Cleansing. That sounds daunting. Are you unsure of what it really means? Fear not. Cleansing is really just a broad (and frequently used...) term for any regimen or diet which eliminates specific foods or food groups to aid in resting the digestive system, allowing the liver to work on detoxification and also allow the GI tract to "reset". Often times, people associate the term cleansing with those who "crash diet" or cleanse as a way to severely limit calories and lose weight quickly. Cleansing can certainly result in weight loss (as can any regimen where you cut the crap, so to speak...), but that should certainly NOT be the number one goal when cleansing. Here we are talking about cleansing to get healthy!
My Journey to the Cleanse
For months in the spring, I had been waking up achy all over with headaches almost every day, feeling sluggish and just worn out. No matter what I did, I just could not get into a good pattern of feeling well. This was quite frustrating. With gluten intolerance, Reynaud's, and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, I could not point my finger at any one thing in particular that was dragging me down. I had been considering trying a cleanse but was not sure what to do. My first thought was: should I juice? The most widely
publicized cleanses are juice fasts. Juice cleanses involve three to five days worth of juices (green juice, veggie juice, fruit juice and nut milk) which are to be consumed at regular intervals during the day as your meals. This liquid diet should be all organic, with as many greens and nutrients as possible. Usually people do five to seven juices during the course of the day on a juice fast. Although it sounded interesting, I felt like I needed a little more substance and a few more calories due to my daily demands. I had recently finished reading Revive by Dr. Frank Lipman which I loved. I had been following his blog and looking into his methods for over a year. I started to look more and more into his Be Well Cleanse program, and I realized I had found exactly what I was looking for. The Be Well Cleanse is a cleanse system that consists of three shakes per day made from packets of protein and nutrient powder, in addition to your own lunch and dinner, from a list of "cleanse" approved foods. The shake powder comes in individual packets, along with daily packets of vitamins and enzymes to take with each meal. Dr. Lipman provides a list of approved foods and gives recipe ideas to follow to get your started. Many more recipes and shake ideas are also available on the Be Well blog created for the program by Dr Lipman, his wife Janice, and the team of Be Well health coaches.
On the cleanse, the prescribed eating plan is to drink two shakes in the morning (early morning and again mid morning if you are hungry again) and another shake in the afternoon between lunch and dinner if you are hungry. I liked the idea of incorporating a light lunch and dinner into my plan for cleansing. This method of rejuvenating myself and I decided I would also make an appointment with Dr. Lipman and see him in NYC at his office, the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right and get back to feeling good! I have had a few recent discouraging appointments with other physicians so I was hopeful this was the best next step.
What I did...
What does the cleanse look like? Three berry flavored shakes for you to make with water, nut milk or coconut water. Things to avoid: gluten, dairy, anything processed( this means nothing from a package), peanuts, coffee, corn, or soy. The game plan: Early morning shake, late morning shake, lunch (usually a nice salad with baked chicken), afternoon shake, and dinner (lean, organic protein and plenty of veggies). I stuck with organic veggies when possible, organic lean grass-fed meats, and made up my hydration. I also kept up my usual exercise routine and tried to squeeze in a little more yoga when possible.
Well, Day 1 and 2 I had a serious headache and was a little cranky. Not to mention I picked a bad day to start. Like, really bad. I worked a night shift the night before and we had pre-cana the next day, all day. I was awake for around 23+ hours before finally crashing around 4pm. I had to get to bed because I was headed back to work for a day shift the next day. I was pretty tired and had a headache but I was not too much worse for the wear those first few days. I have to say that the headache is VERY common the first few days on any cleanse. I had already come off of coffee and was sticking to green tea, so I was ok there. Also as part of my "gut healing" I am staying away from NSAIDs (motrin, advil, aleve, etc) but I did take a little tylenol while at work those days because my headache was killing me.
I had a hard time getting down all three shakes each day. I just could not consume that much liquid and protein. I contacted one of Dr. Lipman's health coaches who assured me it was ok to just do the two each day. (I did both in the morning...) The afternoon shake was for those who felt they really needed an afternoon 'snack' or were very hungry between lunch and dinner. I didn't fall into this category so I dropped the third shake. No worries.
By the end of the first week I was in a groove. I was adding frozen berries to my shake with coconut water each morning and sticking with the cleanse foods for the rest of the day. By Day 7 my usually red, painful, irritated hands (from Reynaud's) were staring to look good! REALLY GOOD! The redness and cracking was actually starting to recede. This was shocking. My hands have been red for YEARS with little change in color or texture, except when turn from red to redder in the dead of winter. Having 'normal' looking hands was a real breakthrough.
I had my appointment with the Doctor on Day 10 and took out a few pictures. I showed him what my hands usually look like and how they were after just 10 days of cleansing. We reviewed all of my lab work from the past few years that I had compiled. He and I chatted with two other health professionals from his office, in a group setting. However, we were sure something was still triggering me, because my ANA turned positive in recent blood work. Despite my best efforts, something was still causing inflammation. No wonder I still felt poorly. After an extensive and informative appointment, we decided on a plan of action. He told me to keep up the cleanse for the rest of the allotted time and then he laid out an autoimmune plan for after the cleanse.
I had a few rashes break out on the cleanse as I detoxed in the first week or so. I have read that this is normal as you eliminate toxins from your body. I had a bad abdominal rash after eating artichokes for the first time during the cleanse. and got hives when I tried a new granola in the second week. Also, I had a major reaction to salmon, breaking out into hives all over my back twice after eating it. I have had salmon once since and have been ok, so maybe it was just a blip and I am being cautious for now.
At Day 10 (time of the appointment) I was still having a lot of bloating and tightness in my abdomen, so there was definitely more GI work to do according to Dr. Lipman. For the rest of the cleanse and another week after, I was on a hefty dose of probiotics to reset my flora and get my GI tract in order. After Day 10 I stuck with the cleanse foods BUT also cut out all grains (yes even the gluten free grains like rice, quinoa, oats….) and cut out legumes. This was more of a paleo focus for my diet. This may sound very restrictive but quite literally within TWO days my stomach felt the best it has in a very long time. No more bloating, no discomfort. No more rashes. This was the start of my Paleo lifestyle. (This is the biggest dietary transition ever for me, with great results!)
By day 14 I had so much energy, no GI discomfort, my digestion was doing great, no bloating, no rashes, no aches, no headaches, and my hands looked normal. You can tell people that you "feel amazing" but when you can see progress by having hands that go from red and cracked to smooth and normal, people who know you well really start to take notice.
In all, I loved this cleanse. It was the start of a major change in lifestyle for me but was not a jarring progression. Dr. Lipman talks about the need for adequate protein on the cleanse to support this liver's hard work at detoxing. While there is protein in the shakes, he also recommends eating healthy, organic, lean protein each day. For someone who was basically vegan, this was a transition for me that took getting used to. I started with chicken breast and just white meat for most of the cleanse. I did make bison a few times which was awesome. By the end of the two weeks I was used to consuming some meat each day which was getting easier! I certainly did not feel deprived or hungry on the cleanse. I felt like I was doing my body a favor and giving it a nourishing reset.
Where am I today?
There is a post coming on this and my Paleo lifestyle but here is a good preview.....
I still follow the cleanse approved foods for the most part as my daily lifestyle. I added back in strawberries and lean grass-fed red meat but stay away from soy, corn, gluten (obviously!), sugar, and most dairy. I have occasionally had a grass-fed yogurt or two but that is it on the dairy front. I also have found that eggs are a trigger food for me and cause my stomach to get very upset. I will have the occasional nightshade (basically just tomatoes or red peppers) if they are in a salad.
At the risk of sounding dramatic...this cleasne was life changing. The first of May 2013 started a health revolution for me. For the first time, I feel like I have seen changes for the better with my autoimmune conditions. I have a doctor that is behind me, supporting me and guiding me to better health. We have mapped out a plan to make me feel better and there are visible changes! It all started with the Be Well Cleanse!
You can try the clease here!