To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse: a Must-Read Before You Roll Your Eyes

I know, I know, most people who do a cleanse for the new-year start on January 1, not the second week of January. So why write this post now?

Two reasons:

  1. Most of you who started a cleanse on January 1 may have made it through the pain of the first week, realized how awful it is (depending on what you’re giving up), and feel unmotivated to continue.

  2. I’m participating in a six-week cleanse which begins tomorrow.

You may have seen the title of this post and already rolled your eyes.

When I think of “cleansing” I think of white women drinking green smoothies and doing yoga. I will be the first to own that I had a green smoothie for breakfast, and I enjoy yoga. Green smoothie guy from the video below knows what I'm talking about.

But in all seriousness, cleansing can be something totally different than giving up certain foods or drinks.

To cleanse means to rid yourself of something unpleasant, unwanted, or defiling.

We can cleanse from all sorts of things. Bad relationships, self-deprecating thoughts, sugar, booze, caffeine, social media, etc. The point is to remove things that are creating unwanted outcomes in your life.

Most often, food is a common target of a cleanse because it's the easiest thing to see directly impacting our lives. We can see the excess weight, we experience the caffeine crashes. We see a direct link between what we consume and an outcome that we dislike. We can see how much of a crutch food or certain drinks provide.

To me, it seems that the key to a cleanse is to really analyze what you want to cleanse from. The thing you want to remove has served a purpose for you. Are you ready to give it up? Are you ready to give up the comfort it has provided, the protection?

To make a lasting change, we need to look at why we use what we use to begin with. Rather than demonizing our excessive snacking, can we get curious about why we are eating when we aren’t hungry? Can we get to the root of our anxiety, our boredom, our loneliness?

Last year, I participated in a cleanse led my friend and yoga teacher, Rhonda Cook. I was particularly grateful to Rhonda, becuase she challenged us to reflect upon our attachments and the purposes our vices served.

I didn’t give up any foods or drinks. I didn’t do a dietary cleanse for a few reasons. First, I am keenly aware of my nature. That is to say, as much as I practice living and thinking in the grey, my innate tendency is to be black and white. Good and bad. I’ve learned through the years that there really is no “good” or “bad”, especially when it comes to food. Even doughnuts have value. They provide calories and fat, two things we need to keep our bodies going. A part of my own journey is in embracing the grey, so I knew a dietary cleanse wasn't going to be a good fit for me.

If you are someone who doesn't have obsessive or black and white tendencies, and you want to explore your attachments to food, the impact of sugar on inflammation in your body, etc. then by all means, go for it! Just know, that not everyone is wired the same way, and the idea of giving up certain foods can be triggering.

That said, I wanted to use my “cleanse” as a way to get rooted.

My cleanse consisted of creating a daily practice around playing guitar, praying or meditating, journaling, and stretching. I guess when I think about it, the thing I was “cleansing” was my tendency to fill my mind with clutter. I am constantly filling it with extraneous things- typically from reading or listening to podcasts. These are not bad things in and of themselves, but when we do this to avoid getting in touch with ourselves, they become a problem.

I wanted to “cleanse” from the business of my own mind.

The cleanse was great because it helped me establish a practice, and gave me a community of folks who were each cleansing from something themselves. As someone who thrives from accountability, a guided and thoughtful group cleanse was a perfect fit.

Over the next several months, I found my practice ebbing and flowing, and the more time passed, the less time I spent de-cluttering my mind. To me, sitting in reflection is particularly challenging because I don’t have anything to show for it at the end of it.

If I really practiced what I preached, then I would subscribe to the plethora of research that shows the benefits of meditation for increasing productivity.

But here we are, a year has passed and it’s time to cleanse again.

As humans, there is something so appealing about the idea of starting fresh, a clean slate. We like having concrete starting points. What about ending points though? What’s the point of cleansing or giving something up if we don’t sustain it?

Two reasons cleanses are powerful:

  1. You quickly learn the power of external things on your life. If you’re an avid coffee drinker and are giving up caffeine for a cleanse, you will quickly gain empathy for someone who struggles with nicotine or any other addiction.

  2. You learn about your attachments, your coping mechanisms, and your fears. We use our vices to stear us away from the things we fear most.

What are the things you do (or use) to get out of your body, out of your head?

For me, I realized just how often I cram my head with information to avoid thinking about things like getting older, being away from home, missing people, etc.

Whether you are embarking on a cleanse this year or simply thinking more deeply about your own attachments, the truth of the matter is most of us have something in our life that we want to change. Before blindly jumping in or out-right dismissing the idea, take a moment to think about what that is for you.

The first step in making any change is building awareness. Find out how your vices serve you, how they protect you, and how they harm you or others. Pay a little more attention to what you are afraid of.

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