On the first day of Dr. Alejandro Junger’s “Clean” detox, I felt great. I loaded up with my morning smoothie and went off to exercise. I came home and had some chicken and roasted brussel sprouts for lunch – still feeling strong. But by 3 p.m., the headaches began. Oh, caffeine withdrawal, I loathe you. I don’t consider myself to be a coffee-addict but it’s incredible how much simple things affect the body. By 6 p.m., I went into Naked and Afraid mode. Have you ever seen the show on Discovery Channel? Basically, they lay around in the wilderness exhausted and hungry (and naked) and wait for their 21 days to pass. While I was fully clothed, my body was preserving calories and I was “mentally” hungry. That evening, Josh was running late and I still had to cook dinner, bathe and put the girls to bed. By the time it was all done, I passed out in bed too tired to brush the evening smoothie from my teeth.
My first day is exactly how you shouldn’t approach a detox.
Although I thought I had planned well, I wasn’t prepared for how tired I would be and the caloric deficit I would have because I was still exercising with my normal intensity.
This was my first and second mistake. I typically shoot for 300-400 calories for lunch each day but that is definitely not enough when it’s your primary meal. I should have added quinoa or rice for a starch. Secondly, Junger recommends lower impact exercise like walking and yoga while on the detox. He does mention that routine exercise can be continued if you add in an additional protein smoothie post workout. I didn’t do this and suffered for it. After burning upwards of 700 calories in an hour of boot camp and hip hop, my body was beyond exhausted and needed that extra energy.
As day two arrived, I went back to my Clean manual and approached it better prepared. I planned out my meals appropriately and significantly upped my fat intake in the morning. I’ve never gone through so much almond butter, raw nuts and coconut milk. I added a snack of apple slices and almond butter in the afternoon. I started adding protein powder to my evening smoothies.
Here are a few of my favorite Clean Detox meals:
I began with the smoothie recipes provided on the Clean website but I began mixing and matching ingredients to create my own as the week progressed. Since the focus is on eliminating toxins, I made sure to use organic and local ingredients when possible.
Junger recommends getting plenty of sleep each night which is pretty easy . But I was surprised at the quality of sleep that week considering I’ve been dealing with insomnia and restless sleep for nearly a year. I woke up refreshed and awake – despite the lack of coffee. The caffeine headaches lasted until day 4 and then I felt great. I was still tired in the evenings because although I was giving my body a break on digestion and eliminated irritants, it is still working hard to detox which takes energy. Clean recommends Yerba Mate as a coffee substitute (coffee is eliminated because of it’s acidity, not necessarily because of the caffeine) so I had picked some up the weekend prior without really knowing much about it except that it’s tea-like and people used to drink it from gourds. I decided to brew a cup late one afternoon and much to my surprise, Yerba Mate is rather caffeinated. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal but when you’ve been off of caffeine for several days, the effects are much more obvious. Yowza. That was the only night I had trouble falling asleep.
When I started the detox, I decided to track my calories using MyFitnessPal for two reasons: 1. I wanted to make sure I was getting enough calories and 2. I was curious. I want to emphasize that although the Clean isn’t about caloric restriction, I’m sure most people end up eating less than they normally would because there’s no late night snacking, sugar, alcohol, convenience foods or packaged foods. On a normal day, I eat around 1,700 calories but was averaging around 1,300 while on the detox. This is hard for me. Having dealt with disordered eating most of my life, it’s a slippery slope for me to reduce calories. Because of this, I decided not to weigh myself during the detox. Most anyone gets a thrill when they see their weight decrease but this can be particularly dangerous for someone who used calorie restriction as a way to seek control. I had to frequently remind myself of why I was doing this detox – to discover why I have been feeling so miserable and find answers.
And I did.
While following the detox, my hives stopped. The burning sensation in my hand disappeared. My lip no longer tingled. My night sweats were gone. Despite being very tired and desperately wanting a glass of wine, I felt better than I had in many, many, many months. The only reactions I had that week were after eating out and because both were stand-alone events, it helped me narrow down the offenders. The first was an apple pecan salad from Wendy’s with no cheese or dressing but I did eat the nuts. The second was when I ate a quinoa salad with chicken from Zoe’s Kitchen. I knew that both items were gluten and dairy free. I did, however, forget to check for other allergens…
When the detox ended, I had to reintroduce foods to determine if there was a particular food causing my reactions or if my liver just needed to detox. Junger recommends adding foods in slowly and tracking how you feel after each meal. Because the excluded list is extensive – eggs, strawberries, nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc.), red meat, pork, shellfish, peanuts, pistachio and bananas to name just a few – it’s hard to not rush back into normal eating habits. So I went very slow. On Monday, I kept with a detox-friendly smoothie for breakfast and enjoyed a slice of gluten-free buckwheat bread from a local bakery. Soon, my hand began to burn. Interesting. Fortunately, the bread had an ingredient list. Rice flour, buckwheat flour, milk, cinnamon… soy lecithin. I went back and looked online for an ingredient list for the apple pecan salad – the salad itself was nothing more than lettuce and apples but the pecans – contains soy. Interesting. I checked out Zoe’s Kitchen’s allergen list and, sure enough, their chicken contains soy.
I’d say three makes a pattern, wouldn’t you?
I literally jumped out of my chair and ran to my kitchen and began pulling gluten free items out of my pantry. Glutino pretzels? Soy. My go-to Van’s gluten free waffles? Soy. Gluten free cinnamon thin cookies? Soy. Soy, soy, soy. It’s a common ingredient in gluten free items and considering I’d been eating them several times a day, it’s no wonder I felt worse since cutting out wheat. I’m embarrassed because prior to my wheat allergy, I was always aware of soy and avoided it when possible. Why? Some say soy can increase estrogen levels and I’m already estrogen dominant. Also, almost all soy is GMO. But when we began cutting out large food groups due to allergies, I relaxed because I could only cut out so much. Lesson learned.
I had a follow up appointment scheduled with my allergist and I shared my discovery. The doctor seemed less than interested but agreed to do another allergy test with wheat and soy. Wheat positive, soy negative. Which means I have a soy sensitivity that is more severe than my wheat allergy. And with that, the allergist passed me off to the next doctor to try and navigate the rest of my health issues. I love traditional Western medicine. Regardless, I was pleased with myself.
My biggest take away from the detox?
You have to take control of your health.
You know your body. You need to find the answers. If five doctors dismiss you, find a sixth. Don’t be dismissed as paranoid or a hypochondriac. Don’t write off your symptoms as stress or anxiety. And? The simplest solution is usually the best.
I’ve gone off my allergy medicine and now only take it as needed. I wish this was the end of my health journey but, alas, the road to discovery continues on. I’ve eliminated one problem but am now working on sorting out others – I promise to keep you posted as things progress and I make new discoveries.