Since the beginning of 2016, I have not been feeling well. For over a month I seemed to be sick with a sinus infection, then a cold and finally bronchitis. In addition, holiday overeating had made me put on weight — especially through the middle. Combine all this with a fast approaching big birthday, and I decided I needed to do something to make myself feel healthier.
I had been hearing a lot about cleanses in the media and from friends. I knew there was no way I could do a juice cleanse (I need food), so I signed up for a plant-based clean-eating program that I could do for five days. This particular program was three meals a day, all vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free.
When the food was delivered, I did a double take. That’s it? It seemed like so little food. I couldn’t imagine I would have any energy after taking in so few calories. Having just completed the cleanse, here are five things I learned.
1. I eat too much
Over the past few months, I would feel like I was “being good” with my eating and could not understand why I was gaining weight. I thought I was making “mostly” healthy choices and just blamed a slowing metabolism. The reality is I eat too much for my age and activity level. I need to eat smaller portions and not snack so much, especially at night, if I want to maintain a healthy weight.
The first two days I was definitely hungry, but I noticed I was hungrier when I wasn’t busy. So was I hungry or bored? I never felt lightheaded or tired throughout the program. In fact, I noticed I had as much, if not more, energy than usual. I slept better and was able to exercise every day.
2. I drink too much coffee
When I started the cleanse, the program suggested cutting out caffeine completely, which for me was a dealbreaker. As I have aged, I have trouble sleeping and rise way earlier than necessary no matter what time I go to bed. To combat this issue, I normally drink way too many cups of strong coffee throughout the day. While doing the program, I started having no coffee after noon. Simply put, less caffeine equals more sleep for me.
3. I could not be a vegan
Breakfasts on the program were small but surprisingly satisfying. I really enjoyed gluten-free chia oatmeal and sunflower butter bars. The lunches — soups and small salads — were also filling. But dinner? Eggplant shaped to look like meatballs and collard greens stuffed with raisins — yikes! Some of these combinations I literally could not stomach. Eating less meat, especially at night, did make me feel lighter when I went to bed. So while I definitely could not be a vegan, I will try to incorporate a few meat-free days into my week.
4. When you make one healthy change, another can follow
Being on the cleanse program (and having paid for it) kept me focused all week on being healthy. I drank less coffee and more water. I exercised. I didn’t snack mindlessly and ate sensible portions. I remembered to take my vitamins. If I take these habits with me into my real life, I will probably feel better.
5. It’s easier to eat clean on a plan
On the program, all my meals were premade. I didn’t have to think about what to make or how much was a good portion size. I still cooked dinner for my family every night, and admittedly, what I made for them looked and smelled way better than my cleanse food. But I was able to stay focused on my commitment to the program.
Now that the cleanse is over, the hard part begins. It’s up to me to incorporate what I learned and make it a part of my daily life. I think it’ll be a challenge, but feeling physically better (and being able to button my jeans again without major effort) is a good incentive to stick with it.