Going through health challenges for an extended period of time, even seemingly minor ones, is one of the most humbling of things we can go through physically. At least it was for me, and because of the roller coaster ride of health I was on last year, it greatly altered the simple notion I had previously held, that “just eating real food” would work equally well for everyone. After my repeated cases of strep throat last year, and before my official autoimmune diagnosis, I knew something within me was just off, and so I ventured on my first cleanse. I swallowed a lot of my words during that period, because after experiencing just how much better I felt off of certain food groups I previously thought I was immune to, I started to learn that the one size fits all approach to eating wasn’t right for everyone.
After my last cleanse, we almost immediately left on vacation, where, if you followed along on Instagram, you’ll know I ate my way through that island. It was glorious and I wouldn’t take it back for anything, but those 8 days of intensive eating with almost daily consumption of alcohol at lunch and dinner, left me back at square one in terms of feeling tired, foggy headed, gassy and bloated. I really missed the spark of energy and fire I had felt during the cleanse, but had no idea what to do to get it back, other than go back on another cleanse. As we entered the holidays, that seemed like a bad idea. Because the purpose of the cleanse is to eliminate common triggers from your diet, so that you can feel great, you’re also ideally supposed to slowly introduce items back in, so you can identify what foods don’t work for you. Kind of like how we introduce solids to a baby for the first time. I went about it the wrong way, and could have saved myself some guess work had I just been a little more patient with jumping head first back into all the non-cleanse foods.
So if you felt remarkably better during the cleanse, chances are, some sort of food that you eliminated from your diet is causing you to feel less than stellar. To figure out what that is, we need to go through what they call a reintroduction phase. I’ll explain more below, but basically, don’t get ready to celebrate tomorrow by guzzling down every food you stayed away from for the last 21 days. We’re going to want to take this slow.
Jumping Back Into Life
If you’re not keen to go through the re-introductory phase, and just want to get back into living, that’s fine, I understand. But if you did like how you felt during the cleanse; less bloated, more energy, increased alertness, better digestion, chances are you will want to hold onto those feelings for as often as you can. You’re probably not into the idea of cooking every single meal from scratch for the rest of your life, but would like to strive for some long term change in overall eating habits. From my own experience, I have a few tips to offer you.
- Limit how much and how often you eat the most common triggers – dairy, gluten, refined sugar, alcohol & caffeine. Just by being mindful of reduction of these top food sensitivities, you will likely feel loads better.
- Try to stay off caffeine, so when you really need it, it will do its job. Switch to a true caffeine free brand, one which uses the Swiss Water Method process and guarantees your beans to be 99.9% caffeine free, or try a coffee alternative like Crio-Bru. When at your favorite coffee shop, order a decaf or even half caf, this way, when there comes a day when you really need a jump start, the caffeine will affect you differently and actually do what its intended to do. Going back to your old caffeine ways are likely to cause your coffee to lose its effectiveness over the course of time, and you may start feeling the afternoon slump. If you do go back to caffeine on a daily basis, try not to drink it first thing when you wake up, but let your body wake up on its own, naturally, then drink a cup. Here’s an optimal time schedule for caffeine consumption.
- Consider switching to raw dairy items, or goat’s milk dairy products as they are less likely to cause an upset stomach. They are more expensive and options are limited, but by saving for special recipes or cravings, you will automatically be buying less often, and eating less, if you only have 1 type of cheese on hand as opposed to 5…yes, we used to be a house that on any given day has 5-7 cheeses on hand.
- Continue to shy away from sugar, and use natural sugars at home when cooking.
- Keep your alcohol tolerance low. You’re likely to notice that after being spirits free for 3 weeks, your tolerance is noticeably lower. Try keeping it that way by limiting alcohol consumption, so that 1 -1.5 glasses of wine hits your sweet spot, instead of 2-3.
- Consider maintaining the morning ritual of a juice or smoothie, at least a few times a week. This is a great and quick way to ensure you get some sort of nutrient rich morning meal quickly, as lets be honest, how many of you skip breakfast because you’re so busy? And it is also easy on the digestive system.
- Get enough sleep! Simple enough, yes it is. I know we are all busy, and some are busier than others, but no amount of dietary changes and exercises will fix your health, body, mind and spirit, than getting enough sleep. Watch one less show. Shut down the computer, put your iPhone in the kitchen, and read a book instead to relax you. Just sleep more!
- Continue to be prepared by meal planning and having plenty of healthy options on hand throughout the week. And keep the junk out of the house.
Now, if you felt remarkably better on the cleanse, and are committed to figuring out exactly why, then let’s get into the Reintroduction Phase. The Clean Program and Whole 30 both offer similar, but slightly different ways of reintroducing common food triggers, and you can read about them both in this Clean Program document pg. 4-8, and the Reintroduction Plan on Whole 30 site. The biggest difference between the two programs is that the Clean Program focuses on you first testing out dairy and gluten, as those are the most common food triggers, and Whole 30 has you add in legumes and non-gluten grains. Basically, it goes like this.
- Day 1-3 introduce gluten, while keeping the rest of your diet cleanse friendly. Add in simple forms of gluten, like pasta, a “clean bread” that has gluten but doesn’t have added sugars, dairy, etc. Eat gluten 2-3 times a day so you can see how you feel. You want to focus on only adding in gluten instead of additional non-cleanse items, so you can see if its truly gluten causing you any issues.
- Day 4-6 take out gluten again, and now introduce a simple form of dairy while keeping the rest of your diet cleanse friendly. Again, focusing on single or minimal ingredient dairy items like a glass of milk, a few pieces of cheese, a plain cup of yogurt, and eat dairy 2-3 times throughout the day. See how you feel.
- Day 7 reflect on how you feel, any reactions you may have had, and how severe they were. Were the reactions severe, so that you may want to avoid for the long term, or were they mild and not enough to change your lifestyle? Only you can decide this. If you suspect you may have other food sensitivities beyond these two common triggers, continue on with this reintroduction process until you have your triggers figured out.
Eating healthy for the long term is really a journey of self-discovery, and one you have to tailor to your own personal needs and lifestyle. I can continue to babble on about what’s worked for me, and offer suggestions, but I’m human and have had my fair share of missteps, and what has worked for me may not work for you. It’s a process and trial and error, so don’t give up and be patient with yourself and the road you’re traveling.
So with that being said, the only other bit of advice I can offer you, is to take your health seriously and make time for it. Sure, if you feel great most of the time, and you did the cleanse to really just lose some post-holiday bloat, I get it and don’t want to encourage you to fix what ain’t broken. But in talking to thousands of women now for the last year and a half, it seems that many of us are suffering in some way or another, either very mildly or pretty severely. If you participated in the cleanse, and didn’t feel as great as you’d hoped, or even after all these changes still feel like something is amiss with you, than take it further and start figuring out what’s going on. I recommend a simple CBC blood work panel to test for basic thyroid function, possible vitamin and mineral deficiencies like Vit D and magnesium, and anemia. If any levels are out of normal range, push for further testing and answers. Most blood tests are at least partially covered under the most basic of insurance plans. Once you have some answers, consider taking supplements to help make up for deficiencies. So often in the real food world of health and diet, you will hear and read that you don’t need supplements if you’re eating the right foods, and that is simply not true for everyone! So don’t feel like some real food failure, if you decide to take some vitamins and supplements. I take selenium, magnesium, and a probiotic daily. I also just ordered a basic multi-vitamin which I’ll begin taking as soon as it arrives.
What I Personally Learned This Go-Around
I learned a couple of things this time around, than I did the first time. Here’s a few key points and healthy habits I’d like to personally keep on track with for the rest of the year. Let me know what yours were in the comments.
- Don’t follow up a cleanse with a vacation right away. Last time, we left within days of me finishing the cleanse, and it led right back to lots of unhealthy habits, including almost daily consumption of some sort of sweets and alcohol.
- I have really fallen in love with smoothie making this time around and want to continue with them because they are such a quick and easy way to get a quick snack or meal in. I also learned to focus on keeping them low in sugar by always focusing on the 3:1 ration of veggies to fruit, and adding in plenty of healthy fats and proteins. Hemp seeds, nuts and seeds, coconut oils and nut milks have been crucial to my smoothie success, and keeping them healthy and yummy tasting.
- Meal planning is crucial! Having others join me on this program, and rely on me for the meal plans each week was an essential part of the process this time around. I was bored to tears the last time, and also really sick of cooking, so for the entire last week I pretty much subsisted off of salads and ground turkey. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and basically made me go buck wild with take out and all at once diving right back in to all the foods I had just avoided the previous 21 days. Basically, in many ways all that work was in vain. This time though, I feel completely recharged and invigorated about cooking! I say this with the utmost sincerity, it has renewed my love of cooking and trying new recipes. I’m so happy about this. Today, I could pretty much eat whatever I want, and while it’s nice to not feel limited, I also don’t feel like I’m about to be unleashed onto the world like a kid in the candy store.
Didn’t join in, but want to?
Grab a friend or your partner and follow along whenever you’re ready. Join our private Facebook group and ask questions. Everything you need to know is right here in the cleanse review post, and the subsequent meal plans can be found here in Week 1, Week 2, Week 3. Meal plans, shopping lists, even print outs so you can take them with you and scribble on them, all right within those posts. The Facebook group is a great add-on, as we often shared other recipes and tips, and really just commiserated about the experience. It was an awesome community this time around, and I’m excited to keep it up, as a regular forum for support.
Any general questions you have about this process? Please feel free to ask away, and if you were part of the cleanse, please share your experience with others! Thanks to all who took part in this process, and I truly hope that in some way, it was beneficial to you all.
Do you have any good recommendations on decaf coffee? I don’t have a whole foods near by so maybe something I can get online?