If you've never done a food cleanse, I'm guessing you don't live in L.A. If you do, chances are you've tried the Master Cleanse a time or two in years past, flirted with juice cleanse in the last year, and are curious about doing an organic raw cleanse. I went on a cleanse kick myself this spring — finishing out the season with a 21-day dealio called the Fresh Start Cleanse. Cleanse-curious and don't know where to start? Read on!
The Fresh Start Cleanse is organized by Rainbeau Mars, a former yoga ambassador for Adidas who's now a holistic nutrition advocate, spokesperson for Nutiva, and the inventor of ra'Yoka — a yoga-meets-martial-arts practice (Ecostiletto has a five-part interview with Rainbeau, if you want to find out more about her). Once every few months, Rainbeau offers her Fresh Start Cleanse — a three-week whole foods program intended to get both cleanse newbies and veterans ready for the next season.
Before you freak out about drinking nothing but juice for 21 days, relax. Each week of the Fresh Start Cleanse comes with its own menu. And before you freak out about never getting to eat meat or sugar again, relax. A cleanse, unlike a diet plan, is meant only to last a defined period of time to let your body recharge. So even though the Fresh Start Cleanse is an all vegan one, Rainbeau herself revealed she's a dairy eater at non-cleanse times.
The first seven days, cleansers stick to a clean vegan diet — cutting out animal products as well as refined flours, sugar and processed foods in general. The next seven days, raw food is the only thing on the menu. The last seven's the toughest part — when cleansers only imbibe blended, liquified foods like soups, smoothies and juices. The idea is that by the end of the 21 days, you'll have rid yourself of the environmental toxins and extra pounds from your bad eating and living habits — and reset your taste buds for healthier eating habits in the months to come.
Sure, you could just try eating this way on your own for 21 days. But if you sign up for the cleanse — at a cost of $100 — you get to cleanse in company, with expert support. At the start of each week, you get to participate in a conference call that educates you and gets you excited about the week ahead — and receive an email with more educational info, some recipes, and a sample meal plan. Then each day, Fresh Start Cleanse promises to send an email with a recipe, a tip (for eco-friendly, happier living), and a ra'Yoka pose — to keep you on track. And cleansers are put on a collective email list, so they can communicate with and encourage each other, sharing tips and recipes and asking any questions that come up to Rainbeau or others in the group.
How'd it go for me? Week 1 was easy, since I already eat mostly vegan anyway. But something about the fact that I was on a cleanse made me want to push the rules to their limits — which means I ended up eating more, and eating out a lot, enjoying the many vegan restaurants in Los Angeles.
Week 2 was tougher, but I made it easier by ordering The Box — a half week or so worth of prepared raw foods — from Rawvolution, a local raw food restaurant. Unfortunately, with cooked starches — even brown rice! — completely cut out of my diet, I ended up eating a lot of fruit and nuts — which not only kept me from dropping any weight but also kept my energy levels fluctuating too wildly with the extra sugars. I really felt I needed more protein, but also felt weird about getting brown rice or hemp protein powders, as those processed ingredients seemed out of alignment with the unprocessed ideals of the cleanse.
Then came Week 3 — which I only did partially, because I had a business trip to visit Ford in Dearborn, Mich., that week. I drank my meals and snacks the four days I was in town though, and dealt with the same too-much-fruit-sugars problem as I'd had in the second week.
Had I planned better, perhaps the cleanse would have gone better. Which is to say that because the Fresh Start Cleanse does require you to plan and balance out your own meals, it's easy to go off kilter — especially if you're a newbie to vegan or raw food. Even the provided shopping lists aren't very helpful. They're basically long lists of fruits, veggies, herbs, and superfoods (like chia seeds) — without quantities or tips to help you decide how much of each item to buy or how you might combine them into workable meals.
The educational materials for the cleanse provide a lot of information on why a less meat-based diet can be better for your health and the environment, how a raw food diet can be cleansing, and the like, but little is said about adequately balancing nutritional needs. There are many overall blanket statements about how a raw food or liquid cleanse will boost your energies and have you looking and feeling great — but not a whole lot of info about what to do if you're just not feeling energetic and awesome (aside from the caveats that cleanses can make you feel bad physically and emotionally at the beginning, as the body purges toxins). The idea seems to be that once you make it through the cleanse, you'll be looking and feeling great, but I didn't find this to be true for me. My skin broke out, I felt lethargic and moody — and I didn't drop an ounce, though I would imagine people who were eating a lot of Big Mac combo meals would definitely lose some weight on this.
Of course, that's where the support network comes in. Had I planned better, I could have tapped the collective wisdom of the group, asking how to prevent these sugar highs and crashes. As it was, I was hurriedly trying to whip together something on-cleanse every time I got ravenously hungry — which often meant I reached for ready-to-eat fruit and nuts.
I got the sense, though, that many of my fellow cleansers were in the same busy boat I was in. Not that many emails went back and forth — leading Rainbeau to occasionally appealing to the group to pipe up — and some of the emails detailed how cleansers had fallen off the wagon but were trying to get back on.
I honestly got a lot more out of simply reading "Crazy Sexy Diet" and following that less extreme 21-day cleanse. But if you've got the time and inclination to tap into an email support group, perhaps the Fresh Start Cleanse is for you. The weekly conference calls were encouraging, although they basically consisted of Rainbeau repeating the information sent in the emails for about an hour. Unfortunately, the raw expert (Rainbeau's mom) who was supposed to speak during the second call didn't participate until the third call when the raw week was already over, and the second guest expert who was supposed to be on one of the calls never joined in.
If nothing else, the daily "Inspiration" emails from Rainbeau were encouraging and upbeat, though they didn't always arrive daily, and often came in tough-to-open attachments leading to a flurry of back-and-forth emails about how cleansers couldn't open the documents. I did like how all questions from cleansers were quite promptly answered by Rainbeau, although the old-school email list which relied on just cc'ing everyone on the cleanse (vs. say, an organized Google email group) often dropped some cleansers off the list, leading to flurries of emails about how people hadn't gotten this email or that.
Perhaps the kinks will be worked out by the time the next session rolls around. Think you're up for a summer cleanse? The next Fresh Start Cleanse starts at the end of the summer. Sign up for Rainbeau Mars email list to find out when it begins.