Welcome to I Tried It Month, where we'll be publishing a new fashion, beauty, or wellness article every day in January that features a first-person account of shaking up an old habit, pushing beyond a comfort zone, or simply trying something new. Follow along for 31 days of storytelling, including everything from going without a cell phone for 40 days to trying the polarizing low-rise pant trend.
They call me the queen of cleanses, but I like to consider myself a lifelong learner when it comes to health and wellness. So it was only fitting that I tried the 21-day cleanse that Gwyneth Paltrow and Meghan Markle have reportedly tried and swear by. I'd say the biggest difference between them and me is that I have an infinite sweet tooth that causes me to make not-so-good decisions in the late-night hours when I should be sleeping.
When I heard of the Clean 21 diet, founded by cardiologist Alejandro Junger, MD, I did my research and knew I just had to try it for myself. The cleanse is 21 days, and it consists of three meals a day—two of them being vegan protein shakes. Thankfully, those on the cleanse are allowed to eat one solid, clean meal a day for lunch. The plan prohibits soy, dairy, gluten, plant-based protein, refined sugars, grains, drinking alcohol, and even some fruits (shocking, I know). Along with the food restrictions, every meal you eat (solids and shakes) must be accompanied by eight supplements. Yep, you guessed it, that's 24 supplements a day. The list of restricted foods was a bit intimidating at first, but I'm a firm believer in mind over matter. Truth be told, if I can give up sugar for 21 days, then anyone has a shot at doing it too.
I love a good challenge when it comes to my health, and who doesn't love for their jeans to fit a little better? I was in.
Before I went on the cleanse, I chatted with Junger to find out the best tips for successfully completing it. One clean meal a day doesn't sound that hard compared to full-on juice cleanses, but here are some things to consider: It's 21 days, and getting your body to adjust is harder than it seems.
"The purpose of this cleanse is to conserve energy so that the energy can be used in different things. What we're trying to do is redirect your body's energy to go into other systems," Junger explains. "One of them is the detoxification system. One of the biggest problems that humanity has is that we've never been exposed to so many toxic chemicals as we are now. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the cosmetics we use, the medications, the cleaning products, and the mattresses, but mostly, the foods that we eat. In many cases, it's not even food. When you go to the supermarket, 90% of those aren't real foods. It's edible stuff that comes in packages. Those things have a certain amount of ingredients. It's not real food. It's full of chemicals and smelling agents."
Junger continues to say that one of the strongest benefits of this cleanse is that the body is digesting less, and in turn, the body will be saving energy that will be redirected. Detoxing has always been something that I rely on after a weekend sugar bender or taco-truck bender, so all of that sounded good to me. Detoxing is vital to us as humans because "we are at a crossroads of our evolution but never before has our lifestyle slowed down and impeded detoxing itself. These toxins have endless consequences. It affects every other system in the body," he says. I also learned from Junger that toxins can lead to a leaky gut, which coincidentally, is linked to a leaky brain—so that's why he believes the detoxification system in our body is what suffers the most.
The Best Cleanse Tip I Learned
One of the tips that Junger gave to avoid cravings on the cleanse was actually pretty shocking. He told me that most humans do not know what real hunger is and that most of the time when we feel hungry, it is just pure emotion. Well, I can't argue that because I eat and crave sugar throughout every emotion. Happy, sad, annoyed, irritated—you can bet I'll be at the kitchen table with a snack. For some people, food is a numbing concept.
"When you get hungry, reevaluate," he suggests. "When you get the sensation, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensation. Close your eyes and question if it's really hungry. When you put your attention on it, you start distinguishing the quality of this sensation. Is it in your chest, or is it the discomfort? Your sensation is like a source."
What Happened During the Cleanse
With this newfound info from the cleanse GOAT himself, I was more than ready to start my journey. I won't lie; it was extremely challenging, and the first week was the roughest simply because of the headaches I got from eliminating so many foods that I usually consume on a daily basis. But one huge perk of this cleanse compared to any others that I've done is the ability to speak with a wellness coach. I absolutely loved having someone reach out to me every day just to see how I was feeling and also to share tips if I was super hungry, ready to give up, or not feeling well. For example, when I got headaches, my wellness coach recommended that I consume enough water throughout the day and rest when it would get too painful.
After a full week on the cleanse, I noticed a change in my weight. I lost five pounds in a week, but I was also feeling really bummed about not being able to go out to eat. This cleanse kind of killed my social life. Don't get me wrong, I could still go out, but it was torture not being able to eat things like bread. To avoid the temptation, I didn't go out for the entire cleanse.
My Cleanse Diary
If you want some behind-the-scenes commentary full of ups and downs, check out my journal below:
Day 1: Feeling great, just hungry.
Day 2: Woke up feeling kind of sluggish and not that hungry, but without caffeine, this is a new journey for me.
Day 3: My hunger isn't that extreme, but these shakes are kind of gross. On the bright side, I made Mediterranean chicken for lunch.
Day 4: I'm still hungry after my dinner shake. I’m getting used to the flavor. but I miss eating at night. Not eating has me quite moody.
Day 5: My shakes just aren't filling me up. I asked my coach if I could have dried mango for a snack, and she said yes, in moderation.
Day 6: I'm experiencing cold-like symptoms, aka a sore throat. My wellness coach says that this is common because it's a sign that my body is detoxing.
Day 7: I'm emotional today.
Day 8: Feeling much better today, but I miss going out to eat. This detox is extremely challenging, but I'm less hungry now and getting used to eating one meal a day.
Day 9: The salmon that I made for lunch really sucks, but I'm feeling really light and sleeping like a baby.
Day 11: I had apples and nut butter as a new snack, and it's got me full. Starting to get used to this cleanse.
Day 12: I'm extremely hungry today. I have cramps. Over it. Eight more days, and I can actually eat a meal after the sun sets.
Day 13: I'm tired of drinking shakes. I've been putting almond butter in them, and it's pretty tasty, but by the time I get to my last one, I'm completely exhausted.
Day 14: I was in a happier mood today. Don't get it twisted; I'm not walking on sunshine, but I'm definitely not as hungry as I usually am.
Day 15: I started eating sea moss gel for a snack, and it's really curbing my appetite.
Day 16: I'm getting skin compliments, and people are saying I'm glowing.
Day 17: I'm at a baby shower, and they have cookies. Someone save me. This is rough, and I'm tired of these damn shakes. Four more days.
Day 19: Woke up before my alarm clock. Almond butter has truly gotten me through this cleanse. I don't know where I would be without it.
Day 20: I actually woke up happier than usual along with more energy. I guess this cleanse has finally got to me. My sugar cravings have resided, and shockingly, I don't miss eating dinner. I think my body is getting used to not eating solids after three.
Day 21: Is it my wedding day? Nope, but it might as well be because that's what the last day of this cleanse feels like. Thank ya, Jesus. I made it!
What Happened Post-Cleanse
To be honest, after the cleanse, I was so relieved to be off it and eat again, but there were some things that I noticed post-cleanse. My body was so accustomed to eating one meal a day that I wasn't as hungry as I was before. Another huge shocker post-cleanse was that I didn't have as many sugar cravings. Not to mention that because my body was so used to not eating solids after 3 p.m. every day, I now practice intermittent fasting subconsciously. Also, two weeks after the cleanse, I noticed that I lost all of my natural energy, which might be due to the fact that I wasn't taking my daily supplements and went back to eating processed foods.
This cleanse was extremely challenging but also very rewarding for me. My mind was clear, my stomach issues completely went away, and my skin was glowing. I slept like a baby. However, if I were to ever do this again, I recommend having a buddy to do the cleanse with and a plan for what you're going to eat every day. I would also recommend setting aside time each day to prep a meal. On a lot of days, I just ended up eating the same thing over and over because of time constraints. And if you're planning on doing this cleanse, you might be kissing your nights out and your overall social life goodbye. I had to attend a work event where I couldn't eat or drink (alcohol), and it went so long that I didn't get to have my dinner shake. Prepping is key on this cleanse.
The biggest takeaway for me is that Junger was right: We as humans might not know real hunger, and I definitely didn't experience it until I started this cleanse. I'm definitely an emotional eater, and a lot of the processed foods I was eating pre-cleanse were draining me versus giving me sustained energy.
Of course, these are just my takeaways and my experience. If you're considering doing the program, I would suggest you consult your doctor or a healthcare professional first.
Some Products That Helped Me During the Cleanse
As the old saying goes, if you don't have a plan, then you're planning to fail. That's very true in terms of this cleanse. If you have a hectic schedule, make sure that your cleanse-approved lunches are ready to go for you every morning. This helps avoid slipping up and grabbing something to eat that isn't on the cleanse-approved list. These containers = lifesaving!
I wanted to be fully prepared for what was to come with this cleanse and the importance of it, so Junger recommended that I read this book, and you should too!