To Cleanse, or To Not Cleanse

The How & The Why are the Questions.  Walking into a new year somehow allows some of us more fortunate ones who aren’t worried about monsoons, finding food and avoiding gunfire, to take a pause and consider self.

Detox - Photo by Clare Munn

I have always looked at the glass half full, albeit cracked, so to the idealist in me I love this time. Hopes, dreams and marching bands guiding me into growth and onto cleaner canvases.  However, here is one thing I loathe about this time of year.  “The Ultimate Cleanse.”  Who are most of these bloody people who feel like the new religious cult to me.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I have tremendous respect for the experts I know in this field – from Mark Hyman, to Jill Pettijohn, Jeffrey Morrison, Barbara Close, Dr. Dean Ornish, Frank Lipman and Dr. Jay Heller, but really who can honestly tell me that the  ‘extreme radical transformation’ ones have helped in a sustainable life style way?  For decades we all know the rapid weight loss diets, whether its food, exercise or pills simply do not work.  So, why would a hose pipe up your bottom, swiftly followed by anal injections of accidophollis and oral consumption of caster oil and epson salts thrice daily, be any exception to the predictions of failure?

I was brought up by a father who insisted sesame seeds were born to be on every portion of food one ever ate, and that on no account should poison (pesticides) be on any food particles.  Not a bad philosophy.  I also don’t recall drinking any soda’s apart from the occasional ginger ale and club soda and bitters as this meant we’d reached our sweet teens.  So, I was fortunate as I now have a pretty well balanced palate and/or understanding of what might be making me sluggish and or grumpy, and what might be making me more manic than usual.  However, for the purposes of this article, lets ignore this as I wish to get back to my rant.

With despair, I have witnessed scores of friends going through these ‘exclusive_perfect_rapid_cleanses.’  Being somewhat bossy with my loved ones, I have of course tried to interfere but learnt early on that this is like interfering with someones religious choices.  It takes time, focus and a lot of psychology, and then campaigning, and of course my attention span doesn’t allow for such a crusade so I have ended up watching these, highly intelligent, successful and above all, fabulous individuals I love fall into the GUTter.  I call it ‘The Cleanse Cow Compost’  versus a more crass yet clearer title: The Cleanse Bull Sh*t.

I watch how my friends lose all this weight and have this euphoric glow for a few days and, solid new evangelists, are harassing all in their paths to follow their new belief – their new doctor  or colonic guru’  I watch how their children or partners go from pretending they are interested to plainly looking frightened at their mothers/fathers/siblings/children brand new ‘personality.’   I watch the slightly bigger clothes being given away and new clothes being bought, not to mention the plethora of boxes from their ‘cleanse’ clinic – like the Prozac model, packages of herbs and recipes and apps and dvd’s come rushing through the mail box.  After a month, I start to see boredom or frustration or plain cravings begin to etch my friends recently cleansed features.  And then the real problems begin.  Mood swings worthy of medical attention erupt in bubbles of tourette like bursts.  Yes, the big thick shadow of Guilt takes over.  Beating out any semblance of self respect.  The more the friend rationalizes that apart from the sincere intention they had at the start of getting healthier and clearing of unusual habits, and that the actual entire process has been bogus, the more the Guilt shadow pushes them into feeling it is because they have no discipline or self-respect, and of course the excellent marketing/sales people of these cult type cleanse factories know these triggers and speak to them perfectly.

In short, I am outraged but it all, and would like to suggest we all be a little more gentle, take more responsibility and ask more questions, and of course, listen to our bodies and look at our lifestyles really carefully before plunging (pun intended) into the New Year cleanse buckets.  We all know, we will change nothing of our lifestyles unless we truly understand why we are and how to ensure we have a supportive, gentle approach and family around us to allow us to make whatever change we feel we need to make.  Otherwise, of course we will not succeed.  Its rather like going on holiday. If you are able to turn off your digital devices and truly rest, of course you’ll come back more rested, however if you haven’t had the foresight to manage the re-entry into work, it’ll be double the stress and you may as well not have gone away in the first place.  It takes wisdom, timing, self love and above all communication with our surrounding loved ones as well as ourselves to get through anything major.

I’ll sign off by again reiterating that:

  1. I believe in thoughtful, gentle cleanses and balanced healthy eating
  2. I have tremendous respect for the expert people I know in this industry who come at it from self experience, love and empathy, as well as deep expertise
  3. I have enormous love and respect for my friends who make a firm decision and with sincere intentions embark on a cleanse.   There are of course many reasons people have to do this due to some illness or major addiction and then there are the friends I’ve been speaking about who feel they have needed to it.

For anyone deciding if they should do a big cleanse, what has helped me is to understand my body, mind and will power more.  I offer a very simple suggestion, and of course check with your own doctors etc. as we are all different.

Cut out white food for a week (literally anything white/cream in color which includes sugar; bread; pasta; rice; chips; dough; etc.).  T

Then see if you can choose one/few things you cut out to remain out for a month, and then see how you feel.

Write a few notes of how you feel and of course weigh yourself or use a tape measure – but it is how you are feeling that is most important.

Don’t be surprised if you feel like crappolla for a bit as there is detoxing and all of that but do things you like to do around all this.

By the way, I don’t suggest cutting out caffeine until after your own self trial.  Its all too much too soon.

And if you wine is part of your lifestyle, and you want a glass of wine with your unwhite dinner, then have one. You can cut that out as a trial down the road.

See more movies; see friends who make you laugh; read trashy books; whatever it is to soften the blow.

Of course, if you are able to start walking around the block when you have a phone call, all this will help move out toxins and obviously help with metabolism.

But, don’t do too much too quickly.

Be gentle with yourself.  Then see if you really need this big cleanse or if you only need to experiment with different cooking with your entire family or more group walks with family/friends/colleagues; or simply no white food.

Don’t yell at me if you detest my suggestions or don’t agree with my feelings on the ‘guru cult type cleanses’ — if it all works for you, fantastic.  Ignore me. I am no guru.

– Be well, C.



  1. Donna says

    Hi Clare, I’ve been following your blog for a while now but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a post related to nutrition… I hope it’s not the last! Your ideas on most topics resonate with my own and often teach me something valuable, so I really enjoy reading. I’m usually a bit shy to comment but I feel strongly about nutrition as I’ve been around the block a million times with different cleanses and diets and I learned the hard way that what you say is absolutely true. While there are some legitimate, gentle and worthwhile cleansing methods out there, they are too often obscured by the flashy marketing of the latest trendy “miracle” diets/detoxes that do a body more harm than good while draining one’s wallet and perpetuating the insanity of the yo-yo weight loss/gain cycle.

    The real, lasting, and obvious solution to achieving a healthy and beautiful body is proper, balanced nutrition but the food industry is about as much help to us as the weight loss industry in that it is polluted with so much garbage that it is diffcult to find real food. Processed and packaged foods as far as the eye can see, fruits and veggies laced with harmful toxins, meats pumped full of chemicals and hormones and produced in disgusting conditions…. all of these things slowly and quite literally poisoning people to death (while messing with your metabolism and body chemistry to ultimately make you fatter)… all in the name of longer shelf life, lower cost of production, higher profit margin. It’s sickening, and it makes me shudder in anger to see all of this, ahem, “cow compost” falsely advertised as healthful and nutritious when 99% of it isn’t even fit for human consumption.

    I could rant forever but if there’s one thing I’ve learned at this point in my life, it’s that talking about the solution is so much more helpful and productive than dwelling on or fighting against the problem.

    A couple of years ago, a like-minded friend put 9 DVDs in front of me and within one week, my life and mindset were permanently changed. I so WISH these were required viewing in every classroom in the entire world because so many of our food choices are made out of ignorance and if people only knew what they were putting in their mouths, they would never again touch a can of diet Coke or eat a piece of factory-farmed chicken or even a pesticide-laced tomato. If anyone is interested, I promise you, these 9 documentaries (among many others) will open your eyes to the disturbing reality of the food industry while educating you about real nutrition that will heal your body and eliminate the need to ever count a single calorie again. Watch: Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, Food Inc., Fat Sick & Nearly Dead, Dirt!, The World According To Monsanto, Dying To Have Known, The Gerson Miracle, and The Beautiful Truth. These will change a person’s life. I am no guru either, but of this I am certain.

    (Side note: for anyone who is drawn to Clare’s blog out of interest in humanitarian aid/social impact investing etc, another good yet disturbing eye-opener/life-changer is “The End of Poverty?”.)

    The main reason I am posting this long-winded comment is because I just wanted to say that I agree with what you have written, I love this post and I think it’s all great advice, however I think I have something helpful to add: I like the idea of cutting out the white in one’s diet, but in my personal experience, “cutting out” creates a mindset of denial where people focus on (and then obsess about) that which they aren’t “allowed” to have, and then after a few weeks of “being good” they will snap and devour everything white and off-white and cream-colored in their paths, and ultimately cycle back to square one while beating themselves up in the process. I think once again it is more helpful to think about the solution instead of the problem and concentrate on adding in more green (and red! and yellow! and orange!) so that eventually, the good crowds out the bad and the green takes centre stage while the white falls away on its own. It’s a subtle shift in mindset from “I can’t have this” to “Let’s try having more of this and this and this and wow, I feel so good and have so much energy now that I forget why I ever wanted that other garbage.” And then your scale can be used as a paper weight because you won’t ever need it again.

    Happy New Year from Nunavut (Canada’s Arctic)!

    • Teresa says

      Donna, a WONDERFUL list of documentaries! I too have become a health warrior of sorts after having lost 2 close family members to cancer – and that list is PRICELESS! Not just for “cancer folks” but for an overall healthy lifestyle! The lifestyle isn’t new in our house (our boys at age 8 not knowing what Pop Tarts or Kool Aid is) but still so much can be learned, no matter how long one has been “healthified.” Blessings to you!

  2. says


    Thanks for the shout out. As you know, my motto is “Detox/Retox!” Everyone has their pair of skinny jeans and your fat jeans and there idea that there is some sort of balance one achieves in life is an illusion. I think the focus on cleansing these days is once again our Yankee Puritanism raising its ugly head. We need to focus on nourishing our bodies and not depriving them. If we spent as much time focusing on the number of ways we can nourish ourselves both inside and out instead of punishing ourselves, the world would be a happier place…

  3. Lisa says

    Thank you for this Clare! I was sent to this blog via Dr. Mark Hyman’s Facebook page. I completely agree with what you have to say. Just a year ago I read Dr. Mark Hyman’s book, Ultra Metabolism. I grew up with fast food, soda, processed foods and of course some healthy foods thrown in on occasion. Over the course of this year, I have seen friends and family do “cleanses” then go back to the way that they were before the cleanse. They want to follow in my foot steps, by feeling better, getting off of medications, but I tell them that they have to make a lifestyle change and not a temporary fix as some cleanses are. To date, I have gone from 210 to 145 lbs, just by changing the way I eat. More whole foods, no soda, no fast food, very little “white” foods. When I do eat those “white” foods, I see the affects on my body and know that it is not for me. I cook about 99 percent of my families meals. If I want a glass of wine, I have a glass of wine. I drink one or two cups of coffee in the morning. I have more energy at 44 years old than I did in my 20’s. Convenience has made society what it is today with our health. This is just my opinion. We have become a lazy society. I completely agree, if you have a phone call, walk while you are talking on the phone. When I am standing at the kitchen counter, I try to go up and down on my toes.

    I guess to my point, thank you for putting this great write up out there for people to see and read. Quick fixes don’t always work…and you have to ease into a new lifestyle of health. It took me about 11 months to get to where I am at now, and since December, I have sustained my weight and still feel amazing! This write up was just a reminder to me to keep up what I have done to date. You are a great inspiration. Thank you

  4. says

    I love this article and I agree with you on believing in “thoughtful, gentle cleanses and balanced healthy eating” there is not other way. Thanks for posting this !

  5. kimberly bell says

    Nicely stated!! It has taken me 42 years of slow and intentional changes to finally come to a place where I feel good. And yes it included unhealthy detox. Kudos.

  6. says

    I live in Vancouver, Canada (think Los Angeles but less pollution, possibly even more yoga) where cleanses are of course the thing – fits with the yoga and the Lulu Lemon. I’ve thought about cutting out refined sugars – but really, how on earth to do that and survive.
    Cult type cleanse factories indeed. Eeek, such a first world thing. Ugh. Lots of blogs and advice on this kind of thing all ready, yeah? I haven’t been reading you for long (nor did I know until recently the type of work for women that Maria Bello does) and I’d love to hear more about that kind of work that you also do. Isn’t most of the cleansing stuff at its root about women desperate to be thin anyway? Will we ever get beyond that? Oy.

  7. Karen says

    Weird, my comment got deleted? Hmmm. That’s okay. I didn’t think it was offensive. Unfollowing just in case though.

    • michelle says

      Karen, it had not been deleted. Simply not seen yet. We love your feedback. Always open to discussion and even a little debate.

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