New year, new me, amiright?!
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Fruits and Veggies
Credit: Adrian Burke/Getty Images

By the end of this past holiday season, my body felt like a human dumpster. After a month-long bout of countless dinner parties (A.K.A. so much booze) and almost no structure or agenda in my day-to-day life, it’s safe to say that things had gotten pretty off track. Upon returning home and back to my normal work routine, I wanted to embark on a nutritional challenge so that I would feel somewhat rejuvenated and reset for the new year. It’s true, it’s true—I love a clean slate. Hate all you want on people who go on “detoxes,” “cleanses,” or “diets” in the new year, but I knew what my body needed, and I was excited and ready to feel good, inside and out, once again.

The cleanse that I went on is called the UEC Cleanse. It’s 7 days long, requires that you drink a fresh juice every morning and night along with one master cleanse throughout each day. The foods allowed are essentially fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains (all with some exceptions), and there are herbal supplements to be taken alongside every meal. The purpose of this cleanse is not to starve yourself. From the list of allowed foods, you can eat as much as you want, when you want. My mom and I used to do this cleanse together when I was in high school, so I’m somewhat familiar with how it works, and how great it makes me feel. Despite the fact that this was not my first time at the rodeo, there were plenty of important takeaways from my experiences over the last 7 days.

My Dependence on Coffee is Emotional, Not Physical

When I did this cleanse in high school, giving up caffeine was never an issue because it wasn’t something that I was drinking with the frequency that I do now. What I’ve learned from my week of no coffee is that it’s not the physical drink that I’m attached to, but the emotional experience that goes along with it. I like my routine of pulling an espresso shot every morning at work, I like to be able to treat myself after an intense workout to a foamy latte, and I like to meet up with friends and dish on all the goss’ over cup of joe. I dearly missed being able to do all those things. Physically, however, I did not experience one caffeine headache or withdrawal symptom, and TBH, I’m not quite sure what that says about my relationship with caffeine.

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Thinking Creatively About Food is Fun

Given that this is a huge component of my actual job, this is a good thing. Go me! In a situation like this when there is a list of foods that you can eat, the best way to go about deciding what you’re going to have for your next meal is looking at that precise list (obvious, right?). Rather than thinking about what you might normally have and then trying to figure out all the things that you have to eliminate in order to do so, it’s better to adopt a more positive, glass half-full attitude. Don’t think about all the things you can’t have—focus on what you can!

Frankly, one of my favorite parts of doing a cleanse like this is looking at the list of allowed foods and trying to find a way in which I can turn the various ingredients into something delicious. My favorite meal of the week was an arugula salad with grapefruit, avocado, and pomegranate seeds dressed with a garlicky cilantro vinaigrette. This meal was entirely born out of me walking around the produce aisle with my handy list of permitted foods in tow and picking out ingredients that I know I like. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a good a** time to me (seriously).

Juicing is an Expensive, Time-Consuming Habit

Look, if you’ve got the time and the funds for it, it’s great. But even if you decide to take that leap of faith and buy a juicer for your home kitchen, that doesn’t negate the fact that juicing is still going to be a costly habit to maintain. It is honestly insane how much produce (washed, peeled and chopped, of course!) it requires just to churn out a measly 8 ounces of juice. And then, once you’ve gone through the trouble of getting the dang Amazon rainforest prepped and ready for a drip of juice, you then have to wash the 17 filthy parts of your juicer. Heavy scrubbing is involved! Oh, and did I mention all that juice pulp??? What the HECK do you do with that? Hopefully, that juice you made will remedy a headache, because you definitely just gave yourself one making it. If you want juicing to become a steady part of your morning routine, just know that you’ll have to set your alarm at least 20 minutes earlier.

Peeling Citrus is a B****

Not to mention, I’ve had a paper cut on my finger all week long!!!! Ouch is right.

Find Your Support System and Stick with Them

Truthfully, I was surprised by the number of people who scoffed, rolled their eyes, or had some unnecessary comment to add when I told them I was doing a cleanse. Even after explaining to them that this was not a one-way ticket to starvation and that I simply wanted to do something (for the first time in a month) that my body would actually thank me for, some people were off-put by the idea of it. Frankly, that’s their opinion to have, and not to get all yoga-namaste-zen master on you, but it’s simply bad energy that you don’t need lying around. Seek out the people who support, encourage, uplift, and empower you*, and let the others continue to sip their hate-orade. This logic also works two ways—if you’ve got a buddy trying a new eating plan, be that supportive friend to them. Okay, hand-holding in a circle is now over.

Eating What You Want, When You Want is a Privilege

The biggest takeaway from this whole experience is that my world of no allergies, aversions, or limited access to food is a serious privilege that I am extremely grateful for. It was honestly harder for me to stay on top of my meals and ensure that I had something on deck for the next one, than it was to avoid temptations and break from my allowed list of foods. Restrictive eating makes dining out, grocery shopping, and any social gathering with food extremely complicated, and I truly commend those that maintain such a lifestyle (whether by choice or due to medical reasons). Of course, I’m excited to slowly begin to re-incorporate the foods that I’ve not been allowed to eat for the past week (I’ve been thinking about chickpeas and fried eggs all week long…), but I’m also challenging myself to add these things back to my diet as gradually and organically as I possibly can. I’ve done all this work to create a “clean slate” feeling, and I have no intention of messing that up anytime soon.

Distance Really Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder

“You’ll always want what you can’t have” is a very real sentiment. If nothing else, this cleanse has reminded me of all the little indulgences in my normal, day-to-day eating that bring me genuine joy. And going without them for 7 days (which I fully recognize is not an extensive period of time AT ALL) makes them that much greater. You better believe that first latte went down like an oiled watermelon on a slide (I truly apologize for this simile) and that first fried egg tasted like a Michelin-star meal. It sure is good to be back.

*ILY Mom!