goodness. Go easy on your belly with the dairy at first: notice you should continue to avoid milk and pure butter for the next few days. Just take it slow, cowpoke.
ghee (clarified butter)
|DAY 28||Whole grain products….get in mah belleh.|
|DAY 29||Try that red meat and see if you missed it. Have a glass of wine to wash it down. And when you wake up in the morning, try a splash of coffee. I find half-decaf is all I need anymore.|
The thing that helped me the most while I was doing this cleanse was focusing on what I was doing well, instead of worrying about the things I was probably doing wrong. For example, one day I put a lot of hot sauce on an avocado and ate it for a snack. It was AMAZING and also completely forbidden, as the hot sauce I chose to use was chock full of sugar and preservatives. But the idea is to keep at it, and keep thinking about the long term benefits instead of the little setbacks. Focus on what you are able to do, not on what you aren’t able to do. And as always, savor and enjoy everything you eat or drink!