The closest I’d come to doing a cleanse was about a year ago, locked in a bathroom at a dumpy RV park, violently purging for several hours. The miserable experience wasn’t so much a cleanse as a stomach flu, but it had a similar upside: rest, weight loss, subdued coffee and alcohol cravings, and a chance to start fresh with healthier eating.
This spring, after an indulgent holiday season, I found myself overweight, sluggish, and ricocheting between caffeinated highs and alcoholic lows. The forty-something white American in me said buy a convertible muscle car. But my lazy cerebral side convinced me to check my email again. And there it was: an invitation from Bikram Yoga Santa Barbara to join its inaugural “6-day gentle cleanse.”
What happened next was a transformation that in no way resembled what detractors warned would be a stint of starvation eased only by spiking headaches and debilitating fatigue. By the cleanse’s final day, I was 10 pounds lighter, clearheaded, and I buzzed with enough new energy to fuel a 90-minute workout. Better yet, my mostly dysfunctional relationship with food now lays bare on the proverbial chopping block, where I trim away at the layered gristle of years of gastronomic apathy. I know it’ll take me a while to break bad food habits (such as co-binging on breakfast cereal and reruns of The Wire) and replace them with better ones (peppermint tea and True Detective), but this cleanse was a great kick-start. That’s what Mari Larangeira had in mind when she called in Chef Nimita Dhirajlal to prepare organic Ayurveda meals to accompany the cleanse.
“I want to keep it gentle,” said Larangeira, who also runs that Bikram studio. “If you go into a deep, detoxifying cleanse too quickly, you can get reactions like rashes, headaches, or nausea. I designed this as a great start for first-time cleansers or as a tune-up. With the herbal nutrition and Dhirajlal’s delicious food, you’ll get the benefits of cleansing with very minimal discomfort or feelings of deprivation.” I liked the sound of that.
For three days beforehand, I “pre-cleansed” by swapping caffeine and acidic foods with more alkaline meals. I had already ditched alcohol, downing my last beer on Groundhog Day (this year celebrated by an obscure sporting demographic that renamed it Super Bowl Sunday). But I knew that cutting in half my pot-a-day coffee intake still wouldn’t save me from ice-pick headaches and offensive irritability. Then Larangeira — bless her heart — said I could add a daily cup of caffeinated green tea to my cleanse.
The first three days were a strict schedule of herbal and probiotic supplements, laxative shakes of bentonite clay and psyllium seed, organic vegetable juices (one of which tasted like a virgin Bloody Mary), and increasingly smaller dishes of veggies, millet, and quinoa prepared by Chef Dhirajlal. Halfway in, aside from fleeting headaches and the sort of tiredness you welcome after a long hike, I was feeling good. I could also easily take stock of my excess baggage (midsection protuberances, man-boobs) and where I’m solid (relic leg strength from three decades of skateboarding, toned shoulders and back from recent bouts of surf fever).
By day five, all meals were off the menu as a true juice fast took over. And after a final day of more juicing and two small meals to help transition to solid food again, it’s over. Unlike that stomach flu, there was no suffering, no deprivation, no malnutrition. I’m feeling better physically than I have in years, and if Larangeira offers it again this fall, I’ll probably do it again.