I woke up last Tuesday and decided to start a cleanse, and that was that. While the decision came easily and my mind was made up with absolute certainty, I didn’t really just wake up out of the clear blue sky and decide to do this. 2013 was in many ways a great year for me. Family life was good, work was good, and to help improve things, our whole family started eating better. For a good portion of time, I felt a lot of really positive effects from changing how we ate, and benefited from a lot of self-education about diet and nutrition. Things were moving right along, even though we dealt with a couple of hiccups along the way; including recurrent strep for both Syd and I. As you know, Syd had his tonsillectomy in November 2013, and even though I had already dealt with about 4 cases of strep that year, his ENT assured me that by him getting his tonsils removed, my strep issues would most certainly go away. I felt hopeful.
They didn’t though, and about 3 weeks ago, I dealt with my 7th case of strep throat since August 2013, and 10 total cases of strep in the past 18 months. 2014 has been a bit rockier than previous years, with kid’s activities increasing, the demands of Art’s job increasing, and while Hayden is still a relatively easy child, as he neared 2, normal child development behavior fell in line. All in all, we just all seem to have a lot more on our plate, and for the past 6-9 months I have been continuously exhausted, more so than just typical “mom” fatigue. I had consistent insomnia where at least 4-5 nights a week I would be up for the day at 3 or 4 am, never falling back asleep. I would count down the minutes till Hayden’s nap, and have zero energy to be productive during that precious 1.5-2 hour window. I would dread school pick-up, and the ensuing homework, activity, and dinner prep routine. And oh the back aches I’ve experienced this year; they’ve been debilitating.
I’ve been exhausted before, but usually a good night’s sleep would cure most of what was ailing me. But this was relentless chronic fatigue that was clearly affecting my life. Not only was I struggling to juggle work and typical house duties like paying the bills (on time), but I couldn’t concentrate, finding it took me hours to complete something that would normally take me half the time. My creativity nose-dived, I had constant writer’s block, and while I didn’t feel depressed per se, all this lack of productivity definitely affected my overall mood and self-esteem. I wasn’t just being lazy because I needed a break; I felt dead tired and wanted to work, create and be productive, but just couldn’t. And zero energy meant a vicious cycle ensued where I would be too tired to cook or prepare a good lunch for myself, so I would snack, and then wouldn’t have any energy from food, so would be even more tired, and on and on. While I was still buying great, wholesome foods and was still strictly avoiding processed and fast food, consuming healthy food alone doesn’t have the same positive affects as continuing with healthy habits.
So when the most recent case of strep knocked me down hard for a few days, I knew I needed to make some serious changes, and I started by going to see an ENT. My doctor’s appointment helped a lot and will get into that later after I get some test results back, but in addition to a few other simple changes I’ve made over the last few weeks, deciding to go on this cleanse has been a big part of me recapturing some of my health.
21 day cleanse, mostly following the detox program outlined in It’s All Good, which is based off of Dr. Junger’s Clean Program. There are a hundred different cleanse and detox programs out there, but I chose to do this one because I am already so familiar with the background, principles, recipes and I don’t have to worry about supplements or any other add-ons. In the mornings I drink a pressed green juice with some combinations of greens, cucumber or celery, an apple, lemon and some ginger and herbs, or if my stomach is feeling a little acidic, I juice a less acidic drink like beets, apples & carrots along with some ginger. The juice is my breakfast. Then for a morning snack I have some nuts or an apple with some nut butter, or maybe a pear. For lunch I have a lean protein along with some vegetables, or a ton of veggies over some grains like brown rice or gluten-free pasta. In the afternoon I have another drink as my snack, either a smoothie or a pressed juice. Then for dinner a repeat of lunch, although I’ve been finding that as long as I have some protein in the evening, and not just a strictly vegetarian meal, I am less hungry closer to bed time and it helps with my urges to snack. And that’s it, no snacking in between, which when I pay attention, I do a lot of mindless snacking. Finishing the kid’s meals for them, picking at food when I’m preparing meals, leaving me less hungry at meal time, or pushing off meal time so much that I wind up starving, and then reach for the junk (even though my junk is pretty clean, like basic potato chips, it’s still pretty empty calories); basically all the typical stuff we urge our kids not to do.
Foods I’m eliminating from my diet include: dairy, soy, red meat, shellfish, caffeine, alcohol, nightshades, wheat, gluten and sugar. While there are widely varying degrees to which people and science can and do proclaim these things are either all good or horrible for us, most can agree that these particular set of food categories can be extremely taxing on our digestive system, causing a lot of our bodily energy to go towards digestive work. When you eliminate these hard-to-digest foods, you free up much of the energy wasted on initiating immune responses. This PDF explains the reason why each category is part of this elimination diet, and while a lot of the medical jargon can easily be googled, I can’t say I agree that these foods need to be eliminated on a continual basis for every person. I’ll most likely go back to eating wheat and limited dairy, red meat, caffeine and alcohol. I will most definitely be watching my sugar intake more closely going forward though.
Why this Cleanse?
One of the important points that came out of my meeting with my ENT was learning that I’ve been living with strep this whole time, and never getting rid of it completely. This means my body has been constantly fighting to stay well, an easy reason as to why I’ve been so dang exhausted this year. She has me on a cleansing protocol to help clear out the infection, without the use of antibiotics and definitely without the need for a tonsillectomy myself, which is brutal at my age. For this I am so thankful and appreciative! While my ENT did not personally recommend a cleansing diet, after a LOT of research, I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to help restore gut health after all the doses of antibiotics over the past year, and give my body a chance to rest and reset, and reduce inflammation (hello backaches!). This cleanse is pretty close to those following an Autoimmune Protocol Diet, and while I have not been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and probably do not have one, the principles behind AIP diets are definitely beneficial to those suffering from chronic infections.
How I’m Feeling
The first 3 days were terrible. Actually, day 1 started off strong, but by 4 pm I got a horrendous caffeine withdrawal headache, which feels like a really bad tension headache. Day 2 was horrible, I felt like I was in a fog all day in addition to the tension headache, and day 3 was more of the same. By day 4, I woke up feeling a ton better, and my day 5, I was feeling fantastic. Yesterday was day 6 and we spent the day at Disneyland in 100 degree heat, came home and cooked dinner, then went out to the market for a bunch of groceries, then came home and cleaned out the fridge and put all the groceries away. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that good and had that much energy. In a nutshell, I feel dramatically different than I felt this time last week, and better than I’ve felt all year. I’ve made a few other changes that have helped my mental attitude and helped me sleep better, which improves everything, but I’ll share more about htat later. With that said, me feeling fantastic may have a bit to do with the cleanse as well as a couple of other recent changes, but I know I can attribute a lot to the cleanse.
I’ve really only “dieted” a couple of times before, both after having Taylor and Syd when I was trying to lose the “baby weight.” The meal plans I followed back then, first Jillian Michael’s and then a protein and raw veggie diet recommended by my boot-camp instructor, left me feeling completely restricted and I mentally had a hard time sticking with it. This cleanse is the most intense eating plan I’ve ever followed, and yet I feel the best about it. I have cravings here and there, but they’re not super intense, and because I’m not restricting calories or portions, I don’t feel hungry. I think the fact that I was able to resist Disneyland corn dogs on this cleanse says a lot about the program, and my mindset. This time, I’m doing this for my health, not just to reach a number on the scale, and that alone makes a world of difference in my mental attitude.
And this is the part where I have to eat a little bit of crow. When I started this journey over a year ago, I didn’t anticipate that I’d ever be writing a column about wellness and nutrition. As you guys know, I have no formal training in this, all of which I’ve learned in the past year has been self-taught and I’ll be the first to admit that it has been a long and huge learning curve. Each article I write at Babble has to be backed with credible evidence, and I can tell you that in the world of health and nutrition, you can find proponents to support all ways of eating; Paleo versus vegan, whole grains versus grain-free, legumes versus legume-free; it’s ridiculous and exhausting trying to weed through the information. All this to say, you can find evidence to support any way of eating, and for a while there I tried too hard to figure it all out and figure out the “best” way. But really, the best way is what works for you. Of course there’s some things we can all agree on that are bad and good for you, but the jury is still out on whether grains really do cause problems for everyone, or only certain individuals, if people who don’t have Celiacs can be gluten intolerant, and if all can fully function on veganism. The same goes for elimination diets. I’ve made a few quips here and there about how you don’t have to eliminate whole food groups to eat healthy and be healthy. While I still firmly believe that if you’re consuming quality products, you can certainly be healthy on any type of REAL FOOD, I now see through my own experience, that there’s nothing wrong with testing the waters to see if eliminating certain foods will improve your health. I want to support anyone who’s trying to just live the best lives they can; it’s not my place to say what’s right or wrong. Lord knows scientists and doctors can’t even figure it all out!
I’ll continue the cleanse diet for another 2 weeks, and then slowly add back in foods to see how I do with them. I’m hopeful that the cleanse, along with some of the other changes I’ve made will allow me to go back to eating all these foods on the elimination list with no ill effects, but to be sure, I’ll slowly add them in one by one. Although I’m fairly certain I’ll dive head first back into a glass of wine.
Let me know if you have any questions! As always, thanks for your support guys! And of course don’t forget, if you want to follow along, join me on Instagram to get a glimpse of what I’m eating most days during the cleanse.