What It's Really Like to Do a Week-Long Cleanse

POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim
POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim

Prior to starting the AaHa Restart Cleanse, I had never eliminated anything from my diet (my diet is rooted in balance and finding nutritious foods that I love to counteract the occasional cheeseburger or slice of pizza).

So when my co-workers forced invited me to join them on a week-long cleanse that would eliminate gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, processed food, alcohol, and coffee, I was a tad reluctant but absolutely intrigued. You get to have three full meals per day, with no snacking throughout the day (with the exception of coconut water or a green juice or green tea). While alcohol and coffee wouldn't be an issue for me to cut out (they're not staples in my diet by any means), I'd definitely have a hard time eradicating Cinnamon Toast Crunch with whole milk. THAT is a staple in my diet.

What's more is that not only would I be stuck on this crazy diet, but there would be actual healthy people holding me accountable throughout the week. The cleanse founders and other participants would be placed in a group text on WhatsApp so they could closely monitor . . . I mean, encourage and support . . . cleansers on their journey. I'd have to upload my meals. There was no room to cheat.

All in all, I looked at this as a week of challenge, personal growth, and learning. Here's what went down:

(Slightly) More Energy

While I can't sit here and tell you that I experienced a magnificent, unparalleled surge of glorious energy and my qi was exuberant, I did have a slight boost in energy. Particularly in the mornings. I attribute this to the fact that I took care to make a large, well-rounded breakfast each morning, woke up a tad earlier, and put good things in my body (read: I took a break from Cinnamon Toast Crunch). It's probably important to note that I don't rely on coffee . . . ever. So the lack of caffeine didn't ding my energy levels at all.

I Had to Pee All Day, Every Day

Something that you should know: if you're on a cleanse, you drink A LOT of water. Especially in this particular cleanse. And when you want a snack? Coconut water. And/or plain green tea. The influx in fluids incurs an influx in trips to the ladies' room, so get your Fitbits ready, your step count is about to go up.

The Community Thing REALLY Helped

Look, I was not really feeling the group text at first — I'll be honest. I thought my meals weren't pretty enough and I wasn't enthusiastic enough in the first couple days to really participate. I didn't know these people, and I assumed they were all Gwyneth Paltrow clones who eat like this every day and survive on the essence of almonds and that they were secretly judging me. That, plus the fact that I always had like 87 notifications at any given moment.

Once I got over my weird hangups, the sense of community was actually pretty awesome. And I was wrong about the Gwyneth thing. With the group text, I felt like I was held more accountable, and that when I did make a good choice, someone did see and they did make me feel good about it. If you've ever been presented with a healthy and an unhealthy choice, and you thought "whatever, I'm getting cheese fries, it's not like anyone else cares," then I'd highly recommend choosing a cleanse or program that has a community aspect.

Even though the women in this group were total strangers, I was inspired by their meals, their choices, and their honesty. There were slip-ups, mistakes, and more, but the group was supportive. They were also there to answer questions (mostly "is this cleanse-approved?") and to offer advice if you were stumped on what to make for a meal.

Better Habits Were Formed

Through this cleanse, I learned adult things like "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" and "not all delicious meals come from a cardboard box." Goodbye for now, ramen, Easy-Mac, and cereal dinners.

I also learned a lot about strategic grocery shopping, the importance of meal prep, and how not every food has to have dairy or gluten to be delicious.

I also learned to think outside the box and get more creative with my recipes. I made my Italian great grandfather's lentil recipe from scratch, filled with hearty veggies and savory spices. I created a vegan "drawn butter" with a little olive oil and apple cider vinegar to dip my artichokes in, and it was actually incredible. I made my oats with coconut milk and my scrambled eggs with extra virgin olive oil, had so many dairy-free smoothies, indulged in chia puddings for breakfast, and developed a new love for Harmless Harvest coconut water as my favorite treat.

Ravenous Moments Happened

The lack of snacking ability (snackability?!) in this cleanse actually led me to be particularly ravenous at the end of the workday. When lunch is at noon and you don't get home until 6 or 7 p.m., bad things can happen. And by bad things, I mean, my blood sugar plummeted and I was ready to tear people on the subway apart trying to get home to a bowl of coconut milk oatmeal just to satiate and stabilize myself enough to make dinner. I craved carbs, I craved sugar, and I wanted to cry.

That said, my particular work schedule doesn't lend itself to a nonsnacking plan. If I didn't have to be in the office until 6 and commute home for an hour, I'd make myself dinner at 4:30 or 5 and be chillin' with no problems. Just something to keep in mind.

Going forward and doing this cleanse again, I'd strategize a bit to either have my dinner in the office or to have some kind of cleanse-approved snack. It's less about "mindless snacking" (which I totally understand the need to eliminate) and more about not creating a starving sensation so you're more inclined to binge.

I Believe in Myself a Lot More

OK I know this point sounds like a motivational cat poster, but it's the best takeaway I got from this cleanse. Because the cleanse was only a week long, it was a small jumping off point with a low barrier to entry — essentially the training wheels for a bigger, more challenging, even more impactful cleanse. I breezed through a week, so I'm totally ready for more. Hooray for inner strength and dieting stamina!

I'm scaling up in October to try my first full-month cleanse with the TIU 31-Day Challenge, adhering to a similar nutrition plan of clean eating, and I totally feel confident after learning everything I did from the AaHa cleanse. I know I'll have more energy (but need to go to the bathroom . . . a lot), and I know I'll have to meal prep and plan my recipes and grocery lists. I'll ensure I have healthy snacks, I'll get creative with my food, and I'm DEFINITELY starting a group text with my friends to force encourage them on their journey.