I Tried The Trendy Clean Program & It Completely Changed My Relationship With Food
I’ve always played around with my diet, experimenting with eating totally vegan for a few weeks or no sugar here and there, but nothing quite like giving up nearly everything for 21 days. Enter the Clean Program, an über-trendy 21-day challenge that Instastars like Lee From America and Rachel Mansfield are obsessed with. While on the Clean Program, you eliminate foods that are known to cause digestive issues or even allergic reactions, with the hopes that it will reset your body to function beautifully without them. The list of foods you're giving up is intense: dairy and eggs, most grains, oranges, bananas, strawberries, corn, nightshades, pork, beef, veal, sausage, canned meat, shellfish, raw meat, and more. It's a long list, to be sure, but according to the program, "Clean excludes certain foods from the Clean Program because some may cause food sensitivities and/or allergic reactions, some contain toxic chemicals or are laden with pesticides (even organics), some have an acidifying effect on the body, some are mucus-forming, some are pro-inflammatory, and some are simply difficult to digest." By eliminating any and all of these problem-causers, you "relieve the burden on the immune and digestive system."
What's left? you might wonder (I certainly did). A lot of vegetables, some nut milks and nuts, and certain types of cold-water, wild-caught ocean fish—in addition to pasture-raised game like elk and venison.
The program was created by Dr. Alejandro Junger, a cardiologist, best-selling author, and favorite of celebs like Donna Karan and Gwyneth Paltrow. Whether you find the protocol legitimate is dependent on your general feelings on detox—whether or not our body's innate detoxifying channels, like our livers, are capable of handling the toxic load of modern life. Jessica Cording, a registered dietitian, says, "Motivation and mindset have a lot to do with how someone will fare on a specific plan. From experience, I've found that people who go on a very restrictive plan like this have a hard time transitioning off it and slip into a mindset of "clean" vs. "dirty" food or have a hard time figuring out how to time their meals."
While I heeded her warnings, I was intrigued by other people's positive results—enough to give the diet a try. It was only 21 days, I figured. How bad could it be?
It became a bonding experience with friends.
Life is better with a solid group of girlfriends and so is a cleanse. I somehow managed to rope two of my girlfriends into doing the cleanse with me. Each morning we would wake to a friend’s daily smoothie recipe text. We’d swap recipes and photos and keep the encouragement up, literally writing, "you go, girl" nearly every day. As silly as it sounds out loud, having people to reach out to (who were going through the exact same thing!) helped tremendously when a sugar craving came on strong.
Quitting sugar helped me reach a happier weight.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was very much looking forward to this part. Since I’ve been a sugarholic my whole life, removing it from my daily routine helped me lose a bit of weight. If you think about it, cutting out the one thing that you eat the most of (sugar, bread, mass amounts of nut butter), you’re bound to lose some weight. For me, that happened to be about 5 pounds.
Save that money.
Another big benefit—I saved a significant amount of money while on the cleanse. Since breakfast and dinner consisted of smoothies, this really limited my dining out experiences for the month. Even my Whole Foods bill was significantly lower—always a win!
Caffeine withdrawal is real.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the first two days were some of the hardest of my life. I’m a one-cup-a-day coffee drinker, so god help you if you drink more. After two days of straight exhaustion and constant headaches (remember, your body is detoxing, so this is totally normal), you slowly come back to life with the help of water. Lots and lots of water.
Water is your best friend.
I found that water helped to alleviate the headaches during the detox period. I did a bunch of research and found that drinking filtered water really minimizes most chemicals and impurities that are present in faucet water. During the cleanse I started using the PureBerkey water filter and found that my smoothies actually tasted better!
Fish was my savior.
Fish was one of the main proteins not eliminated on the program, and it became a staple. Fish tacos, salad with a side of salmon, or even salmon cakes were my go-to's (and, to be honest, this was pretty similar to my normal lunch meals, a nice source of comfort in the middle of such a restrictive diet).
The dirty truth—poop.
Let's just say that even without a strong cup of coffee each morning, I became very regular. Thank you, daily smoothies!
I’d wake up like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning.
Like most 20-somethings, I often hit the snooze button multiple times in the morning. After a week on the cleanse, I would literally jump out of bed…with a smile on my face (no joke). And let me tell ya, waking up with a smile on your face is so encouraging. I’m guessing that by removing the foods that caused digestive and sleep issues (hello, sugar), it helped me to feel satisfied with a solid eight hours of sleep.
Bloat, be gone!
After being bloat-free for almost two weeks, you never want to go back! I attribute this to the "no snacking" policy and the 12-hour window from dinner to breakfast of no eating, allowing your body to fully detox and cleanse, prepping it for your next meal.
You can still have chocolate.
Yes, you absolutely can! I was pretty obsessed with Eating Evolved Chocolate during the cleanse. One bar has no sugar and is absolutely delicious. The others are made with coconut sugar, but luckily this is Clean Program–approved.
Clear eyes and glowing skin for days.
On the final day of the cleanse, my mom and sister looked at me and asked what products I’d been using for my skin recently because it looked "flawless." I hadn’t changed a thing—except for my entire diet. It was 100 percent the cleanse.
I slept like a baby.
After I graduated college, I had years of sleepless nights. The cleanse somehow made my sleep better and more restful. I’m going to put my money on that by removing all the sugar I was eating an hour before I headed to bed, this helped me fall asleep faster and better.
The best part is the end…
After the three-week cleanse, the most important part is the reintroduction phase, where you bring back the foods that you removed to see how they now make you feel, the ultimate test.
What I learned: Coffee gives me brain fog and makes me a bit nutty (so, I limit it to once a week or a special occasion), kombucha also gives me serious headaches (bummer), eggs make me feel great (thank god!), and sugar makes me crash faster than it ever did before.
I enjoyed the cleanse so much that I found myself craving the foods I ate while on the Clean Program. Knowing how good I felt while on the cleanse, it just encouraged me to keep going after the three weeks. I am happy to say that I still have one smoothie a day.
If you want to try a mini cleanse, here are my favorite three recipes serving as "a day in the life of you on a three-week cleanse," and yes, chocolate is included:
Breakfast: Carrot-Cake Smoothie
- ½ cup nut milk
- ½ cup water
- small handful of both carrots and sweet potatoes (that were steamed and then frozen)
- vanilla protein powder packet (I'm using @cleanprogram, but use any you'd like!)
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- 1 tablespoon coconut butter
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of cardamom and clove powder
- 1 teaspoon maca powder (great for energy)
Blend and enjoy! I also topped it with coconut yogurt and more tahini and coconut flakes.
Lunch: Halibut and Veggie Stuffed Tacos
- 2 warmed almond flour tortillas (Siete Foods make a great version)
- 1 piece of cooked halibut, seasoned with garlic/ginger paste
- slices of radish, avocado, and golden beets
- lots of dill
Place halibut on tortillas. Top with radish, avocado, beets, and dill, and eat immediately.
Dinner: Mixed Berries With Coconut Smoothie
- ½ cup coconut milk
- ½ cup water
- ¾ cup frozen mixed berries
- vanilla protein powder packet (I used @cleanprogram, but use any you'd like!)
- 1 tablespoon almond butter
Blend and enjoy!
Even if you're not cleansing, be sure to avoid these 10 so-called healthy foods that are actually causing a lot of inflammation.
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Marie Reginato is a food photographer and author living in Los Angeles, California. She runs a popular health food blog where she shares tips and recipes for having fun in the kitchen while not taking food too seriously. She's also authored two cookbooks, Alternative Vegan and The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. Reginato has a degree in agricultural business from California Polytechnic State University. She has held cooking classes and worked with Jamba Juice, the FeedFeed, TheChalkboardMag, Best Foods, Peta, the June Oven, and many more.