I just spent 10 days being my own “client” to get over a case of the yeasty-beasties. Three steady weeks of visitors, celebration food, unsatisfactory amounts of sleep, more than satisfactory amounts of wine, lots of work, and a whole lot of stress about how to get “it” all done had tipped me into many of the habits I try to help other people break. I was sustaining my long days with sugar and coffee. I was skipping meals. I was saying “yes” to everything except to time for myself. I went days without vegetables and got in the very comforting but not particularly moderate habit of eating ice cream every day. Eventually, my body put the brakes on. *If you do not want to read about yeast overgrowths and cleansing, this would be a good place to stop reading. I looked and felt like I was carrying a partially inflated balloon in my pants, just under my belly button. I was foggy brained, groggy and irritable, and felt heavy and sore in my joints. Luckily, due to years of experience, I knew what was going on. I had the symptoms of a yeast overgrowth. I knew what I had to do. I put myself on an anti-candida, alkalinizing program that included a bunch of natural anti-fungals.
It was a mini-cleanse. No coffee but I didn’t do away with caffeine. No sugar, so most fruit was out, but green apples added a little sweetness to my meals if I needed it. No vinegar except raw, unprocessed, apple cider vinegar but all the lemons and limes I wanted to add acidity. No alcohol. And sadly, no substitute for that. After 24 hours my beach ball belly had deflated some. After 48 hours, my joints stopped hurting. After a few days, my head was clear, my energy back up, and I was feeling much more like myself again. After 5 days I started experimenting with adding things back in–vinegar in a salad dressing, one cup of coffee, a couple bites of dessert. Now, about 10 days in, things are back to normal, though in my break from coffee I have realized that much as I love the taste of it, I don’t really need it every day and that my energy feels much more consistent throughout the day without it. A bittersweet discovery.
I coach people through cleanses on a regular basis. Cleansing isn’t necessary for everyone and the same cleanse may not be the best one for any two people. Cleansing has become very hip, which is not surprising given the stresses and excesses with which most of us live in today’s western society. I don’t recommend cleansing for fun. Or for fashion. And certainly not as a crash diet. So why do it at all? There are many reasons to cleanse, including but not limited to: identifying potential food sensitivities, helping with seasonal allergies, flushing parasites from the body, improving energy, or even just cultivating a deeper connection with the self when all your energy has felt scattered and eternalized. Cleansing can be an incredibly useful tool in healing the body. Having just gone through the process myself, here are a few things I re-learned.
1. Cleansing is not easy. It takes planning, dedication, and a willingness to be open to the experience. As our bodies detoxify we experience a range of physical and emotional highs and lows before finding an equilibrium. Cleansing can feel lonely without support but can also be made social with friends and family members who are willing to prepare and eat meals with you that are on your program.
2. Your body is your teacher. Our bodies tell us what they need. They give us signals all the time, throughout the day, and most of us can read the obvious ones. Hungry? Eat. Tired? Sleep. But our daily lives also force us to ignore even those obvious signals. Maybe we don’t have time to eat so we chew some gum, go 7 hours without eating a meal and then, ravenous, gorge on whatever is readily available. Perhaps there isn’t time for a good night’s sleep so we respond to fatigue with caffeine and sugar, taxing the adrenals and eventually crashing hard. When you let your body cleanse and recover, you basically take out the background noise. You can hear what your body is asking for and perhaps you can make gentler choices about how to respond.
3. When you can’t eat absolutely everything you take great care in preparing what you can eat. While a cleanse sounds boring and abstemious ahead of time, there is a beauty to the ritual of preparing your food when you are cleansing. You come to appreciate the healthy ways you can add flavor and color and texture and richness to a meal, using only foods that are cleanse-appropriate. And preparation of the meal itself feels like a gift because you aren’t absent-mindedly eating throughout the day. On some cleanses there are more things you CAN eat than things you can’t.
4. You have more time. In general, cleansing asks you to slow down. You are taking out the stimulants in your diet, and, ideally, some of the stimulants in your daily life, like computer and television, too. It’s a time to unplug from external stimuli and plug in to yourself. You have more time, and more acute awareness of that time. And so an opportunity arises to be thoughtful about what you choose to do with that time and awareness. What can you do with that new awareness? What can you create?
5. There is great power in the ability to heal yourself. I find that one of the most unnerving things about feeling unwell is not knowing what the cause is, and thus, not knowing how to deal with it. Too often we take the little signals from our bodies and squelch the symptom without looking at the cause. If you have a headache, for example, you can take a pain killer, or you can think about what caused it before you react. Have you had enough water? When is the last time you ate? What was the meal comprised of? This is not to say that you should forgo professional medical diagnosis and treatment. Nor do I recommend self-diagnosing on the internet, because you will most likely convince yourself that you have symptoms of every medical condition known to man. But when done correctly, perhaps with the support of a professional or literature from a vetted source, cleansing can be part of healing system that puts the control and power into your hands. No one will ever know your body as well as you do. And it feels amazing to be able to respond when it calls on you for something.
This is a sprawling and, at times controversial topic that I have only touched on here. I would love to hear input from you, readers. Have you cleansed? Do you have questions about cleansing? Experiences you would like to share? If you have any reaction at all to this post, I urge you to use the Comments section so we can get a conversation going.