What I learned from my 21-day detox

When my husband, Gary, was diagnosed with cancer, we asked the professionals about diet and exercise. One doctor said, “That’s like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.” Well, thank you. That was helpful.


Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash


On our own initiative, we increased our fruit and veggie intake, eliminated unhealthful fats and sugars, and ate more whole grains and legumes. And then Gary died. And I quit cooking for myself.

I’d been having some minor gut issues when a friend mentioned how a detox had benefitted her. Here’s where my daughter, Summer — a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach — comes in. “I don’t want to lose any weight,” I told her. “I just want to eat better and feel healthier.”

Summer suggested a plan that was developed by Dr. Sara Gottfried, a conventional women’s health MD. When Dr. Gottfried realized that what she was prescribing for her patients wasn’t working on her own hormone and gut issues, she developed the Hormone Reset Diet.

On this particular cleanse, meat is eliminated in the first three days, although I could still eat organic chicken, salmon, and sardines.

Next, sugar is eliminated, and then I went fruitless, caffeine-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and toxin-free, all the while eating veggies (1 lb. a day), beans, legumes, and nuts.

After the 21-day cleanse, food groups are reintroduced, and I’m to pay attention to how they’re affecting my body.

The clincher? Summer offered to do the diet with me.

Detox diets. They’re controversial.

A WebMD article reports that detoxes “are popular, but they aren’t proven to do what they say they’ll do: flush toxins out of your system. In fact, they may be risky and even backfire.”

The article went on to say: “You’ll be hungry and may feel weak. … Most people don’t feel good on low-calorie, nutrient-poor diets. Potential side effects include low energy, low blood sugar, muscle aches, fatigue, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, and nausea.”

I didn’t feel weak or hungry, maybe because I was actually eating more food than normal. I had no muscle aches or fatigue. No low energy or low blood sugar.

In fact, while on the detox, I hiked the Green Lakes trail with my cancer-kicking hiking team. Nine miles round trip; 1,100-ft elevation gain.

The WebMD article continued: “Detox diets are typically very rigid and involve eating the same few things over and over.”

That wasn’t the case for me. “Think anti-inflammatory,” Summer had instructed earlier, “like garlic, onions, carrots, beets, squash, beans, tea, raw nuts, pineapple, blueberries. Sweet potatoes are great. So is salmon. Cinnamon and turmeric, lemon, mint, and ginger can be added into most recipes.”

I’ve not eaten such a variety of healthful whole foods since Gary died.

“Don’t forget the fats! Super important,” Summer said. “Eat avocados and raw nuts. Drizzle flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), or sesame oil over salads or raw veggies.”

Here’s what I learned from my 21-day cleansing diet:

1. I wasn’t eating as healthfully as I thought.

It wasn’t that I was eating unhealthful foods; it’s that I wasn’t eating enough of the healthful options.

A normal, full-day menu looked something this: Homemade granola for breakfast; a small spinach salad, or a cheese quesadilla on whole wheat tortilla for lunch; and air-popped popcorn for dinner at least three or four evenings a week. On the alternating evenings, I’d have maybe a rice-and-bean bowl, or soup that comes in a carton.

You see the lack of a variety of nutrients in that diet.

During the cleanse, I ate more food. And more of a variety of food. Which I continue to eat even as I re-incorporate some whole grains and fruit back into my diet.

The ironic thing is, this detox hasn’t been sacrificial. I like how I eat. These are delicious foods. The key for me is keeping a variety of veggies and legumes on hand.

2. A healthy gut is invaluable.

The bloatedness that had become my norm is now gone and my stomach is flatter and tighter (I’m doing some tummy exercises, as well). This, alone, is worth the regimen of the diet.

3. It’s fun to get creative in cooking.

You remember the old stand-by cabbage salad that made the potluck rounds a few years back with the crumbled Top Ramen noodles on top for crunch?

In it’s place, I made a cabbage salad that included broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and red onion — all finely chopped — with chopped almonds and edamame for a nice crunch. Extra virgin olive oil was drizzled over all, followed by a sprinkle of salt. Yum!


Cabbage salad, at left; roasted Brussels sprouts and pecans, at right


And then there are sweet potato ‘chips.’ I don’t have a full-sized oven, but these worked great in my cute little toaster oven. Thinly-sliced sweet potatoes or yams. Olive oil. A little sea salt. Baked for 16 minutes at 375 degrees, turned once during cooking. Ridiculously delicious.


Sweet potato chips


4. I realize how much I enjoy cooking.

When Gary died, I quit cooking full meals. Because why would I want to prepare a main dish, side dish or veggie, and salad for just me?

But I tried some new recipes Summer sent, and tweaked a couple of my old favorites — like this rice-and-bean bowl. At the time, I was off grain and dairy, so I used cauliflower rice in place of the brown rice; green olives instead of the black; eliminated the grated cheese; and drizzled EVOO over all—rice, beans, olives, tomatoes, fresh cilantro, green onion, and avocado. Seriously good.


Rice-and-bean bowl made with cauliflower rice


The WebMD article continued:Some detox plans recommend herbs, pills, powders, enemas, and other forms of colon cleansing. Methods vary and often include products that are only available from the author’s web site.”

My daughter sells no products at her website. She’s an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, enabling her clients to achieve their health and wellness goals.

I can’t tell you how many times—as I whined about eliminating the next food group—my personal coach and cheerleader texted back, “You’ve got this!”

Do you know how empowering those words are? You’ve got this.

* * *

On Day 21, Summer texted to ask what I was planning to eat the next day. “Chocolate cake?”

Me: “Yes, chocolate cake with steak, French fries, a Jello salad with Cool Whip. And nothing green. In that order. And you?”

Summer: “Haha! I was thinking the same thing.”

On Day 22, though, there was no desire for steak, fries, or cake. Instead, I continue eating the variety of foods I’ve enjoyed these last few weeks as I re-introduce fruits, some grains and a bit of honey for my tea.

Back to the WebMD article:

The only type of detox diet that is worthwhile is one that limits processed, high-fat, and sugary foods, and replaces them with more whole foods like fruits and vegetables. That clean-eating approach is your best bet to getting your body in tip-top shape.

Bingo. That’s exactly what this cleanse did for me.

There were a couple of confessions I made to my coach during the cleanse: “I had the tiniest bit of sugar and caffeine today at a cute tea shop with two women I met at the writers’ conference. Pumpkin Chai tea latte with almond milk. It was fabulous — no pumpkin syrup, but real pumpkin. That counts as a vegetable, right?”

(Notice how I justified cheating.)

Bottom line from Daughter Summer:

The main thing is not to get too caught up in what you can’t have. Focus on what you can eat: Fresh vegetables and fruit, beans and legumes, whole grains, healthy oils and fats, fermented foods, oily fish and lean meats, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, herbal teas.

And that’s what I plan to do going forward. Because I love how I’m eating now. And so does my gut.

P.S. If you found this post helpful, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. Marlys, I enjoyed this – you and I eat a lot alike. But for someone who’s never tried it, it sounds like torture – the only way to find out is TRY IT!! I do NOT miss refined sugars, lactose, red meats, or…well, a lot of other things. Always can find a way to satisfy a craving. Thanks! (:

  2. Peter Howe B.E.M.

    Barbara and I, because of our present circumstance (which you know about) means that I’m putting the meals on the table and variety is the spice of life, at this time. A band member, when he knew about Barbara’s fall, he telephoned and said, “You’ve got to live so I’m bringing some dinners over… no questions”. Such kindness and now there is the variety to choose from. My Barbara is wondering where I get the ideas from!!!!. On the funny side… when I was a young Police Officer, I used to carry an apple with me each day and if I had to ‘see the children across the road to school’ they would call me PC Apples and if a police officer was asked for by the schools, the kids would ask for PC Apples….. I never forgot those kids and they know me to this day, with their own children. I’ve strayed a little with my words but it is about ‘eating food’. Our love, Barbara & Peter.

    • Isn’t it amazing how – even though food is a common thing – it is a most generous and thoughtful gift?! I still remember all the meals, the hot and cold beverages, the Mason jars of homemade soup, the rice and bean bowls, the gift bags of fresh fruit and snacks, and the pies and pumpkin breads and scones that were delivered to us at home and while Gary was in Hospice House. How kind of your band member to bring food!

  3. Roxanne

    Great article! It is very motivating and makes sense. I’m going to stop by the market and incorporate as few of your dishes into my menu. Baby steps! Thanks:)

  4. Nice post, thanks for sharing.

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