My 21 Day Cleanse
Week before last I ended a twenty-one day gentle food cleanse. The experience was transformative, and I wanted to write about it. And while I want to share my experience and reflect on it through writing, what I don’t want to do is suggest that you should do a cleanse. If the timing is right for you, great. Just know that this isn’t a pro-cleanse, go-cleanse post. But it is very much a report on what my cleanse experience was like. (Results may vary!)
An Unplanned Cleanse
I had been battling some deep fatigue for about a week, and mentioned it to my acupuncturist. We had been talking about the fact that my book is going to be coming out in a couple months, and that I’m going to want to be wholly ready to focus much spirit and energy on that. She wants me to be feeling great — and energetic — by May. My deep fatigue was the opposite of where I want to be. “Have you ever considered a cleanse?” she asked. My first thought was “I can’t pull that off,” and I felt dread and fear; I recalled a friend who was on a cleanse and how difficult I imagined it was for her to fend off cravings. I was doubtful. My acupuncturist then pulled down a can of pea-protein based vitamin and mineral powder, a pack of fermented cod oil capsules, and a pack of probiotic powder pills, and presented them to me. There was also a packet of info, the guidelines.
I flipped to the page with the list of what I had to cut out for twenty-one days (listed here in the order of how horrifying it would be to give up):
gluten (I omitted most grain, with the exception of some rice and quinoa)
meat (weeks two and three)
I looked at the cleanse calendar, and slowly sensed–to my surprise–that I was up for it. Truth was, two months prior I had hurt my back and had made a decision to follow various healing paths wherever they may lead, and would be willing to try what might work. This healer was suggesting a cleanse. So I said, “Let’s do it.”
If I had given it thought, I’m certain that I wouldn’t have agreed to it. If I had said, “I’ll think about it,” I wouldn’t have done it. The fact that I hadn’t eaten much yet that day, that it was early in the day, and I could count that very day as Day 1, helped me feel that the cleanse had already begun. I felt like I could do it.
In my acupuncturist, I would have a guide, a witness. That lent me confidence, too.
The First Three Days are Tough
Not only are the first three days rough, but my acupuncturist told me that not everyone gets past that initial hurdle. My guess is that because I was generally seeking a spiritual experience, rather than weight-loss, that helped me stay on the ride. Or I’m just remarkably stubborn. I wanted to “observe” the experience, I wanted to have and explore the experience of…detoxing. For detoxing is what the first three days are. And detox is painful and confusing and frustrating.
Feelings on Days 1, 2 and 3
The first days are a real test. They are difficult days. I wondered if my body would shut down from the shock of it all, if the sudden dietary change would cause a heart attack, stroke, or worst of all: a psychotic episode. I felt such fear. I felt the fear that I wouldn’t get enough food, that I’d become depleted. I feared nameless fears about being vulnerable, fundamentally vulnerable. I feared exposure — the feeling of fundamental exposure to nameless, faceless dangers. More concretely, I experienced a new kind of headache that I’d not felt before (center of my forehead and top of my head), I felt disoriented and cranky, too.
That all passed. Those feelings returned here and there–wafted through–but were uncommon occurrences and became way more manageable.
By day five, a kind of balance and sense of euphoria arrived. I went from feeling afraid without food as armor and comfort to feeling strong, centered, and with greater sight. I’ll try to explain that last one, sight. One way to explain it is that I felt less self-conscious and anxious, so nicely balanced energy-wise, that when I was around people I was looking at and into them, seeing and hearing them, and not distracted by my own nerves. That blew me away. Another way to explain the increased sight was that I somehow felt that my perception, or intuition, was heightened when I wasn’t filled with food.
With my recent lower back issues, I’ve been getting therapeutic massages. I went for one during the midpoint of my cleanse. It was a day when I had eaten very little (even for a cleanse!) During the massage, I had a waking dream, or vision. I saw a man standing on the edge of a plateau. He was standing at an angle, with mostly his back to me. He was looking out at the expanse below him. I sensed that he was sad, proud, and weary from battle — he was wearing what was left of his buckskin pants, no feathers, though he was native american — while he surveyed…the battlefield? It was hard to know what he was looking at. But the vision was truly extraordinary.
I mentioned all this to another massage therapist I know, who is very intuitive and generous about sharing what she knows about different types of healing. I said, “For some reason I feel more intuitive and able to “see” when I don’t have a lot of food in my system.” She said, “Oh, yeah. That’s a thing. A teacher once told me that keeping food to a minimum is a method for connecting with intuition.” What a remarkable insight, and lesson.
What I Ate
Now for the practical bits. I want to have a record of this, for next time.
I ate a lot of the same things. At first I thought, “Same things all the time? Boring.” But then I realized that everyone eats pretty much the same things most days of the week. Think about it. Don’t you? Most days I ate: hummus, an apple, an avocado, trail mix (theirs), and a mango-red quinoa salad that I bought weekly from Whole Foods. I ate that mango-quinoa salad with garbanzo beans, black beans, cashews, and avocado, depending on the day. I drank a lot of tea, organic herbal tea.
At one point, I realized that the food I was making was rather beautiful. Colorful. Apples and berries are vibrant reds, purples, and pinks. Carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, lettuce, radishes, squash are vibrant greens, oranges, and reds. Each salad I made, mushroom and carrot soup I simmered, or coconut curry I stirred were gorgeous to look at.
The key was to eat just enough, but not more than that.
Some of my new favorite snacks are chia seed pudding, apple slices with sun or almond butter and cinnamon, hummus with carrots, cucumber, or radishes, and a sweet treat is majool dates stuffed with almond butter.
Was it Worth It?
Yes. The spiritual, or mystical, aspect wasn’t my only reward during the cleanse. The other was that I got to observe my food cravings and how I use food. Yes, use. I was able to notice that when faced with a task I wasn’t excited about, paying bills or writing a difficult email, that the thought “EAT” would flash across my brain like a banner ad. I noticed that I wanted a “reward” when the day was particularly skewed towards work that was void of personal connections or meaning; after a day like that, I’d crave a sweet reward that would help turn-off my brain. All of that was very interesting to observe, and breathe through. I was committed to the cleanse, so I had only the option to breathe (or growl at strangers) as a coping mechanism. That was not easy. Apparently I hold my breath a lot.
Why I’m Still Eating in A Cleanse-Like Way
I feel so, so good. Simple as that.
Thank you, Erin Wilkins, L.Ac.!
-be kind to yourself.
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