21 Day Cleanse Case Study


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Day 1

Hey there!

​I’m Naomi, a writer from Asheville, NC. Good to meet you all. This won’t be first time cleansing, but it is my first time in a group cleanse and the first time I’ll be writing about my experience. I hope my words will inspire some of you to share your thoughts too—the good, the bad and the ugly. And those great realizations and moments of clarity that I know will come.

​To start, I'm setting some goals for the next 21 days.

1) Stick with it. 
Confession: I had a cup of coffee and half a doughnut at 10am today! First thought: Ha! No one will ever know! Second thought: I’m going to drop out of the cleanse now. Why did I think I wanted to do this? This coffee and doughnut are amazing. Third thought: Whaat? You’re crazy.  It started two hours ago. Fourth thought: STICK WITH IT. So I’m working on making the rest of the day what I want it to be. I will not self-sabotage.

2) Carve out ME time everyday. 
Two kids (ages 5 and 2 in different schools), part-time work, a marriage, friends, groceries, housework…blah blah, you guys know where I'm going. When I don’t take the time for me, even 15 minutes, I feel worse and everything is just harder. I’m simply a less good version of me. A health expert pointed told me a long time ago that no matter what your priorities are, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, it all falls apart. It all stems from YOU, no matter how much you value anyone else. Enter this cleanse, enter some quality ‘me’ time. I'm thinking yoga, walks in the woods, baths. And naps as needed, which I never allow myself to do. One thing every day.

3) Examine when I want it and why.
Why did I have that coffee this morning? Because my husband and I snuck off to a café after dropping the kids off at school. It felt wrong not to indulge given the situation. Did they have lovely herbal tea options? Yes. Would anyone have judged me for having tea? No. Did the tummy ache that ensued make me feel awesome? Hell no.  I’m going to think about these patterns and journal about them.

4) Feel better.
My skin is a wreck (uncomfortable hand excema). I have strong suspicions I have food allergies, but have never carefully, dutifully tracked them to finally see what works and what doesn’t. I would like to lose those last 7 pounds and fit my clothes better. I’m not sleeping as well as I’d like. My anxiety has been worse lately than it’s been for years. I know I will feel worse before I feel better, but I know there is a great reward here if I stick with it.

​5) Be accountable.

That means reaching out and connecting with all of you.

What are your goals and strategies? How was your first day?

Love from Asheville,

PS: Here is a photo taken today, day 1.

Day 2

See ya, Day 2. And thanks for the crankiness, mood swings and general doomsday-ishness.

​Yup, second day was rough. Couldn’t quite wake up and get going with work, no desire to socialize nor be kind (I love that kindness is on the cleanse checklist Alex posted on Facebook—such a good reminder). Headaches in the late afternoon and more soreness in my body, hips especially. My energy was low and sensitivity high (sorry to my husband – I will be making amends this weekend and wooing him with wonderful new vegan recipes. More on that below). Hello, sugar withdrawal! I hope to understand these signals from my body better as we move through this cleanse together.

The good news is I stayed on track for all five cleanse areas (gluten, alcohol, caffeine, sugar and animal products). It wasn’t difficult and surprisingly, my cravings weren’t an issue. Usually when I’m feeling down, it’s chocolate and cocktails for me. Without them, it’s just harder. Which is both understandable and weird! Surely, I can come up with better solutions that lead to a real release (exercise, meditation, yoga). I didn’t do those things, but the renewed awareness is important. But I also didn’t turn to my usual buddies, Lindt chocolate and Manhattans. I went for a handful of grapes after dinner instead. My mom always drinks a large cup of herbal tea before bed, and I do the same—the ritual and warmth never fail to calm and comfort me.

I spent a fair amount of time at Trader Joe’s stocking up: some nice herbal teas (moringa, ginger, and mango—thanks Alex for the tip!), salsas, corn chips, gluten-free crackers, unsweetened pea protein for smoothies, and a cauliflower pizza crust to make for myself on pizza night. I’m actually excited to try it. A clerk advised me to get the soy chorizo, which she crumbles to use in chili. I’m looking forward to trying new recipes over the weekend.

I ended the day by turning to a book that’s sat next to my bed for a while, Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. (Her TED talk on vulnerability is amazing.) The whole concept is so eye opening—that vulnerability is at the root of true connection and all emotion. We usually associate it with weakness, when in fact it’s a sign of strength and comfort with ourselves. One example she gives is love: we’d never fall in love if we didn’t permit vulnerability, because the act of loving someone and not knowing for sure if they will love you back, stay with you forever, etc., is a total leap in the dark. Of course that darkness brings us to the greatest light, as well.

​Love (and light) from Asheville,

Day 3

Energy returned today after Day 2’s sluggish mope. For the first half of the day, I felt lighter and like I could exercise all day. Walked my son to and from preschool, twice, for a total of three miles, and then did two short yoga routines: one for the psoas (those hips, man. Ouch) and one for the neck and shoulders. I had a smoothie with pea protein powder for breakfast, and wonder if that was the boost—I’m going to experiment with this as the cleanse goes on, what foods, at what time, give me energy.

Tension stirred during and after the yoga. That’s a big challenge for me—I tend to jump when things don't proceed linearly (like feeling stressed after a yoga class—aren’t I supposed to feel great?!). Then I start analyzing madly to ‘figure it all out’. I never do. So let’s just say things are moving around. I’m trying to observe, let it move, avoid ‘controlling’ it, and trust it will eventually release. Just…let…it…flow.

Man, did I want to have chocolate after lunch! We had a stand off, me staring at the shelf where it sits and it looming back at me. I fought back the very convincing voice saying, “JUST DO IT! It’s only a piece of dark chocolate, it’s so healthy. Be nice to yourself…you deserve it…” Oh, shut up already. I had dried raspberries instead.
Mild headaches set in during the afternoon, moving to all different parts of the head, followed by neck pain. I felt really dehydrated. Coconut water is my magic elixir in these situations; some kombucha also gave me a nice boost. And I loved drinking herbal teas throughout the day.

One of the issues I started with is hand eczema—it’s gotten to the point where it wakes me up scratching like crazy every night. I haven’t been able to wear my wedding rings in months. I’m thrilled to report I haven’t had an itch since starting the cleanse and my hand is slowly starting to heal.  Super rewarding.

Finally, on kindness and connection: I took responsibility for being sharp and, frankly, mean to my husband on Day 2.  He’s had a hard week and didn’t deserve my toxic self. Apologizing felt good and CLEAN.  I also read a few more pages of Daring Greatly. The section on friendship, connection and betrayal discusses how trust is built in slow, day-by-day steps and acts, rather than some grand gesture or single defining moment. (I.e., we are not living in a movie.) So it’s not being unfaithful that the worst form of betrayal, it’s disconnection. Choosing yourself in every situation over the other. Not seeing or sensing where the other person is because you’re so consumed with your own thoughts. I’ll be taking this with me into the weekend and aiming to spend some wholehearted, focused time with my family. Let’s hope my achy hips don’t slow me down on the playground.

​Love from Asheville,

Days 4 - 5

Tightrope walking. That’s the image that came to me as I soaked in the tub Sunday night, thinking about the weekend and how I’ve been feeling. Moments of great balance, grace, and clarity, where one foot easily steps in front of another; and then stumbles backwards, twisting and turning with all my might so as not to lose my balance and fall off the rope.

There’s been an up/down, on/off rhythm for me so far during the cleanse. Saturday was on: I woke up energized despite not having a good night’s sleep. (Deep slumber has so far eluded me on this cleanse.) I had a much-needed, chill day at home with the family. We played UNO, Candyland, and Legos. I cooked hummus (including a batch with sriracha) and pickled hot peppers. PJs all day. The good stuff.  As night approached, the fatigue and achiness set in. I’m more tired at night than usual.

Sunday was off: more irritable, more sensitive, less energy. Hips were so deeply achy, I could barely bend down to pick anything up. My mood worsened in the afternoon after I had a few handfuls of gluten-free granola. WITH SUGAR IN IT! I was so focused on gluten-free that I hadn’t properly read the ingredients. Cane sugar, #2. I ate it so enthusiastically I should’ve known straightaway there was something naughty in there. Yuck. Irritability got worse after that, and as if on cue, my hands began to itch and I had a small blister by nighttime. Frustrating but also illuminating. The yin and the yang, again.

A great article I came across about the power of veganism to protect the Earth (I also posted to Facebook) gave me a real sense of pride and purpose about what we are doing. The numbers are staggering: “If you eat vegan even for just one day a week, you have had a greater positive environmental impact than if you were to eat only locally grown food seven days a week,” the author writes.  “According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be equivalent to taking more than half a million cars off of our roads.”

​Amazing, inspiring stuff, and motivation not only to keep cleansing, but also to think how I can incorporate these changes long term into my life. If one thing makes me feel powerless, it’s what we are doing to the Earth.  I am grateful this cleanse has put me on this track.

I hope Monday will be better. One thing I did neglect this weekend was exercise, which would’ve helped move the achiness and stagnation. So, commitment to yoga everyday this week. And no more granola!

I’m also excited to get back into the Monday to Friday routine. It’s easier for me to slot in what I need for myself. I have a hike with a friend planned and tea with a fellow cleanser. I'm looking forward to seeing where this week leads, be it strides or stumbles. Maybe I’ll even fall off the rope.  I’ll get back on.

As I fell asleep last night, I repeated, “I surrender. I surrender,” over and over again.

​Let’s see where I end up.
Love from Asheville,

Day 6

Fog and sludge are lifting. Day 6 was much better, my energy more steady. I still didn’t sleep well last night, so that sucks. But given how badly I did sleep, I actually felt clear, focused and up all day. So that’s encouraging. I feel really committed to this experience and GRATEFUL to be here with all of you.

I chose a home yoga routine for sore knees, trying to think creatively about tangential areas to release my hips. It was tough—the hip pain is so, so deep, it’s insane. But I got through it and I felt lighter afterwards. Tomorrow I’m going to do yoga for the feet. Letting it go and trying not to get fixated on one area.

Cooking for this cleanse is a fun challenge. (Eating out, not so much…I’m really a homebody during these times.) I’m digging the morning smoothies for energy boosters, but I get tired of drinking cold smoothies when the weather shifts and crave warmer foods. I decided to try out some warm smoothies. I liked my first one a lot:

Chai rooibos banana smoothie

  • 1 cup brewed chai rooibos tea
  • ½ cup coconut or almond milk
  • 1 TB. ground flax
  • 1 serving pea protein powder
  • ½ banana (the greener the better)
  • 1 TB. nut butter
  • 2 tsp. moringa powder
  • Large handful greens, fresh or frozen
  • Stevia drops to taste

It was creamy and warm—just right for a cool autumn morning.

Lunch was Tuscan kale salad with almond slices and hemp seeds dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, and garlic along with almond crackers and hummus. All homemade
​and super YUM.

For dinner I made this amazing sweet potato-chickpea curry(from Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows Every Day) with basmati rice. SWEET LORD, MAKE THIS. All of us—husband and my two sons—were in heaven. There is no feeling as good and warm as cooking a healthy meal and watching it bring such pleasure.

Are you finding that your taste buds are waking up? Cleansing makes me appreciate food so much more; It’s like I wake up to food again. The brightness of an orange, the clean crisp of a salad, the sweet earthiness of a potato.

My mood was steady throughout the day, unlike my five year old’s, who had three, full-body, on-the-floor meltdowns between 6:30 and 8pm. Patient, kind mama showed up this time. Yes.

​Clarity, calm and an open heart. And belly full of curry. All in all, a good day.

Love from Asheville,

Day 7

What a lovely day. Super energized, charged and brimming with ideas. Things are MOVING, which is an amazing feeling. I started with oil pulling and a little early AM stretching, something I always mean to do but never find the motivation. I’m AWAKE and CLEAR now in the mornings, no fogginess. (Sleep still not great, though.) The achiness in my hips has let up, but bending over (like doing a forward fold) still really hurts. My legs are really taking the brunt of the release right now. Working on it.

After dropping kids off, went for a four-mile hike in the woods. That filled me with gratitude for my life and a deep sense of joy. I don’t want to get too sentimental here; let’s just say my cup felt full. What was cool is the inspiration I found for my work and a real sense of how I could take things in a new direction without fear or hesitation. I felt flooded with ideas and inspiration.

Feeling a sense of freedom and openness got me thinking about stagnation and how that happens. Stagnation just sounds and feels icky—it’s where mosquitos fester, rot sets in, and muck takes over. It’s fear, never taking a step forward. Stagnation in our bodies is also unhealthy; just think about the digestive system when it gets bogged down by our lifestyles.

Cleansing like this is obviously a process of release—of toxins, heavy metals, addictions, bad habits, unhealthy thoughts, even—so many things that hold us down, grip us. Things we get fixated and attached to, things that stand in our way of our best selves. We are letting go of routines and some robot-like behaviors and challenging them, looking them in the eye. Then again, we need some rootedness in our lives lest we become too flighty. It’s like we need to be trees: rooted in the ground, yet growing and changing all the time, even if no one can tell from the outside.

Tomorrow starts the beginning of week 2—wahoo!

​Love from Asheville,

Day 8 - 11

Greetings from Day 11—I’m back after a few days’ break from writing. Now firmly in the routine of the cleanse, I needed a few days to process before writing again. The week was off to a high note, but as mid-week set in, I struggled with fatigue and some setbacks. The good news is that the deep ache phase has passed (thank god), but my hand eczema has come back. It’s one of the main reasons I wanted to cleanse, hoping that I’d identify food triggers.

Eczema can apparently be triggered as toxins release, so it’s possible this is happening. And when candida die-off begins, it seems to happen a lot. I’ve never been tested for candida overgrowth, but I think I have a lot of the symptoms. If anyone has advice or experience here, please share. This is really getting me down right now and is quite discouraging given the hard work I’m putting in.

Friday posed new challenges, too, with seemingly all of Asheville either eating ice cream or drinking beer on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. It was hard to watch—but then I realized, no need to ‘watch’, just be! That said, I did cave to a spoon of ice cream (okay, two spoons!). I wish I hadn’t, but I did. It didn’t feel too good afterwards, so I learned my lesson. Stay away.

After I pushed back the initial mouth-watering, Pavlovian response to being at a brewery, it got easier. I didn’t NEED anything to have a good time and enjoy a lovely evening outside with my family. Beer wasn’t the essential ingredient to me having a good time, but hanging out and being present was (which is so easy to forget). I hope that these dynamics will continue to shift and I can take them with me post-cleanse; for instance, have a piece of chocolate when I want one, not four pieces, mindlessly! Mindful eating….so important.

Otherwise, I’m working to integrate some new routines into my life. I’ve been waking up nice and alert when my alarm goes off at 6:30, and a few mornings this week I took advantage of the still-quiet house and did a 30-minute yoga video. Afterwards, I’ve been oil pulling. I would love to integrate this permanently into my day.
I’ve also lost a few pounds and my clothes are definitely fitting better. I can see and feel a difference as we pass the halfway mark.

In a few days I’ll have a special blog post featuring a mama who cooks really creative gluten-free vegan food for her family. She has a Facebook page called Everett’s kitchen if you’re curious. I’m excited to hear her favorite recipes and share them with you.

​Love from Asheville,

Day 16 - 21

One of the reasons I started this cleanse was to deal with hand eczema that’s been bothering me for over a year. When I was a kid, I had rashes a lot. The doctors said I’d grow out of it as a teen; I did. (Looking back on it, my mom thinks it was food allergies and sensitivities. But no one talked about those issues when I was growing up in the 1980s.)

After living most of my adult life with essentially no flare-ups, it came back last year just as I was finishing up a three-week cleanse. First my feet, then my hands. I was so confused. And PISSED OFF. Hadn’t I just done something great for my body? Frustrated and depressed, I’m pretty sure I went straight to a bakery and a bar. So I tossed aside all the good work I’d done and delved right back into the allergenic foods with full force, not taking the time to do it mindfully or to observe what my body was trying to tell me.

Fast forward to our cleanse together, and I’m having a similar experience: in the first few days, my hands cleared and it was amazing. Toward the end of week one, they started acting up, and around day 10 they got really bad. I’ve spent a lot of this week feeling frustrated and depressed again, wondering what I’m doing wrong. Blaming instead of listening. And even sadness crept up.

Yesterday I reached out to a few people and kept getting the same message: let it play out. Observe. Stay calm. Restore. Alex had some great advice on some restorative things to do, along with sticking to the cleanse until it disappears. And my chiropractor reminded me today the body takes time to heal; I’ve been seeing him for five months, and finally, my hips released. (I’m pretty sure the deep cleanse achiness played a role in allowing me to let this tension go. Hallelujah.)

I’ve been reading about ‘healing crisis’ and what that is: when a large amount of toxins are released in your body, your organs can’t keep up so things can get worse before they get better. There are many symptoms, but I encountered a lot of eczema sufferers online who report this pattern. So rather than a sign of defeat, this is actually an important sign of the healing journey. Are any of you experiencing signs of a healing crisis?

So today, I’m trying to embrace the symptoms rather than judge. Be gentle rather than angry. Go with the flow rather that control. Stick with the plan rather than jump ship. It’s feeling like a big, important lesson, and I’m grateful.

​Love from Asheville,

Final Day of 21 Day Cleanse

We did it! I am walking on air today. It feels like the sun is shining down on me (it helps that it actually IS; it's a gorgeous mid-70s fall day here in Asheville). I feel happier and more upbeat than I could have imagined three weeks ago. I hope all of you are feeling that way, too. It’s as if a cloud has been lifted and I can see things with greater clarity.

A few updates on how I’m feeling:

  • The hand eczema I’ve been fretting over has nearly cleared now. It made a turn in the middle the third week. I’m cautiously optimistic, and hopeful that as I reintroduce the allergenic foods, I’ll be able to track how it impacts my body and hopefully identify the trigger(s).  This will take some discipline and close attention, which I hope I will honor and have the knowledge to maneuver.
  • I lost four pounds.
  • People have been commenting on the clarity of my skin and eyes. Check out my after pic—my skin looks less red, and the dark circles have lessened. My eyes look calmer, don’t you think?
  • Sleep has improved; even when I am not getting enough, I’m waking up much more rested.
  • My mood, concentration, and ability to deal with stress have improved. I feel more in control and mindful of my reactions. This is a big one.

Over the weekend, I encountered some family stress. I stomped around the kitchen island for a good 20 minutes, mind racing, focused inwards, dreaming of shoveling a chocolate bar in my mouth. I really wanted to tear into the package and have my way with it. I was pissed and stressed. After some psychological back and forth, I decided to do a 20-minute stress relief yoga routine. Afterwards, I sat myself down on the floor and played with my son. I chose to reach out to a person I adore rather than reaching for the chocolate. The stress dissipated and I appreciated CONNECTING, rather than retreating further in my head and mindlessly eating what felt like a quick fix.

I hope to remember this lesson: when stress hits, there are OPTIONS. And your brain’s first response may not be what serves you best in the long run; I.e., five minutes after you’ve devoured the chocolate, have a stomachache, and are still stressed. Lesson to self is to do my best to stop, observe, and give it a few minutes before making a decision. Wise!

I’m also a little sad and nervous that the official cleanse is over. I’ve enjoyed having these parameters, a goal, Alex’s daily emails, writing these posts, being part of a community doing this together; it’s all become part of my day by now. This was just what I needed right now to get grounded. And honestly, I don’t think I’m ready to stop. My body is still talking to me and I don’t want to shut down the conversation. I hope it continues and to go even deeper. This is final day of our cleanse, but my intuition tells me to view it as a beginning rather than an ending.

​Love from Asheville,

PS. You can join the 21 Day Cleanse at anytime. CLICK HERE for more info
and please JOIN the facebook group Detox and Cleansing if you are looking for support during a cleanse, recipes, cleansing ideas or would like to share your story.


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