I wouldn't mind looking like Gwyneth Paltrow. Who wouldn't? So when she started promoting her weight-loss success using something called the Clean cleanse, I threw caution— and solid foods— to the wind.
I'd never done a cleansing diet, which basically requires you to consume mostly liquids for several days or even weeks. Frankly, I have a hard time sticking to any diet at all.
But I was feeling sluggish and bloated from too many happy hours and an abundance of Mexican meals and take-out falafels. Even my normally clear skin was sallow and scattered with pimples. Help!
That's when I saw Paltrow's rave, in her newsletter, Goop, about Alejandro Junger's Clean program. I knew I had to give it a try. Who wouldn't want to feel “pure, happy, and much lighter?” Sign me up!
So I pressured my up-for-anything roommate, Erin, into joining my quest for purity and light. Then I started reading up on Dr. Junger's cleanse, which is actually pretty easy to follow (for a cleanse). The basic rules are:
1. Liquids only for breakfast and dinner— and allow 12 hours in between dinner and breakfast for optimal digestion.
2. Solids are allowed for lunch.
3. No soy, dairy, gluten, caffeine, or alcohol.
(Check out this comprehensive list of rules for the Junger Clean program.)
Seems simple, right? Well, the list of forbidden foods is daunting——my first gripe with the cleanse. I was technically allowed to enjoy a savory duck dish, but I'm a vegetarian —so that was out. Strictly following the cleanse meant I was not only a vegetarian, but I was also a gluten- and soy-free vegan to boot. Yikes.
Junger recommends you follow the cleanse for up to 21 days. I lasted a measly five.
The headaches were killer
I woke up my first morning feeling confident— and maybe a little cocky. This isn't so hard, I thought, as Erin and I sipped blueberry-spinach-and-almond-butter smoothies. They were pretty tasty too. Things were still looking up at lunch, when I noshed on a spinach salad with lentils, roasted veggies, walnuts, and balsamic vinegar, which I'd prepared the night before. A caffeine headache hit at 4:30 and I was aching for a snack, but it was nothing I couldn't handle.
That night Erin and I sipped freshly made juice——a tasty combo of carrots, kale, beets, and ginger——alongside a cup of pureed butternut squash soup. We were both in bed by 10:30——the earliest I'd hit my pillow in months. I felt healthy, content, and well on my way to Hollywood beauty.
The feeling didn't last long. Midweek I felt run-down, hungry, and really, really crabby. I kept to myself at work to avoid snapping at innocent coworkers. I fielded pleading emails from Erin, who was asking for natural headache relief.
Junger recommends that you take a nap when a headache strikes. I found that a bit tricky to work into the office routine.
Fortunately, I had Erin for support. If I had had to endure a roommate eating solids for dinner, I probably would have shoved a hot dog down my vegetarian throat.
The problem with doing a cleanse with someone, though, is that it makes it tough to cheat.
I tried. I really did. I successfully consumed a liquid-only dinner when I went out with an old friend. I steered clear of my favorite coffee shop all week. Then I fell— for a measly half cup of lentils.
I turned into a sneaky cheater
I was five days into the cleanse and I just couldn't bear the thought of another solid-food-free dinner. It wasn't as if I wanted to gobble down a Whopper and fries. I just craved healthy food that I didn't have to sip through a straw. So when Erin left the room, I quickly dumped a half cup of lentils into my evening soup. If that weren't shameful enough, I sprinkled on a little feta. Solids were bad enough, but dairy was expressly forbidden.
“Whats in there?” Erin asked, suspiciously eyeing my lumpy soup.
That's when I broke down. I felt a wave of shame rush over me as I confessed my deviant behaviors. I couldn't even last a week on the easiest of cleanses. I was a diet failure.
Then I suddenly felt a lot more chipper. You see, staying away from some of my favorite healthy foods——a whole lot of solids——and having to consult a list before every single meal was making me miserable.
And finally it was over! Hallelujah!
It wasn't a lot of laughs, but I did learn some pretty useful things about my body and myself during my week of juice hell.
I found out that a cleanse can help you…
…Find out what foods work best for your body.
One of the most interesting aspects of the cleanse was seeing how differently Erin and I reacted to different food groups. Erin has a mild gluten intolerance, so for her, a carb-free week was ideal. She noticed, though, that after two days without meat she was really craving grilled chicken——and once she got her fix, she felt infinitely more energized.
I, on the other hand, rarely missed meat when I gave it up almost a year ago——in fact, I never ate it much anyway. And I quickly realized that I require carbs to function. It took me a day and a half to realize I had to hightail it to the supermarket for some brown rice if I wanted to have any friends by the cleanses end.
I was shocked at how our bodies required such different things. So going forward, I know that fad diets just aren't for me. Anything that requires me to give up certain food groups is a risky gamble. Still, I loved the feeling of eating so many whole foods and, in particular, sipping freshly made juices—though this was made significantly easier thanks to my lifesaving Breville juicer. If I want to lose weight, I'll stick with whole foods, sure, but I won't consider anything off-limits.
…Think about your food choices. (Maybe too much.)
I've always been a pretty healthy eater, and I am a big fan of meal planning——both because its good for my body and my budget. But having to consider certain foods off-limits and knowing I wasn't allowed to snack if I felt hungry made me think about my diet a little too much.
I checked the clock countless times each morning waiting for lunchtime, and then after I was through with my solid meal, I lamented the fact that I couldn't eat solids again for 24 hours. All that obsessing led to my eventual lentil slip.
Erin, on the other hand, tends to throw together random meals based on what she has in the cupboard——or else she'll head to a hot dog vendor for a quick and cheap dinner. For her, the most enlightening part of the cleanse was putting more effort into her meal choices. Bringing her lunch to work every day helped her cut down on added sodium in processed foods, and it let her have total control over what was in her meal.
…Figure out just how much you're really eating.
I always knew I was a grazer at heart, but I thought I'd gotten better. I keep my hand away from the office candy dish and I portion out my snacks instead of eating cereal straight from the box. But each night of the cleanse, Erin and I would prepare our evening juices and our lunches for the following afternoon. And each night I would catch myself about to pop a spare Brussels sprout in my mouth——and not just once or twice, but up to maybe ten times. Sure, Brussels sprouts aren't the worst things to nosh on, but surely I must be snacking more than I realized.
Since my little lentil breakdown, I've made more of an effort to watch what I'm inadvertently eating, and my jeans are feeling a little looser at a result.
…Treasure your friends.
I found out how important friends can be when it comes to losing weight. I could never have lasted as long as I did without Erin's support, and I'm sure I would have snuck lentils four days sooner if she wasn't watching my back.
Now I know that if I ever need to go on a serious diet, I'm definitely enlisting a friend or family member. Studies have shown that people who try a weight-loss program with a buddy lose more weight—and keep it off longer— than those who go it alone.
…Remember the importance of the occasional indulgence.
I know I shouldn't rely on a cup of joe to get my day started, but I savor my walk to work with a steaming cup of hazelnut coffee. I still start my day with coffee, but I've downsized to a smaller cup. The same goes for a nice glass of red wine with dinner.
Sure, I don't need it, but I love the ritual of sharing a meal and a nice bottle of Merlot with friends. Life is too short to cut out all my vices just to see the scale drop a pound or two. So while I still wouldn't mind looking like Gwyneth, I won't be giving up my favorite treats anytime soon.
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter