The Most Radical Thing I Ever Did: A 21-Day Cleanse

I’ve taught English in Mao’s hometown, walked 800 km – solo – across a large European country, fallen in mad love, packed up all my toys and moved to snow country to write a book without knowing a soul.  But ask me to give up ice cream?  Baguettes?  Morning cuppa joe?  Bacon?  Juice glass of vino?  No freakin’ way!

So I approached it gradually.

I bought Kris Carr‘s book, Crazy Sexy Diet, in January.  I cleaned out the fridge in February.  I bought an Omega Juicer in March – the Jag of juicers!  Small steps.  It’s like weaning myself off the bottle, only it’s not just the milk I’m relinquishing.  It’s practically everything I put in my mouth.  I was shooting for Lent (tried giving up sweets then, but I wasn’t quite ready.  The sight of my first brownie signalled failure.)  But spring time is about renewal, rebirth, rebooting our systems, yes?  So, on March 30th, I launched full throttle into a master cleanse: no wheat, no dairy, no animals, no coffee, no alcohol, and my Achille’s heel – no sugar.  No sugar! How in the wholly Himalayas was I gonna do that?  Was I to feel like Sisyphus?  Atlas?  Or an orange jumpsuit-wearing prisoner relegated to a bowl of gruel?

I couldn’t have done it without Ms. Carr’s book.  She led me gently through each day with a prayer, an affirmation, medical guidance, upbeat encouragement and expectations of what toxins feel like as they’re expelled.  Thank goodness for her hand-holding and thank the snow gods for the meditative months that led up to this undertaking.  I spent the winter shedding and I was ready for the final heave ho!

With all those restrictions, what did I eat and drink?  Water with cayenne & lemon upon rising.  Green & herbal teas throughout the day.  Oatmeal with soy milk, seeds and flaxmeal for breakfast (my usual, anyway).  2-3 glasses of green juice daily.  (Kale, romaine, fennel, carrots, beets, grapefruit, parsley, celery – whatever was on hand).  Lunch was usually a version of Mark Bittman’s celery & fennel salad, sometimes adding in turnips, beets, carrots, daikon, orange segments, pine nuts – anything I could slice on my Muji Mandoline.  Dinner was some version of a grain/bean/veg combination:  steamed or lightly sauteed broccoli, chard, mustard greens, collards – brown rice or quinoa –  white beans, green or red lentils, chickpeas.  I’d also snack on almonds, dried plums & cranberries, sesame crackers, apple slices with nut butter.  I consulted a couple of macrobiotic  and Japanese cookbooks on the shelf for more ideas, to keep it interesting.  Having lived in Japan, I find much of their cuisine keeps with this particular dietary lifestyle.  I miss eating there – no other country has satiated me more at the table.

kale chickpea salad
I wondered if I would feel deprived, but Kris presents this cleanse in such a positive light that it truly felt like I was gaining health and well-being.  The coffee was easy – I’m really more of a tea drinker – and the caffeine withdrawal headache only lasted a week or so, and was fairly mild.  I kept super-hydrated and slept really well – better on both counts than usual.  Maybe removing the caffeine/sugar roller-coaster was all I needed for deep and rejuvenating slumber.  I awoke an hour earlier than normal, around 5:30, and experienced an unusually high amount of energy each day.  I treated myself with a few lavender baths, worked out more at the gym (weight-lifting & laps, only – no cardio machines for me: boring.)  I chose physical activities that were fun, not a chore, so daily walks and hikes were mood boosters.

Noticeably, my portions grew smaller as I was satisfied with less.  I realize that I eat emotionally, hungry for more than just caloric nutrients.  But somehow I was more tuned into my body and could put my fork down appropriately.  Buying, preparing, and cooking my meals was faster and easier.  Strangely, I found more hours in my day, as I was more mindful in every aspect of diet and digestion.  Wow – I realized how we always wish for more space in our day, more time to carry out our to-do lists, but I had energy to burn!  Granted, I’m not employed outside the home and I have no children to raise, but really – was all this uumph always available, yet hidden underneath crusty loaves and triple creme sheep’s milk?  I feel like I could run a marathon, a business, and a small country now.  And that’s just on Tuesday.

As I watched my scale groan less, I felt buoyant and effervescent.  I started having profound shifts in perspective.  But not before THAT ONE DAY.  Oh, yes: that one day the Dragon of Craving rose up inside of me, in an all-consuming fire (is this what heroin addicts go through, seriously?). WINE! I MUST have a drink! Give me spaghetti Bolognese! A burger! – a juicy, rare burger, with cheese and bacon and… it didn’t matter that I wasn’t hungry; I was suffering an irrational rage.

15I can’t describe the power of this monster inside, but I held on to my commitment and found relief: opting for popcorn in  sacrificial appeasement.  Then I got as far away from the kitchen as possible. I climbed in the car (leaving my wallet at home to avoid a sudden bakery raid), drove to the beach, walked over the boulders and along the shoreline, breathing in lungfuls, and called a friend.  I was the queen of crank that afternoon, but friendship, water, and the sea air calmed, soothing that savage craving.  May none of you ever meet that beast.

That was my only rough moment.

Well, except for the Morning of Traumatic Sobbing.

Interspersed with the cleanse were 3 days of green juice fasting.  I’d do six days on, one day fasting, repeating over 3 weeks.  And what happened the day after my first fast was incredible.  It was an emotional release like no other.

Simultaneously, I’ve been asking/praying for clarity.  I want revelation.  I want to see where I’m going, or at least have an inclination about what’s next.  My recent intention, to write in a wintry place, completed once March arrived and I started feeling anxious.  Stay?  Go?  Love?  Work?  Home?  Travel?  So much monkey mind I couldn’t see through the fog, so I began asking for what I wanted, an arrow, a sign, a clue.  All while eating carrots & celery sticks.

Clarity: paradoxically hard to describeWell, you know what they say? Ask and you shall receive.  Careful!  It came in spades.  Every day brought striking clarity, bold visions, answers to long-buried questions.  One in particular, during meditation, a word appeared, so I moved to the desk and began writing about it. Before I even finished a sentence, I was sobbing.  Hard and clean, not hysterical, but fully.  Now, I don’t cry; I hold on tight.  Last time I really cried was four years ago, and now tears were flushing out an unresolved memory from childhood that, it was dawning on me, I hadn’t grieved back then.  It has held me back and I don’t want anything holding me back.  Remarkably, there was no anger (at myself or anyone else), just release and mourning.  And a big pile of tissues afterwards.

Compassion washed in, and I settled.  Putting pen on paper, I wrote twenty, yes – 20 – pages and excavated decades old detritus.  Phew.  When we let go, we really let go.  Goodbye past, hello bright future!

Those 21 days witnessed the passing of so much:  defenses that no longer serve me, fears that aren’t scary anymore, eating and drinking patterns that are harmful.  What I’ve learned is enormous.  I now know that bread is as numbing as wine.  That my sugar addiction has inflamed my shoulder for more than 25 years, and if I eliminate it as best I can, it no longer hurts.  THIS alone is a miracle, and it’s ridiculous it took me this long to find out.  Chronic pain clouds our sunshine, and pain’s absence liberates.  My skin and dairy don’t make a good partnership – in fact, I was mistaken for a twentysomething the other day (I’m 43) and countless people have remarked on my glowing and youthful skin.  That’s worth the price of admission, alone.

I supplemented my regimen with drybrushing, taking vitamins & aloe juice, lots of positive thinking, journaling, meditating, putting my Netflix habit on hold, getting a massage, getting an enema (more on that later), using essential oils, reading up on raw food & veganism, and exercising a bunch more than usual.  Swimming laps and sweating it out in the sauna were divine.

What I didn’t experience were hardcore toxins getting expelled (bad smells, pimples, aches, etc…) and I think that’s due to a generally healthy diet from the start. I don’t eat much meat, fast food, or processed boxes & bags that sell in the center aisles anyway.  I do like my Ciao Bella gelato and Newman-O’s, however…

This may sound silly, but the most dramatic thing I learned is that we are what we eat.  Yes, I’ve always known that.  But when we medicate ourselves with not just alcohol or even caffeine, but with pasta, butter, toast, cheese … we suffer for it.  Eating animals that have not lived or surrendered their lives in compassionate hands means we’re digesting violence, fear, unmindfulness.  Sugar is a replacement for a lack of sweetness, perhaps.  I don’t mean to be preachy or change anyone’s mind.  Live and let live.  I just want to share the extraordinary sensitivity that I’ve developed both physically and emotionally.

Do I miss the old flavors?  My taste buds have actually changed.  Drinking a glass of white wine is like sipping sugar-water.  Eating bread feels like I’m stuffing.  That drawer full of cheese?  I can feel it weighing me down already.  I had no idea that what once brought me pleasure actually was a buffer to living and what I want now is to live like I mean it.

Have I since incorporated some of those taboo ingredients?  Sure, but I’m keenly aware of their effect on body and mind, and make those choices consciously.  Food tastes better.  Almonds are delicious!  That farro and grilled spring veg plate at Eataly?  Delectable!  A small piece of high quality 78% chocolate?  Hits the spot!

Radical?  Yes.  And I’m so proud of myself for accomplishing it.  I didn’t know I had it in me.  Will it last?  I’ll let you know…and in the meantime, I would love to hear if you’ve ever done one or thought about it, if you have any questions or want to share with me your experience.  It was a journey of eye-opening magnitude for me!

Victory Edition 1919 War Gardening and Home Storage of Vegetables

Leave a comment


  1. Cara

     /  3 May 2011

    You forgot to tell us how good it all tastes, especially when it’s fresh produce. Congratulations on what I know was a serious and seriously challenging endeavor. You know you were successful because you were able to visit NYC and stay in CT for several days and not fall back into a roller coaster seat of sugar, coffee, and bread! And you do look as young and vibrant as your sister!

  2. Cara~
    I believe the adage that it takes 3 weeks to break a habit. It was just the right amount of time to change my behavior, adjust my attitude, and shift my relationship with food & alcohol. Up next? I think I have a foundation to start!
    Thanks for your support! xoxo

  3. Rebecca Robinson

     /  4 May 2011

    Just what I need to hear. Over and over again.
    Thank you Kellie for undertaking this endeavor and LIVING to tell the details.
    I’m going to look up the book you mentioned and I don’t know, maybe even, along with a printed version of your account, dare to cleanse myself!

    • Rebecca ~ If you can’t find it at your local library, I’m happy to send mine your way. Truly, I’m a changed woman, in so many ways! xo

  4. vlb

     /  4 May 2011

    Dear Kellie,
    Another really beautiful post. For me, a key thought:
    “Eating animals that have not lived or surrendered their lives in compassionate hands means we’re digesting violence, fear, unmindfulness.” Thwack! (Make like a thunderbolt.) I recall people who hunt saying that if the animal is frightened when it dies (i.e., it’s not killed surreptitiously and instantly), the meat tastes different because of the stress hormones. Which makes perfect sense to me; but somehow, your words brought new force to the idea. I think I’m going to have to quote you (with due credit, of course!) and riff on this idea on my blog!

    • vlb ~ I can’t remember if I shared the details of my new aversion to eating land animals. If I haven’t, and you’d like to hear about it, I’ll share next time we’re together.
      I’m highly sensitized now to what I ingest, which is fascinating, and sometimes a challenge because I feel more acutely the energy from what I’m eating. In a fast-paced world where I skip over what’s uncomfortable, I was avoiding feeling my own emotions/energies and that of my food. Now that I’m more attuned – I am more aware & responsible. Not easy, especially when a sandwich can subdue me for hours. (bread) Geez!
      I’m looking forward to reading what you discover!

  5. vlb

     /  4 May 2011

    by the way, what was the juicer you said you bought that wasn’t noisy? If I follow your path in this, I don’t want noise!

  6. Wow… I’m not sure if I would have the courage to do this…! “The sight of my first brownie signalled failure.”
    I love that line, and I recognise myself in it 😉
    Well done Kellie..!

    • Amelie ~ I think a lot of the inner work I’ve done the past few years and especially this winter, prepared me. I’m ready to let go of unhealthy habits. I really, truly want my body to reflect how happy I’ve been feeling lately – and while I didn’t do this to lose weight, I’m down 10 lbs already. Sugar was always the hardest for me, and this cleanse showed me I can choose not to eat it anymore. Now that I know how I feel when I eat a brownie, or have a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee, it’s so much easy than to just quit suddenly. It’s the knowledge of the consequences that is most powerful.
      Thanks for your support! xo

  7. It seems to be truly amazing how doing something like changing the way we eat can have such a profound effect on other aspects of our lives. I am glad to read that you became more harmonized with yourself and learned more about yourself as you went through this program. In my opinion, unless you know yourself and are honest with yourself you will never succeed at doing what you did. Great job.

    • Jess~YES, being honest with ourselves is so important. And it’s actually a relief to do so, because staying in denial is just another weight to carry around, and I’m all about simplifying these days. Thank you for your encouragement! (Hope you’re in tip top shape & fully recovered!)

  8. Adam

     /  7 May 2011

    Thanks Kellie – honest and inspiring. We bought the book and are planning a start date with fear, trepidation and excitement!

    • Adam ~ I’m thrilled you’ve been inspired! I’d love to hear how it goes for you…(…if you’d like to share. Bon Appetit!

  9. Tammy

     /  18 May 2011

    As usual, I am inspired by you… xo

  10. Thanks Kellie. Just found you this morning and so needed to randomly read about the effects of diet. I have been going to a Naturopathic Doctor and having a complete upheaval of diet. When I eat well I do well, when I eat poorly and out of emotion I don’t disintegrate, I dis-integrate, and feel as though I’m walking sideways at life. It is so. hard. in this culture though. So way to go! And thanks for encouraging.

    • Amanda ~
      Thanks for reading! I, too, find this culture works hard at promoting lifestyles that separate us from our natural state: one of health and ease. Even now, since the cleanse, I’ll eat something less healthy and can immediately see its detrimental effects. In fact, I’m so much more sensitized to dairy, sugar and other toxicants now. Congratulations on your health consciousness and integration! We really ARE what we eat, what we listen to, what we say and think and do….

  11. wow, that’s awesome. makes me want to do it.

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