Eight months after quitting alcohol and three months into not smoking weed, I embarked on a 21-day cleanse from the supplement company Standard Process. In addition to thirty herbal pills a day for the first week, it entailed eating nothing but fruits, vegetables, lentils, and rice for the first ten days. I don’t even particularly like lentils. It was my first time on this particular cleanse. I’d done a 5-day juice cleanse with colonics in Costa Rica, as well as a 48-hour dry fast, but this would be my longest conscious dietary cleanse ever.
On the very first day, I had a weird craving as I drove past Chick-fil-A. I hadn’t eaten there in many months, but the very idea of doing a cleanse seemed to activate an interesting brain reaction. It was as if while being reprogrammed from my ‘normal’ way of relatively healthy eating (for an American), there was a reset process going on. The best thing that came out of day 1 was the realization that you could put cooked cauliflower in a food processor and it turns out like mashed potatoes and tastes better than it sounds.
By day two, I felt I had a handle on it. It was somewhat fun to start to see my psychological triggers for ‘off-list’ items. I even had to ask Casa de Luz to hold the dressing. You know this boogie is for real when Casa de Luz is not fully compliant with a diet.
Day 3 & 4
On days 3 and 4, some degree of irritability began to set in, and I already became bored with the limited menu. I was doing the cleanse with my girlfriend, and we both became a bit short-fused with each other at times. It wasn't bad, but we hoped the cleanse wouldn’t have us at each other’s throats by the end. My girlfriend had several cravings for the comfort foods she’d come to use as an escape, and for me, walking through HEB after they made freshly-baked bread was alluring. Overall though, I knew that doing the cleanse with someone else would be great for support over doing it alone.
Day 5 & 6
On day 5, I began work on an iPhone app for my guided meditation project. Having something on which to passionately work went a long way to curb cravings. In fact, I had to remind myself to eat because I was so immersed in what I was doing. Food became merely a source of nourishment rather than a cure for boredom. I was in the zone, and I began to accept eating only fruits and vegetables. In fact, a dinner of roasted and salted eggplant seemed like a delicacy on day 6. That day, my grandmother fell ill in the hospital. That night, I had a dream that her funeral was the following Sunday.
Day 7: Breakthrough
On day 7, I started to see why the Buddhists withheld earthy pleasures from themselves. I witnessed how looking forward to my next desire kept me from being in the moment. Unhindered by the worry of satiation, I felt more alert and aware of my immediate surroundings in the present, instead of fixated on my next consumption. I tested my iOS app by listening to thirty minutes of binaural beats, and I had a breakthrough that started as a breakdown.
I began to cry. I felt disconnected from myself, my feelings, and from the people who cared about me. I don’t know if the trigger was the binaural beats, the cleanse, my grandmother in the hospital, or what, but I began to ball my eyes out.
‘Let it out,’ my girlfriend consoled. I continued to cry and let the feelings come up. My throat tightened, and my nose filled with snot as tears streamed down my face. I began to see a façade I had put up around my feelings and myself. What is really meaningful? What is really important? Why am I really here? What really matters? What really matters? I began to see my own issues with self-love, and the ways that I used things like tasks and missions to give myself value to myself. Why did I deserve love? Was it my actions? Was it my results? Was it my intentions? The answer was none of the above.
‘Because you exist,’ said my wise girlfriend. Yes! I deserved unconditional love for myself because I am love. There was no measurement. I envisioned my higher self separated from my ego, and I patted myself on the back.
‘It’s ok,’ I told myself. ‘I love you... unconditionally.’
Two days later, my grandmother passed. I went through the weekend with sadness, but I stayed on point with the cleanse. My grandmother was the closest person to me that ever died. I did some more crying, but I almost felt like I pre-mourned for her leading up to it. It’s easy to think about how I could have spent more time with her, or given her more attention, or some other regret, but she taught me a lot about unconditional love, and I don’t think she had any such regrets. It was her time to go and meet my grandfather.
Day 11-15: In Pittsburgh
On day 11, I was off to Pittsburgh for the funeral. I knew it would be a real challenge to not eat pizza. Every time I’d visit Pittsburgh, I’d usually have a different one each day. I looked at it as some sort of test provided by the universe as part of the cleanse. Fortunately, day 11 was also the day where I could add meat to my diet.
When I arrived, my parents had a batch of perogies in the fridge from Perogies Plus. Shit! I didn’t even think about perogies! Alas, pototato-filled dough dumplings were not on the Standard Process list, so I had to abstain.
That night, my dad and uncle bought a pizza from my second-favorite pizza place in the neighborhood. They were going to get my favorite just to really challenge me, but it was closed that night. The universe provides! Also, I was sure to make myself food before the pizza arrived. That night, I made a delectable dinner of herbed chicken, sautéed greens, and a very colorful salad. My uncle commented that my dinner looked better than the pizza anyway – crisis averted. One thing I learned, when introducing meat back to my diet, I was able to use my farts as a weapon. I crop-dusted the entire room with a really stinky one, causing my brother to leave the room and my mom to open the windows.
I made it through the whole week, keeping up on the bi-daily shakes, plenty of salads, and a fair amount of chicken and fish. I also found a pressure cooker in my parents’ attic, and it became my new favorite kitchen tool. Crockpot quality in 20 minutes or less! Nevertheless, the hardest times for me were around 8pm. At that point, with the television on and my family sitting around the living room, I would have an urge to pick up the phone and order a pizza, but I stayed strong.
The funeral was very hard for my dad and his brother, but I made it through tears-free. I had already sent my grandmother love, and mentally sent her on her way. My dad still had several more weeks of legal rigmarole ahead of him to work out the estate. My brother and I urged him to write everything down, so when he kicked the bucket or fell ill in the hospital, we just had to follow a simple checklist.
Day 16-20: Home again
I made it back home and continued working on my stuff by day and sticking with the cleanse by night. After spending a few months with lots of time with my girlfriend, suddenly, we both had full schedules of work. The next day, I began a 200-hour yoga teacher training that would have me certified to teach three months later. I felt that my mind and body was in a great state to undertake such an odyssey, so the timing of the universe was again impeccable.
Then, my girlfriend and I spent several days apart with only phone contact. Both of us were looking forward to the end of the cleanse, and with busy schedules, emotions were sensitive. On day 20, we had a long talk about our new schedules and realized that we were entering a phase where we wouldn’t be able to spend so much time together for a few weeks. It was sad, but we vowed to make an effort to hang on to each other through the transient nature of our schedules.
By the end, my body felt great, and I felt like my perceptions were stronger. My sense of smell, touch, and body awareness were all heightened. I could only assume it was due to the abstaining from carbs. My girlfriend and I had a conversation about the rise of poor eating habits in America. At first, scientists thought it was due to rich meats, so the fad was ‘low fat’ to avoid this. Ideas like substituting natural butter with man-made margarine and low-fat potato chips compounded the dire situation. The rise of obesity and cancer actually coincided with the advent of refined carbohydrates, not animal fat. When white flour became a major part of our diet, we became unhealthy. Eating a diet of low carbs felt a lot healthier, but I must admit, I love my carbs. A balance is necessary.
In the last week, two interesting synchronicities occurred within the realm of my work. On two separate projects, I had had to cancel meetings because I was out of town for the death of my grandmother. When I returned to reschedule, on both of these projects, the person with whom I was working had their own family member fall ill into hospice to pass at any moment. We had to reschedule again, but I didn’t see these as bad omens. Instead, I saw them as signs that I needed to work on my own personal projects and get them into more of a finished state before I added more irons into the fire with these new projects. The universe provides, in its own way. It’s everyone’s time sometime.
Day 21: The Final Day!
Day 21 felt like Christmas Eve. The last pills. The last shake. The last regimented meal. By the time we went to bed, we already had on our mind what we might eat the next day: Oat bran for breakfast, a salad for brunch, Mexican food for dinner, or maybe pizza? Maybe some high-end restaurant? and... Chocolate chip cookies for dessert! Oh my! With spelt flour and grass-fed butter, of course! As I wrote this the day after my cleanse completed, I considered brewing some tea...with caffeine.
People might argue that a cleanse is worthless if you just go back to your original diet afterward. Some think of it as just a fad diet, like any temporary food alteration that never lasts. I’d argue that this this is not true, and if that’s the only excuse for not doing one, it’s a lame one. First off, even if your original diet is shit, simply taking 21 days off of shit is better than eating shit for those 21 days. Secondly, cleansing out a few layers of old shit is valuable as well.
More important are the spiritual and psychological effects of a cleanse. First and foremost, it makes you more conscious of your diet and your day-to-day existence. It helps you to live with more awareness and in the moment, instead of as an unconscious dreamer being pulled and controlled by your ingestion desires. By temporarily separating from automatic consumption, you bring your awareness to a higher state of consciousness. You begin to see your patterns and cravings. Once I separated myself from my patterns and cravings, I began to see the triggers that cause them. Even if this is only a temporary diet change, it is still a very powerful experience.
Hopefully, something comes from the experience to help your body and mind become clearer by improving your regular diet. The clarity lets you live your life with more life, even if only a tiny bit. Either way, doing a serious cleanse of some type and succeeding is a badge of accomplishment, and the process is a great exercise in mindful awareness that can be applied to other areas of life outside of food and physical health. I’d highly recommend it as part of any spiritual or dietary path, or just for the heck of it.
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Copyright (c) 2015 Russell Eric Dobda