Workout Wednesday Volume 19: The Conscious Cleanse: A Review

WW 19_2You know when you learn a new word, and then you start hearing it, like ten times a day? That’s how I felt about the Conscious Cleanse. It seemed every time I turned around, a new friend was trying it. Actually it was a total of three friends, and one of them tried some other non-Conscious cleanse, but it really felt like it was everywhere and I’m a sucker for peer pressure.

Meanwhile, the baby weight had not melted away like it had the first time around. I was tortured by five pounds that I couldn’t seem to lose. In mid-November I’d eliminated gluten from my diet and by Thanksgiving I had removed all forms of dairy, yet those five pounds clung to my body like a drowning person hanging onto a life raft. My elimination of wheat and dairy were an effort to curb Lucy’s persistent eczema and congestion, though I was hopeful that weight loss would be a by-product. It wasn’t.

When it seemed like there was nothing more I could eliminate from my diet, I downloaded the Conscious Cleanse book on my Kindle and discovered, indeed, there was actually plenty to get rid of, and now that (seemingly) all my friends were doing it, I had no excuse. Meanwhile, the Conscious Cleanse bills itself as just that- a conscious cleanse- not a crash diet or a restriction of calories- but rather a new, thoughtful way of eating. The book even says that while weight loss could happen, the primary goal is to become more aware of how food- especially foods classified as common allergens- make you feel. I appreciated the opportunity to masquerade behind the cloak of health and wellness when my 90% of my motive was, in fact, weight loss. I know I am supposed to be ashamed to admit this, and I am, especially as the mother of two girls, but I’m not going to lie to you. I really, really wanted to shed the baby weight.

Of course, if you want to know all about the Conscious Cleanse, you should read the book yourself. And if I had this to do over again, I would buy the physical book, not the e-book, because there were so many recipes that I referred back to, and it was not super-easy to do that on my Kindle.

But if you want the quick and dirty on the Conscious Cleanse and my insights after trying it, you’ve come to the right place.

In short, the principles of the Conscious Cleanse are:
Eat a ton of vegetables. Make your vegetable the key player in every meal. Vegetables are ideally eaten raw, but lightly steamed works too.

Avoid certain food combinations. For example, vegetables can be eaten with EITHER a grain (like rice) or a vegetable protein (like nuts and seeds) OR animal protein (like fish, chicken, or steak) but never with more than one of these things at the same time. So, a salad with pumpkin seeds would be acceptable, but a salad with pumpkin seeds AND grilled chicken would not fly. Alternatively, that same salad with grilled chicken, minus the seeds, would be fine. Fruit should generally be eaten alone, at least 2 hours after you’ve eaten another type of food. One exception is when you put fruit in a smoothie. As I understand it, that is because your blender blends it all up, thereby doing some of the “digestion” of the food for you.

Always drink 32 oz of warm water with fresh lemon juice first thing in the morning.

Drink a ton of water all day long.

Always have some form of healthy fat, such as olive oil or coconut oil in your meal.

Do not consume certain (many) foods: Caffeine, refined sugar, chocolate, or alcohol. Also avoid foods that are frequently considered allergenic and/or inflammatory, including: dairy, gluten, eggs, strawberries, bell peppers, eggplant, grapefruit, soy products, and peanuts. Starchy vegetables like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash are also no-no’s. Any processed foods are also off-limits. They encourage you to make your own almond milk, but they acknowledge that you will probably buy this at the store, which is ok.

Nuts and seeds should be raw (ie not roasted or salted).

It’s ok if you don’t do the cleanse 100%. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you fall off the wagon, just get back on.

You will eliminate more often. You should notice you will have a bowel movement at least a couple of times a day. This is an indicator of good health, and lets you know that toxins are not building up in your system.

There are two juice-only days. Eat the way they tell you for two weeks, including two days of drinking only fresh juices. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are instructed not to include the liquid-only days into the two-week cleanse. When the two weeks are over, gradually re-introduce the foods you have cut out, if you want. See how your body reacts. Now that you have cleared the “gunk” out of your system, you will be more sensitive to how different foods affect you, and you may choose to limit or totally avoid some of them, now that you are more in touch with your body.

Follow the 80/20 rule post-cleanse. Once the two-week cleanse is over, you are encouraged to eat as if you are in the cleanse mode 80% of the time, and however you feel like 20% of the time. You will still reap the benefits of the cleanse even if you allow yourself to enjoy things like bread, pasta, wine, chocolate, or whatever you like once in a while. You may even find yourself craving your new, super-healthy, vegetable-rich diet.

How I Cleansed:
I did the cleanse almost 100%.

I did not cut out caffeine. With the baby still waking at least once per night, this was more than I could commit to. I pride myself on committing all the way to anything I commit to. I say that to not to brag, just to let you know how much I need caffeine right now. Like, do not put a gun to my head and make me choose between caffeine and keeping my right hand because that will cause me to have a nervous breakdown.

I had one meal where I didn’t even try to follow the cleanse principles. I did, however, avoid wheat, eggs, and dairy (all of which the cleanse doesn’t allow), since those things seem to aggravate Lady Bug’s eczema. Dan and I went out for brunch to celebrate the anniversary of the day we met. I had been daydreaming of  leaving our kids home and trying brunch at this trendy, delicious restauant  ever since we had dinner there two years ago. It did not disappoint. I had no regrets about “cheating” on this special occasion.

I didn’t do the juice-only thing because a)I’m breastfeeding and b) I would probably not do that anyway. 

Other “cheats”: I went crazy on a box of crackers one time (details below) and I had a gel in the middle of a 9 mile run.

The Good:
It’s only two weeks.  And it’s not like you have to count calories or restrict your food intake. It’s not always easy or convenient, but two weeks really isn’t that long.

The longer I cleansed, the less I craved sugar and chocolate. Avoiding chocolate and sugar was the hardest part for me.

I didn’t realize how often I drink wine until I cut out alcohol. I used to have a glass of wine almost every night. I didn’t really miss it and I have not returned to my old ways since ending the official cleanse. In fact, abstaining from wine it’s an easy way to avoid empty calories, and to save money.

I realized it’s ok to eat a meal that doesn’t include animal or soy-based protein. It even feels good, and it forced me to be more creative with my food choices. I used to think the most important food group was protein. I became a devotee of the Zone diet in the early 2000’s and I although I no longer have the discipline or the energy to count every single gram of protein, carbohydrate, and fat that I put in my mouth (which you have to in order to be in The Zone), the core concept, that every meal or snack should have protein as the primary component, has become ingrained in all of my food-related decision making. The Conscious Cleanse, on the other hand, is all about vegetables. They even tell you that it’s ok to eat a salad with almonds on top as a meal, with nary a protein in sight. (The Zone doesn’t consider nuts and seeds proteins, but fats). It felt totally unnatural and wrong to me to eat this way at first, like wearing tanning oil instead of sunblock at the beach. But then I got used to it and I liked how it felt.

I discovered so many awesome, new recipes. Between the Conscious Cleanse book and the website, there are a plethora of delicious, simple recipes. One of my new favorite things to have as my second breakfast (I get really hungry around 10 or 11, especially if I work out in the morning), is a green smoothie. I never thought a smoothie without protein powder could satiate me, but I was wrong. A smoothie including a huge helping of greens (spinach, kale, beet greens, whatever), a banana, a pear, hemp seeds, and water or almond milk is delicious and super-filling. Other new favorites are the Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower and Black Bean Soup. Both of those have become staples in my dinner repertoire. Chia seed pudding is a surprisingly awesome sweet treat (a little maple syrup is allowed). Brown rice turns out to be a fabulous, less processed alternative to oatmeal for breakfast.

It didn’t seem to affect breastfeeding. My mom was worried that my supply would suffer. I texted her this picture of Lady Bug’s fat rolls to assure her everything was just fine. (That is a knee, in case it’s not clear. Seriously, who has fat rolls on their knees? The baby came through the cleanse just fine, with rolls and cankles intact).


I'm not a doctor but I think if your knee has a crease like this, you're getting plenty of calories



My jeans were looser when it was over. I got kind of agitated over the fact that I wasn’t losing any weight for the first 7-1o days. Then I remembered that that is a ridiculously short time when you’re looking at sustainable weight loss, so I put the scale away. On Day 14, I was thrilled to discover an old pair of pre-pregnancy (like waaay pre-any-pregnancies purchased ca. 2009) jeans fit quite nicely. I couldn’t help myself. I got on the scale and discovered I was down about 2 lbs, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re only 5’0″, it matters. At that point, I was still 4 lbs. away from my pre-pregnancy weight.

The dark circles under my eyes faded significantly and my skin was clearer overall. I have had dark circles under my eyes since approximately forever. They have been especially prominent since I had Lady Bug. Over the past nine months I have had one solitary night of uninterrupted sleep, so while this is not surprising, it is nonetheless a total drag. Normally it takes me over a year to get through a tube of concealer (this is my favorite kind). I’m almost ready to order my second tube of the stuff in less than a year. Miraculously, for the first time since the baby was born, after about a week of cleansing, I felt fine about leaving the house without ANY makeup. IT WAS AMAZING. And while my skin is normally pretty clear and I rarely get a zit, I thought it looked especially good while I was cleansing. It’s hard to say whether this was the result of every aspect of the cleanse or just one or two, but if I had to guess, I would say that eliminating alcohol was the primary cause of this welcome change.

The baby’s skin improved. At eight months old, most of Lady Bug’s nutrition comes from my breast milk. Having already eliminated wheat, dairy, and soy from my diet, I didn’t think there was much more to eliminate, in my quest to find the source of her eczema and congestion. But the cleanse says you have to eliminate eggs, which I was eating on the daily. We have chickens. Their eggs are fresh and delicious. I never get sick of eggs. I was loathe to get them out of my diet but after about a week, I noticed Lady Bug’s skin was a lot clearer.

I started to crave vegetables. And no, zombies did not take over my computer. Hand to god, I really looked forward to eating more veggies, eating veggies prepared in news ways, even including veggies in my breakfasts and mid-morning snacks. Not that I ever disliked vegetables before. I just deepened my love and appreciation for them during the cleanse.

No one in my family complained. We all ate like this, at least at dinner, because I’m in charge of dinner. In fact, Dan and Sweet Pea liked all the new ways I prepared vegetables.

The Bad:
I struggled with being hungry between meals. Although there is no restriction on calories, I found it hard to come up enough snacks to keep me full when I was following the guidelines, which dictate that every snack or meal is mostly veggies. My regular go-to snacks, like a rice cake with almond butter and banana slices, an apple with almond butter, or sardines and crackers, were no longer options. My cleanse-friendly snacks were carrots and green smoothies. I learned that it takes an unbelievable amount of carrots to fill me up.  Although the book offers some great recipes for these balls made mostly of dates and almond butter, and although I actually made them, and even liked them, they gave me a stomach ache. They say you can eat raw nuts as a snack, though they recommend you have a handful at a time. I, however, was eating probably eight handfuls at a time, if the hand belonged to a 6’8″ lumberjack, not a 5’0″ woman.

My energy level suffered at first. The first week or so, I felt pretty fatigued. This did abate as the cleanse went on, but it was rough at the start.

I don’t think this way of eating is conducive to athletic performance in endurance sports. With the limits on food combinations and what grains you are allowed, I think it would be hard for me to eat this way consistently, recover from hard workouts/long runs, and not burnt out or get injured.  At a minimum, eating this way and training found me exhausted and starving more often and to a greater extent than I am comfortable with. I did eat a gel during a nine mile run while I was on the cleanse, and though it was not cleanse approved, I felt it was necessary. I am not sure if it’s anything to do with the cleanse, but I haven’t felt right since said nine miler (about a month ago). I have to wonder if continuing to run during the cleanse, on top of my chronic sleep deprivation, created a situation where I couldn’t recover from workouts and therefore became injured (again).

I was “that person” at restaurants. I probably annoyed myself more than I annoyed anyone else, as this is Boulder and servers are used to restrictions, allergies, sensitivities, and requests. If you try a diet like this in most cities, you would probably have to commit to not going out to eat at all, or ordering a very boring salad. That said, a salad with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt is delicious and I can’t imagine a restaurant that couldn’t accommodate that.

The Ugly:
One evening, extreme fatigue and mild dizziness led me to binge-eat about a third of a box of gluten-free crackers which were not cleanse-approved, but I felt so bad I was worried that I would not be safe to pick up the baby in the middle of the night,  if I didn’t get some carbs into my system, stat. It was about the fifth day of the cleanse when I woke up feeling dizzy. The dizziness hung around until mid-day. The next morning I ran a 5k. Between the race, the warmup and the cooldown, I ran 7 miles that morning. I felt pretty good during and right after the race. But later that day, I felt awful. We went for a walk to get ice cream and I was exhausted. Every step felt like a huge effort. Meanwhile, I was emotionally spent, after watching my family eat ice cream (my favorite treat) and not having any. I continued to feel tired and dizzy, so before bed that night I tore into the crackers, just grabbing them by the fistful and shoving them in my mouth, Cookie Monster style. I am not proud of this.

The Really Ugly:
I sharted twice on the cleanse. Maybe it’s unfair to blame it on the cleanse. Who knows, maybe it was a total freak coincidence that I’ve only sharted one other time in my whole life and it was two days after giving birth and taking a bunch of stool softeners, and then I try this cleanse where I’m eating enough vegetables to fill a bathtub every day, and I shart a couple of times. It could totally have been a fluke. I don’t think it was, though.

Stay tuned… It has been about a month since I ended the cleanse. I intend to write a follow-up post on how my diet has changed and what effects I’ve noticed since going back to normal.


6 thoughts on “Workout Wednesday Volume 19: The Conscious Cleanse: A Review

  1. Nina says:

    I read every single word of this. I’m totally obsessed with the IDEA of doing a cleanse more than really doing it. Actually, a did whole 30 type thing called The 30 Clean (remember that?) last May and to be honest I was sort of worse off after. I think I don’t do very well with such strict guidelines because it’s almost like I spent the next 8 months rebelling . . . against myself. I’m just now sort of cleaning up that mess. Sigh.

    • Pam says:

      Yes, Nina, I totally remember your Whole 30 trial! I loved reading about that. Sorry the aftermath was not great… I can’t really compare whether CC has truly changed my life in a sustainable way or not, given the fact that the baby’s allergies are SO limiting… I can’t even find anything unhealthy to snack on at night in this house to snack on that the baby isn’t sensitive to. I know I would consume all of the coconut based ice cream in the house in a couple of days if there were any, so I just don’t buy it. I will say, one thing I liked about CC vs Whole 30 (at least W3 as I understand it- I’ve never actually done it)- is that you are instructed to be ok with not doing it 100%. They say if you fall off the wagon, be kind to yourself and just get back on, no big deal. I think that’s a good way to be around food in general. I noticed that when my thinking around food became less black and white (eg: I ate a cookie, so I might as well eat ALL the cookies), I started being more in control of my food choices vs other way around, and feeling better in general.

    • Pam says:

      Dana, first of all, I love you. Second of all, you can do anything for two weeks! Third, mushy postpartum body = plenty of natural motivation! Oh yeah, and planning ahead. I usually went out with a green smoothie in my bag in case I got hungry. I always had cleanse-friendly foods around to snack on.

  2. Jessica says:

    Your blog, as always, doesn’t fail to entertain! Just thought you’d be amused to know that my mom learned the definition of sharting because of this blog post and as a result, it was a topic of conversation at our sedar!

    • Pam says:

      Jessica, LMAO here!!! Thanks for that. Totally embarrassing but totally worthwhile, given the entertainment that I can only imagine ensued at your family gathering.

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