On Monday 20th June, I started out on a 21-day cleanse led by Michelle Burrows, my kickboxing coach. Michelle had previously chatted about how much she has benefitted from doing the cleanse herself over the years and how she was considering running it as a programme. After some excitement from our group, she sent out an invite to join her for a three-week cleanse.
The cleanse was a challenge to cut out:
Caffeine – from tea, coffee, green tea, etc.
Refined sugar – from sweets, chocolate, sauces, condiments, and a lot more places you wouldn’t expect!
Alcohol – from… alcoholic drinks
Processed foods – including gluten (e.g. pasta, bread), rice, ready meals, etc.
When asked to describe the programme, Michelle says:
‘Reset & Refresh is a 21-day gut health detox to gently cleanse your system and bring your mental and physical wellbeing back into balance.
This is achieved through simple lifestyle adaptations, increased knowledge and awareness to reduce refined sugar and processed foods and an awesome small group of individuals going through the same journey.
This is the complete opposite of counting calories, it’s simply enjoying nutritious food that our bodies need to function effectively so we can get back to loving life again with renewed energy and vibrance.‘
Why I decided to try the cleanse
Deciding to run with the cleanse was a difficult decision. It would start the day before my birthday which meant if I wanted to do it properly, no birthday cake. At £97 it was also, I thought, a lot of money to invest in myself all at once (not considering the general cost of a meal and night out). I worried that being a fussy vegetarian who doesn’t much like cheese or egg, I’d struggle to find alternatives. I also found that when I told people about the cleanse, many of the responses weren’t very positive. It was a scam; I was naive for falling into a diet fad triangle scheme; it was unhealthy, unnecessary, exploitative, etc. all before I’d even told them the layout of the cleanse or what it even was.
Despite my hesitations, I went ahead with it; with my main motivator being the mental challenge.
Recently I’d been feeling frustrated with myself for my perceived lack of determination, motivation, and ability to get my sh*t together. I wanted to get up early, but oftentimes I’d struggle due to trying to balance social life and fitting everything into the day. I wanted to push myself with fitness but found myself putting 60-70% in and giving myself reasons to stop. I wanted to build consistent, achievable habits for skincare, being active, and spending therapeutic time with myself – but found myself unable to see it through. I wanted to build resilience against eating chocolate every single day but found myself most lunchtimes gobbling up Kinder bars like an absolute monster.
This cleanse was meant to be a challenge, proof to myself that I control my habits and behaviours. I wanted to heal from negativity and dependency and grow into healthier, more productive, and healing lifestyle choices. I was ready to reset my tastebuds, attitudes to food, and feelings toward myself.
So after signing the forms and paying up – an email from Michelle rocketed into my inbox with checklists, advice, and recommended recipes. I was given two supplements from Synergy and added to a group chat with some other people who were starting the cleanse in a move towards group accountability and support. The supplements included Phytolife and Bodyprime and were included in the price.
Michelle advised that preparation was key, so I bundled my chaotic self to the shop to pick up foods that I usually skate straight past: walnuts, greek yoghurt, an abundance of fruits, a shedload of halloumi, and sweet potatoes. I planned out the meals I’d be eating and came up with some snack ideas in case I got hungry. I removed all temptation that I could (don’t think my mum would be best pleased if I lashed out her crackers, bread, and wine).
I started the cleanse feeling motivated, as anyone would when they start out on a new goal. There was also this niggling sense of fear, that if I messed up, I’d be wasting my money and letting myself down- proving that I had no self-discipline.
Setbacks and difficulties
The first few days were mentally easy but physically difficult. I was prepared enough to stay full throughout the day with healthy foods but my body was kicking off at the lack of refined sugar and processed foods. My energy levels felt about the same but, literally, all I could think of was chocolate. I’m sure at one point my sister turned into a Freddo.
My birthday was a really challenging day. We planned a barbeque at the beach with all cleanse-approved whole foods, but when we got there after I finished work, found that you couldn’t barbeque on the beach! We were 40 minutes from home with rumbling tummies, bags full of food, a plan to catch the solstice sunset, and frustration at the fact I couldn’t just drive to the nearest Maccies or Wetherspoons, inhale some chips, stick some candles in a hot fudge cake and have a normal birthday like a normal person.
Now, just as a side note, Michelle had said it was completely cool to take a day off for my birthday; but I wanted to do it properly so instead we flew to Tesco and picked up some acceptable compromises. Despite it being a bit chaotic and in some ways deflating, my birthday as a whole had its good points. I got to spend time with family, had one of the kids I tutor sing me happy birthday like an absolute angel, and was reminded through messages, cards, and acts of kindness – how many amazing and loving people I have in my life.
Continuing with the cleanse I found that being unprepared, like the birthday crisis, was going to be my biggest setback. There were days when I would be too tired after work to make food for the next day. Or I’d wake up late/take too long sipping my tea and contemplating life and run out of time to get enough food together to last me the day. Those days would be hard as I’d find myself in the co-op staring at snacks and trying to make the best decision. Luckily, I made some good decisions (most of the time) and I quickly learned to roast some chickpeas the day before so I wouldn’t be like a rabid animal come 3pm.
Being the odd one out
Cleansing your body from processed food, caffeine, refined sugar, and alcohol (believe it or not) is a little bit of an unusual decision in western society, and, resulting from that, it often makes you the odd one out. Now luckily, as a once cringey af emo teen with an addiction to The Sims, being the odd one out is something that I’m generally quite comfortable with.
That said, it was still hard. I found myself being the salad orderer at restaurants, eating homemade food when everyone else got takeaways, and being literally the only sober person in Lanigan’s on a Friday night in Liverpool (to be honest though that was quite a funny experience). It was easier with people who understood why I was on the cleanse or were just generally supportive. But there were also times I felt like I was being difficult or weird and felt tempted to ‘just be normal’ and order the cake/burger/full-fat Coke.
Michelle’s partner, Matthew, had a really good analogy for those of us in the group who were having difficulty with unsupportive people- the Pee Pool Analogy.
He described life to be like sitting in a pool with the people in your life; friends, family, work friends, acquaintances, etc. The pool feels warm and comfortable, so much so that when you need a wee, you don’t want to get out into the cold to go to the toilet. So, instead? You pee in the pool. After a while, you and everyone else are sitting in each other’s wee (lovely). There might be a point when you decide, this is a bit gross/toxic/ not nice, and try to leave the pool. When you do, people will question you and try and get you back in because they feel threatened by you leaving. But once you’re out of the pool and in a beautiful, spacious, clean body of water – you’ll know you made the right decision and the pee pool will be much less enticing.
The bottom line? The people who love you want you to do the best you can and would be happy for your successes. Those who are hindered by their own insecurities might try and stop you or put you down, but being able to recognise this will reduce the impact of their words so much! When you’re ready to leave any environment that isn’t serving you- be it an unhealthy lifestyle, a toxic relationship, or a negative mindset, you can remember this analogy and take the leap!
The biggest struggle for me was not the #haters; it was dealing with myself when I dropped the ball. On days when I wouldn’t hit 10k steps, or caved and ate some chocolate the sheer amount of guilt I would feel was ridiculous. I’d stare at the scribbled-out boxes on Michelle’s weekly to-do list and feel a burning wave of doleful disappointment welling up inside me.
I felt this the hardest a few days after my birthday when I found myself hoovering up an entire Milk Tray gifted to me for my birthday. Both what happened and how I felt after it was disordered and I became a lot more aware of myself as a result. I wrote on it, got out how I was feeling, spoke to Rach who was as supportive and understanding as ever, told the group, and started a new day with adjusted expectations and a vow to be a lot kinder to myself going forward.
This hiccup had some other positive results alongside the chance to interact with a part of myself that really needs nurturing. I ended up breaking the ice in the group, allowing others to vent about their slips and trips on the cleanse. Best of all, I had the opportunity to change up my mindset and set goals that were achievable for me – resulting in a full two weeks with no chocolate at all and the confidence that, if I did eat chocolate, I wouldn’t be as harsh on myself!
Positives and achievements
I started to see the positives of the cleanse a few days after starting and I saw more and more as the days went past from more energy to weight loss, to boosted confidence and discipline.
Midway through the cleanse, I found myself getting through most days – which are usually quite full on with work, tutoring, fitness, academic study, and life organisation – without needing a nap. I cut out caffeine completely in the first week and ended up feeling more energised and focused.
In an effort to get the most out of the programme, I found myself researching. I looked into the gut biome (which I previously had only associated with Yakult and nothing more), the wholefoods movement, and engaged with the resources that Michelle shared in the chat. I’d really recommend looking into Tim Spector for those who are interested. He has a couple of books and features on the podcast ‘Feel Better, Live More’. I’d also recommend following The Happy Pear and Hench Herbivore for information and recipe ideas for a wholefoods lifestyle!
I’d cut out caffeine. Me, a green tea maverick, had cut out caffeine like it was nothing. I was consistently drinking lemon water first thing in the morning, followed by my supplements and a protein-filled brekkie. I was getting more and more steps in. I felt like a boss! Seeing myself building habits after finding difficulty doing so for so long was such a boost for me.
Losing the bloating effects of gluten, which I had previously convinced myself didn’t exist, made me feel more in tune with my body – like, all of a sudden, the signal had come back and I could hear its needs a lot better. I was overcoming so many little challenges in a day and, more and more often, found myself being supportive rather than self-critical. I was reminded that I do have self-discipline, I have autonomy over every decision I make in the day from what I eat, to how I prepare, to how I react to different situations. I felt really pumped and reminded of my worth, which I think I forget much too frequently.
Being able to focus for three weeks on my diet and lifestyle had a nice little byproduct of raised awareness. I felt plugged into my body, my mind, and the world around me. Beforehand, I’d been feeling a little distanced and disconnected so this was a welcome shift. I noticed my body bloating or feeling groggy or fatigued after eating certain foods. Beforehand, it was more of a blur. I’d have to eat a lot before noticing the negative effects and because I’d often eat so many irritants (gluten, refined sugar, caffeine) it was hard to tell which one was the problem.
I also become more attuned to my disordered eating habits and negative relationship with food. Food and I have had a… turbulent relationship since I was a young teen. Guilt and shame often follow most mouthfuls and my identity and self-worth will often be heavily influenced by my eating habits. Being more conscious of nutrition, food, and what I was eating on the cleanse had me facing those problematic mentalities more often than usual. I won’t lie, it was really difficult at times. But it has helped me to try and grapple with those difficulties and, most importantly for me, be more vocal about it with other people.
Reaching out to Rach after the Milk Tray incident was one of the most helpful things I could’ve done. I immediately regretted it, got really upset, cried buckets, and forced myself to the gym. One little paragraph from Rach telling me how proud she was that I’d even decided to do the cleanse and her complete understanding for, what I thought, was a colossal mess-up worked to dissolve my guilt in a way I couldn’t imagine. I’m not there yet, but just knowing the way I should be heading is a big relief.
Michelle’s programme had me thinking on my feet. I had to be inventive and creative to make meals that met the spec, tasted good, and kept me excited and motivated. I love cooking usually, but the last few months found me burnt out with workload. I felt a dip in excitement when I would cook and cooking just felt like a chore or obligation to feed myself and other people.
The cleanse really ignited that fire again and had me trying all sorts of meals out.
Some of the recipes I tried included: scrambled tofu, sweet and sour, sesame tofu, banana and walnut loaf, and homemade granola.
I gained a lot from my 21-day cleanse- both in the short and long term. In the short term, I regained an excitement for mealtimes, increased awareness of myself and my unhealthy mindset towards food, and some awesome ideas for creating good habits. In the long term, I gained educational awareness about nutrition and the gut biome which has really altered my view of food in a positive way. I’ve added lemon water to my morning routine, seriously cut down on caffeine, and am working to build some new habits (once this pesky masters is out of the way!)
If you’re interested in doing something similar, or want some recipe details, drop me a message! You can find out more about the cleanse or Michelle’s other amazing fitness and wellness coaching here. You can also have a nosey at the supplements we used, or any other supplements at Synergy Worldwide.
Tim Spector’s most recent appearance on the Feel Better, Live More podcast
Contact Michelle @ https://www.facebook.com/getinspiredcoaching