Going into this 5-day juice cleanse, I expected to meet some uncomfortable feelings around Day 3. This is what I’d heard from others who’ve done something like this, and the clean-eating cleanse I did last summer (while not as strict as last week’s juice-only business, was still a challenge) brought up some things around Day 5. In a sense, I was sort of expecting it.
It never happened.
And by “it,” I mean that I never felt depressed, angry, frustrated, or sad. I never felt any of the inexplicable emotions that I’d heard were products of physical detox. What I did experience, on the other hand, was a heightened awareness of my feelings and perceptions about food and my relationship with eating. And that was tough.
On Day 4, as I was further experimenting with my newfound love of cashew milk and knowing some of the benefits of consuming a moderate amount of raw, local honey, I started playing with variations on my favorite hot beverages (chai, lattes, etc.), and stumbled on a really tasty concoction of [cashew] milk, raw cacao powder, cinnamon, and honey (I used Wessels). The next time I tried it, I swapped out the honey for agave and added coffee.
Both times, as I was enjoying what tasted like a delicious indulgence, I was surprised by feelings of guilt and confusion. Should I be drinking this? There’s conflicting science and information out there about raw honey and agave, so was I doing more good than harm? More harm than good? This led me down a rabbit hole of thinking about all of the different diet information I’ve read and consumed lately. Vegan, vegetarian, grass-fed, cruelty-free, raw, unpasteurized, Paleo, etc. Perhaps this was a food-related documentary overdose?
There’s a solid argument for and against just about every one of those approaches, and at this point, I felt a little overwhelmed. I emailed Nicole, because, as she’s detailed on her own blog, she’s been there. After a few days of hashing through some things with her and sorting through my own feelings, here’s where I landed.
Freaking out about a teaspoon of honey here or agave there is rooted in an idea of perfectionism.
Subconsciously (or maybe even consciously), we assign value to foods, drinks, and flavors. We think of food as “good” or “bad” or “not as good,” rather than actually considering how it makes us feel and function. Running foods through the filter of “good” or “bad” isn’t really doing me any favors. Instead, running food decisions through a filter of “this decision supports my healthy lifestyle” instead leaves room for moderation, personal experience, and cutting ourselves a freaking break when “perfection” isn’t attainable (hint: it never is).
In the days since the cleanse ended, I’ve stayed committed to avoiding animal products a bit longer and am first experimenting with how various foods treat me instead. There was guilt associated with these decisions as well (the Paleo lights in my brain went off when I added black beans to a dish), and I went down another rabbit hole of research, trying to figure out why the cavemen didn’t eat beans, and why Paleo enthusiasts don’t believe in them now.
There is an overwhelming amount of information out there, and a lot of it is conflicting or confusing.
It is ultimately up to me (just as it is to you) to find the balance of food that best supports my health. Right now, nothing is off the table, and I enjoy that I can experiment with different things on the blank canvas created by last week’s detox. I don’t want a temporary diet or “plan,” but rather want to experiment my way into a healthy lifestyle that includes a flavorful and energizing diet, movement that keeps me physically and mentally balanced, and confidence in whatever decisions I make, be that apples and almond butter or macaroni and cheese.
Since there is so much information out there, it’s up to me to consider everything I learn as a jumping off point for learning more, and to think critically about everything out there (because documentaries are always pushing someone’s ideas forward, well-researched as they are, and I get that).
The Positive Side (and there is one!)
Once I got a grip on these feelings and started sorting through them, I started looking at everything I consumed through that lens: “Is this a part of my healthy lifestyle?” Sometimes the answer was “no,” sometimes it was “not yet,” sometimes it was “sometimes,” and plenty of things fall into “yes! of course!”
Brendan Brazier (thanks again to Nicole for the rec — I’m loving his Thrive Forward program!) talks about adding things in vs. focusing on what you’re restricting, and through that lens I’ve added so much to my diet and my life in the past week! Other than the tangible (I added a mandoline slicer to my kitchen!), I’ve added new recipes, tried new vegetables, and found an warm and indulgent beverage that actually benefits my health and overall feelings of wellness rather than makes me feel sluggish.
Real food just tastes better now, and it’s easier to experiment by starting simple than try to replace (or replicate) things.
I tried all kinds of fancy variations on things when I was in Test Kitchen mode on Saturday, and while I found some good things, I came to the conclusion that the best way to continue this kind of food exploration is to keep things as simple as possible, and then add in flavors when it will enhance or complement what exists naturally.
For lunch yesterday, I roasted an acorn squash, chopped up sweet potatoes and parsnips to spoon into the inside, and ate that with a side of broccolini. The only seasonings I added were olive oil, salt, and pepper.
The flavors of the root vegetables and those tasty greens came through, un-drowned in sauces or other flavors and next time I add something to the dish, it will be with the intention of enhancing flavors, not burying them.
I struck out a few times when I tried to go overboard with seasonings and flavors and completely missed out on the natural nuances in the actual food itself. From now on? Start basic and sllooooowwwly add things in.
I learned new things!
I’ll post the recipe next week, but I learned how to make cashew and almond milk (seriously, I don’t know why I was so intimidated!), and those have become staples in the house now. I discovered a new go-to “comfort” dish when I craved something warm and savory (brown rice, black beans, avocado, and salsa). I tried a blood orange for the first time (soooo gooooooood), where I’d only had it before as an extract or purée in mimosas (which is perfectly fine as well).
So, while I didn’t have any sort of emotional breakdown during the process, I did come face to food with some subconscious ideas I’ve held about food, and the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” of a healthy lifestyle. Ultimately, my goal is to find balance and variety in the foods I eat and enjoy, to discover what gives me the most energy, focus and overall health.
And next time I do dig into a cheese board or an Eggs Benedict, that I truly savor and appreciate it and file that under the “this is part of my healthy, flavorful, and varied diet and lifestyle” category.
It’s worth noting that sorting through a lot of this with someone who’s been through it before and who is well-versed in massive food changes and lifestyle overhauls (hi, Nicole!) was hugely beneficial. If you’re on the fence about working with her, it would be an understatement for me to say it’s a great idea. It’s a fabulous idea. You should do it.