When my boyfriend first suggested we go on a 21-day vegan cleanse, I thought he was crazy. I work in the culinary industry, so I’m out constantly trying new restaurants, searching out food and drink trends, and, yes, taking pictures of my food. The cleanse he proposed also cut out alcohol, sugar and caffeine, so it would be a major lifestyle change. On the other hand, I thought to myself, it probably would be good for me to take a break from my indulgent eating out, and I did like that it was something we could do together. Plus, I had been sort of “cleanse curious” before – wondering if I could stick to it, and if I did, what kind of effect it would have. So we set a start date, cleaned out the cupboards, and headed off for Whole Foods.
I’m not gonna lie. The first week was tough. I could barely see straight due to the headaches from the caffeine withdrawal, but by day five the headaches were gone and my energy level evened out. We got into a great routine making morning smoothies and packing lunch boxes for the office together (flashback to the scene where Harrison Ford is packing Melanie Griffith’s lunchbox in Working Girl, swoon!) By the end of the third week, I’d lost 5 pounds and my skinny jeans slipped on with ease, but something else happened: I found myself much more aware of everything I was eating, and I felt really good. We enjoyed it so much that we continue to eat vegan occasionally!
But, for sure, sticking to a simultaneous vegan, caffeine, and alcohol cleanse can be tough and lots of different factors can make it easy to cave, so here is my cleanse survival guide:
- Planning is key. With a busy work schedule and go-go lifestyle, sometimes meals become an afterthought. To keep yourself on track, make a concerted effort in planning menus and writing out shopping lists. You’ll want to get in the market, shop with focus and get out, and avoid wandering aimlessly up and down the aisles (lest you be tempted). Or better yet, order ingredients online via Instacart or Thrive Market and save yourself time and the hassle.
- Set yourself up for success. Stock your pantry with grab and go snacks to make it easy to stick to the plan: baby carrots, your favorite fruits, dried fruit and nut trail mix, etc. Stash them in your desk, bag, or car so that when you hit your afternoon energy slump you’ll have healthy ammo at the ready.
- Timing is everything. Take your social calendar and travel plans into consideration when you pick a time to start a cleanse. It may be best to avoid the holidays, special occasions (e.g. birthdays, weddings, and vacations) so you’re not feeling left out as others indulge. If I do need go out or have a work dinner, I usually eat something before I leave to take the edge off the hunger, but thankfully more and more restaurants offer vegan options now.
- Everybody needs “some buddy.” As I mentioned, the first cleanse I did was my boyfriend’s suggestion (he had done them for many years), so we did it together and it was really helpful to have a partner in crime. Naturally the moral support was great, but also having someone to ask questions, and talk (and occasionally complain to!) helped me stay motivated and on track.
- How to cheat and get away with it. Identify some ‘cheats’ that aren’t cheating e.g. air-popped popcorn, or dark chocolate. Sometimes it feels good to be a little bad, so figure out some things that will satisfy your cravings without sabotaging your cleanse. For me it’s dark chocolate and roasted, unsalted almonds – heaven!
- Keep your eyes on the prize. Sometimes a little motivation is called for, so identify something fun to reward yourself when you successfully complete the cleanse. Maybe it’s a massage or facial at your favorite spa, or it could be that new pair of shoes you’ve been coveting. Something to look forward to and keep you on track.
- Umami is your friend. Umami – the fifth taste roughly translated from the Japanese as a pleasant savory taste – can add a mouthwatering flavor to vegan dishes that makes them more satisfying. Some umami-rich foods include: mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, soy sauce, and nutritional yeast. These Vegan Pesto Stuffed Mushrooms are so savory, they really hit the spot. A batch of these and a salad on the side and dinner is served!
- Read up. The further we got into our cleanse, I found myself in a recipe rut. Luckily there are lots of great resources for ideas and inspiration. Here are some of my favorites I discovered: Chef Chloe’s Penang Curry, One Green Planet’s Vegetable & Tofu Stir-Fry with Chili Sauce, Melissa D’Arabian’s Edamame & Walnut Lettuce Wraps, and Detoxinista’s Mushroom & Spinach Quinoa “Risotto”.