May 5, 2009 — -- Talk show host extraordinaire Oprah Winfrey has made no secret of her latest round in her ongoing battle of the bulge, and after trying Kathy Freston's 21-day Wellness Cleanse, the television staple sang its praises and even blogged about it.
In Freston's new book, "Quantum Wellness Cleanse," the bestselling author offers readers a way to lose weight and improve overall health by eliminating what she calls "the big five."
Freston claims ditching caffeine, gluten, sugar, alcohol and animal products for just 21 days will change your life by changing your tastes, curbing cravings and giving you more energy.
She believes her diet isn't about depriving yourself, but rather, replacing those foods with healthier choices.
I recently published my third book, "Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness."
That book details how small, incremental changes—in whatwe eat, how we think, how we move our bodies, and how werelate to others—can reap huge rewards. One of the practicesI recommend for "jump-starting" a quantum shift to ahigher state of wellness is a 21-Day Cleanse—a period ofthree weeks in which you abstain from sugar, caffeine,gluten, alcohol, and animal products, and load yourself fullof a wholesome, plant-based diet. Of all the things I wroteabout in that book, it was the cleanse that elicited the mostoverwhelming response. Easily 90 percent of the questionsand letters I receive from readers have to do with navigatingthose twenty-one days. Clearly, a nerve has been struck.I don't think it's just that people want to detox and loseweight, although that is surely part of it. I think that thepromise of experiencing real, discernible breakthroughs inbody, mind, and spirit in a relatively short period of timeappeals to the great many of us who have a serious desirefor personal development and change.
And so I decided to devote a whole book to the cleanse—to answering your questions, going into greater depthabout the process, and offering you a hand as you try to gothree weeks without some of the substances you reach forwhen you need comfort. Get ready for a miracle, becausethat's what happens when you first make the decision tomove in the direction of quantum wellness, when you decideto take supremely good care of your body and work throughthe obstacles that come up when you do. When you makeyour move—even if it's a just a single step—toward the shiftyou'd like to experience, your body, mind, and spirit arebrought to a whole new and altogether higher level.
I started doing cleanses more than twenty-five years ago becauseI wanted to lose weight, plain and simple. I hoped thattaking a little break from my (over)eating routine might snapme out of unhealthy patterns. I started off by fasting everyMonday, forgoing all food except a mixture of apple cidervinegar, honey, and water. After a while, I moved on to juicefasts, where for a few days or even a week at a time I wouldconsume only juices made from fruits, carrots, spinach, celery,ginger, and other vegetables. At other times over theyears I tried the various programs that were in vogue andthat promised some sort of miracle. What I found was thatfasting didn't work for me. I never experienced the promisedweight loss or, if I did, it didn't last. In fact, whenever Iwould fast, my metabolism would slow way down and put mybody on starvation alert. In other words, whatever caloriesI did ingest, my body would hang on to tightly because itwasn't so sure that more would be coming in.
For many people, these practices have their merits, andmany are quite detoxifying and healing, but they didn't workfor me. Plus, not eating made me anxious and I couldn't concentrate;all I could think about was what I would eat for thatfirst "break-fast" meal.
The Quantum Wellness 21-Day Cleanse is nothing likethose punishing fasts I tried. It is extremely simple and nutritionallysound. In fact, it is more a healthy way of livingthan it is a harsh or difficult discipline. It's about choosingfoods that don't tax the body and make it work so hard; it'sabout taking a break but not about starving.
The more I studied and looked into the ancient practiceof giving up certain foods for a designated period of time, themore I realized that fasting and cleansing are not only goodfor making physical improvements, but they can also be apathway to greater clarity and even enlightenment. Manymasters throughout the ages have forgone food for periodsof time so that they might feel closer to Spirit and less attachedto the pedestrian rites of this world. They would giveup a number of things—perhaps just taking in the bare essentials—and go into a deep meditation or discourse with ateacher. Or, like Gandhi, they would give up eating as a wayof making a strong and committed statement that wouldbring about changes in social conditions and a shift towardhigher societal consciousness.
The more I learned about fasting and cleansing traditions,the more I saw the wisdom in giving my body an occasionalretreat so that I could break free from some of mylesser habits and cravings and the impulse for immediategratification. From the early founders of Western medicine—Hippocrates, Galen, and Paracelsus—I learned that occasionallyrefraining from food was also a proven way to preventand even cure disease. Even the great philosophers Plato,Socrates, and Pythagoras regularly gave up food (or certainfoods) so that they could enhance and enliven their sense ofphysical well-being.
This cleanse is so simple and so powerful. For threeweeks, you will refrain from eating what I call the "Big Five":
On first glance, it may seem like there will be nothing leftto eat or drink! In fact, you will discover that there is a wholeworld of delicious and nutritious food to enjoy that will helpyou feel more energetic, healthy, and clean. And I guaranteeyou will not be hungry (unless you forget to eat!). Thisis a "diet" you could stay on indefinitely, because it doesn'tdeny your body any of its needs and is actually rich in nutritiousvegetables, whole grains, fruits, and nuts, andchock-full of everything you need to fuel your body for alifetime.
Over the course of the three weeks you'll be reading insome depth about why you're avoiding these Big Five categories,but for now just trust me when I say that these sub-stances are difficult for our bodies and can even be toxic,and that a break from them will do you a world of good. Wewon't be doing any calorie counting or maniacally restrictingcarbs; I'll just be here to remind you to eat lots of grains,beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables—which are loadedwith naturally occurring vitamins and minerals—and giveyou plenty of suggestions for how to make them a part of yourdiet. Simple, no?
I want to prepare you for the physiological downside thatsome people experience for a few days. Many people experienceno physical problems or actual signs of withdrawal,but some people do: if you are in the latter category, pleaseremind yourself that this is a signal of addiction, and youdon't want to be addicted. Please also keep reminding yourselfthat these bad physical feelings pass within a few daysfor almost everyone.
I know when I give up caffeine I get cranky and lethargicfor the first few days. But that's part of the point. I becomeaware of just how dependent my body has become on an artificialboost and how it has forgotten how to feel good on itsown. Some people get headaches when they kick caffeine,but these pass within a few days at the most.
Sugar can be another hard one for some people, especiallypeople who are used to multiple sugary sodas or snacks everysingle day. But, as you probably know all too well, the sugarhigh is short-lived and often exacts a heavy price. We needmore and more to feel the lift, and no matter how much we ingest,we never feel great (and all the while we're gainingweight from the calories and unused glycogen). In fact, we oftenfeel downright spun out and desperate for the next fix—almost like a drug addict. In a few pages, we'll look at why it'sso important to purge processed sugars from your diet, at leastfor a short time. I'll also give you suggestions for alternativesweets.
If you are a steady drinker and you give up alcohol, youwill likely experience the stress and anxiety that you weretrying to blot out with the wine or vodka or what have you.My advice is to take this opportunity to gently and with greatcompassion for yourself face the very things you've been runningfrom and maybe think about dealing with them in awhole new way. If an old trauma is weighing on you, youmight want to check out a support or fellowship group; learnto meditate and exercise to renew the feel-good chemicals—dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—that your brain naturallyproduces. As you learn to face your demons, whateverthey may be, you will see that they are not as omnipotent asyou thought they were. (However, if your relationship with alcoholis at all problematic for you I urge you to get support.)You will tap into an inner reserve of serenity (I will help youalong the way) while finding that you are part of somethinglarger that wants your healing to occur. This "flow" of healingenergy will make itself known if you want it to.
Even if you are only a social drinker (like me), not havinga drink with friends at a festive dinner can be challenging.You want to fit in and enjoy yourself just like everyoneelse; but this discomfort will be short-lived as you realizeyou don't need alcohol to relax and feel at ease. The morepresent you are to the conversation, the less you will cravethe comfort of a drink. Changing our habits is shaky businessat first, as habits come about because they providesome sense of security and regularity in the face of anxiety.But the more you lean in to the discomfort, instead of runningfrom it or grabbing another drink, as long as you havea willingness to breathe through the difficult feelings, youwill become more and more free to live at the highest levelsof wellness.
As you read on about how an alcoholic drink is metabolized,you will see that it acts a lot like sugar in the body; youmight get intense cravings and feel agitated if you don't "getyour fix." Of course, this is all the more reason to break thephysical habituation, at least for the length of the cleanse.Giving up gluten will not cause a physical sense of withdrawal,because you are likely to experience an almost instantrelief from digestive problems (if you have them). Thedifficulty you may have, though, is in finding things that don'tcontain gluten. Breads and other products made with rice,corn, quinoa, potatoes, oats, and buckwheat are good bets.Honestly, just getting out of the bread habit alone will haveyou feeling leaner and cleaner in no time. Many people don'thave an issue with gluten (I don't). But processed flours reactin the body much the way straight sugar does. One of themore immediate benefits of giving up processed flours for thisshort time is that you put a pause on overindulging in thebreads and cereals that tend to cause weight gain and fatigue.Despite what you may have heard, abstention from animalproducts will not deprive your body of any essential nutrients,and you won't feel tired or weak. There are plentyof proteins and amino acids in plant-based food, without allthe unhealthy fat and additives. However, if meat was themainstay of your diet before, you might feel a little lost andleft out. This is good. It shakes things up. In fact, giving upanimal products is one of the most important gifts you cangive your body, mind, and spirit. And I will walk youthrough it, helping you discover all the ways to eat withoutanimal protein. You may be breaking from the crowd, butyou will also, at least temporarily, find yourself leading thepack for more holistic and responsible living. More on thatlater.
21-Day Quantum Wellness Cleanse
While I want to warn you that you may have cravings, Ialso want to stress that there are many, many people whodon't have a hard time at all, and also stress that almosteveryone feels lighter and more energetic within a day ortwo—I hear from people constantly who say they didn't evenrealize that they could feel so good. Their lethargic way ofbeing had become their constant; with the cleanse, they realizedthat they could have more energy, need less sleep,and feel lighter and clearer, just by breaking their relianceon foods that are not right for the human body.
Simply put, what you are doing in this cleanse is eliminatingcommon craving triggers, which are notorious forperpetuating the munchies (and then the self-flagellationthat follows), as well as other unconstructive eating habits.You are giving your body a break from artificial stimulantsand depressants, and in so doing you will find your own naturalbalance. You are giving your body both a good detoxand a chance to release itself from the vicious cycle of addictiveeating or drinking and the shame that follows.These are some big changes to make, I know, but we willmake them methodically, learning about each as we go. Itmay feel like a swirl of chaos as you find your way, butthings will become clearer and easier sooner than you canimagine.
The body is a brilliant and masterful system of healingand rejuvenation; it can often restore itself to perfect healthif given half a chance. And the cleanse is part of that pushtoward restoration. It will give your body a reprieve from oldand tired ways so that you can gather your strength and thensurge to a higher level of wellness.Why twenty-one days? Because that's about how long ittakes for your tastes and cravings to begin responding tohealthier and simpler foods. So what you are left with aftercompletion is a whole new and healthier routine, balancedblood sugar and freedom from old addictions.There are so many reasons to do this cleanse. You maybe motivated by a desire to trim a few pounds, or you maybe doing it to detox from all the things you put in your bodythat you know are not the healthiest. Personally, I do it atleast once a year simply to give myself an opportunity toreboot. We all have routines or habits around food that cometo control us, and the cleanse gives us a chance to see thesehabits with clear eyes. I know that whenever I find myselfthinking I "couldn't possibly" give up this or that, I realizejust how much I am owned by it. If it's coffee that I think Ican't live without, I know it's time to let go of coffee for awhile and see what happens. If I've been turning to icecreamsundaes to calm my anxiety, then it's ice-cream sundaesthat I have to live without, at least for a short time, soI can remember that I am more powerful than the food.Don't we all want to be free and strong and happy, ratherthan dragged through life by our petty attachments? Acleanse is a great place to start.
You see, the Quantum Wellness Cleanse is not justgood for the body; it's also good for the soul. As you readthe daily notes and pointers, you will learn how to eat in ahumane and compassionate way, and how your choicesplay out in the environment. After three weeks you can expectto have lost a little bit of weight and have more energy,but most important, you will have found a way to eatthat aligns you with your inner values of kindness and integrity.You will most certainly be a whole lot healthier inevery respect.
Doing this cleanse is one of the best ways I know to discoverany negative emotional material we are covering overwith food, so that we can shake it right out of our system. Andthe beauty of it is that you can take what feels right from thisprogram and leave the rest behind. Once you've done thework, you can add things back in, though many people findthat they want to stick with the changes that have so improvedthe way they look and feel.
Some of the changes you can expect from the 21-DayQuantum Wellness Cleanse are:
Truly, it is a jump-start to a whole new level of living andbeing.
Here's the thing about wellness: it's a continuum. We getbetter at it as we go. We get more informed, build esteem, andfind what works as we keep putting one foot in front of theother. We develop new tastes and discover different and interestingfoods, and we move into a new rhythm. And withevery day that we say, "Okay, I'm bigger than my old habits,"we rise to our greater selves. We soar. Consider this cleansea gift you can give yourself anytime you need it—a gift thatwill improve your overall wellness, not only by giving you thebest possible nutrition but also by getting you to look ateverything that comes up during the process: emotions,struggles, triumphs, new tools, and fresh ways of understandinghow connected everything is.
You will discover how some of the foods from which youare abstaining have been affecting your body and your mentalstate. You'll discover some of your emotional attachmentsto conditioned ways of thinking; for instance, when you'reunhappy, do you go for the cookies? Don't dismiss that astypical—it is, but it's also something that you can overcomeif you want to, at least for twenty-one days, and you're likelyto feel a deep sense of satisfaction when you do (and rightlyso). And that may also spur you to take a closer look at wherethat attachment came from and whether it makes sense tohold on to it when the cleanse is over.
21-Day Quantum Wellness Cleanse
To this day, I do the cleanse with the full knowledge thatdoing so gives my body a break from its heavy workload, sothat I can get rid of some old, stored-up junk and undertakesome of my most important inner work—freeing myself fromnegative bonds and challenging myself to better understandmy inner life and how it connects to all life. In this way, Inot only heal myself, but I contribute to the healing of ourprecious world.
I encourage you to read through the book once to get afeel for the overall picture of the cleanse and then go backand take each day one at a time. We'll cover a lot of ground,but in increments. By the time you complete your firstcleanse, you will know yourself so much better. You will findyourself relating to other people and the world around youin a more satisfying, more genuine way because you will bepenetrating some of your own defenses, and you will findyourself, on the whole, much clearer about many things.Over the course of the twenty-one days, I will be encouragingyou to think deeply about where your food comes fromand how its handling and its journey to your plate affect howyou feel in your body and affect the environment aroundyou; that will naturally raise your empathy for what othersgo through, too. This not only tends to make you more connectedon a personal level, it also makes for a friendlierworld.But best of all, you will be spending three weeks eatingdelicious, nutrient-dense, fiber-rich food. And you won't behungry at all!
This cleanse has no strange concoctions to drink, no pillsyou must go out and purchase. And of course it's medicallyunassailable. Nevertheless, do consult with your doctor beforebeginning, as it's always wise to check in with your medicaladvisers. If you can, go to a doctor who is well versed inthe latest peer-reviewed research on nutrition.
Remember, the cleanse is a jump start to having a healthierbody, a clearer mind, and a deeper sense of consciousawareness. It's a way of setting into motion your own personalrevolution so that you might contribute to an even broaderrevolution. You don't have to maintain it forever, however;that will be up to you. (You might want to check out www.drgreger.org/DVDs/ for a good overview of the recent scientificnutrition literature.)
People often ask me about "discipline." They worry thatthey won't be able to get through the cleanse or do it perfectly.Here's what I tell them: challenge yourself, but don't makeyourself (or others around you) crazy. Do the best you can. Ifsomething, such as soy milk, has a tiny bit of sweetener in itand you can't find one that doesn't, enjoy it without worry. Ifit's your birthday or anniversary, have a glass of champagne(unless you think you are an alcoholic and this would becomea slippery slope). If you are at someone's dinner party andthey have absolutely nothing you can eat except the pastaand it's not gluten-free, have the pasta and then pick backup the next day. Our goal is progress, not perfection! Thiswon't be a piece of cake (okay, pun intended), but it shouldn'tbe oh-so-difficult. The first few days will be the hardest, andthen you will find your footing and off you'll go!For many people, it's easier to do the cleanse with friendsso you can check in with and support one another. Some peoplestart blog groups so they can share recipes and fellow-ship. You might have a willing partner or spouse who isinterested, or you may entice your entire office to join in,which always makes the cleanse a fun and interesting event.Often enough, though, you will be on your own, which is justfine, too!
And know this: even if you decide that it's just too difficultto give up the Big Five all at once, you can choose to abstainfrom just one or two of the substances and make thatyour cleanse. That's okay; next time around, maybe you'll trymore. I would suggest starting off with eliminating animalproducts if you have to choose just one. But do challengeyourself to go beyond what's comfortable and see if you can'tgo full throttle!
However you go about doing the cleanse, the journey willbe uniquely yours, and the changes you experience will beperfect and appropriate for you. Get inspiration from yourpeers, but trust that your soul knows exactly what it needs toprogress and thrive. Listen to the wisdom that will whisperto you along the way, and may you realize the shift in yourlife that you always knew was possible.