Will a "detox cleanse" really leave a body cleaner and more energized?

If it's true that you are what you eat, I was in dire danger of becoming something compact, microwaveable, doused in chemicals and encased in cellophane.

Somehow, despite my best intentions, my eating habits had declined almost without my noticing it; I was relying more and more on takeout meals, convenience foods and cafeteria chow of uncertain parentage. Meanwhile, I was feeling "off" — not as energetic in my workouts, more fatigue than usual and battling a weird weight gain all my usual tricks just couldn't budge. What to do?

The answer came, as many things do, from California, where friends were swearing by a "detox cleanse" with the supervision of a naturopathic physician. They loved the energy the eating program gave them, and all reported losing at least several pounds in a month of detoxing. They also said, to a woman, that doing it reawakened their commitment to cooking as much of their own food as they could, so they knew exactly what they were putting in their (and their families') mouths.

The general idea, supported by many mainstream as well as alternative health-care providers, is simple:

• Our bodies, specifically our livers, work overtime to rid themselves of the toxins — or at least unnecessary substances — we put through them daily, including pesticides and growth hormones in our food, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and hard-to-digest substances like dairy products.

• Eating only organic produce and limiting the amount of chemicals we put into the body allows the liver and body to "cleanse" themselves of the impurities we ingest by habit.

• By cooking all our meals from the freshest, most nutritious ingredients, we revive our bodies and also help eliminate the cravings for things we all know are bad, like overly refined white flour and white sugar.

• And eating well for a month couldn't hurt — right?

In California there are lots of options, many offered through gyms and spas that incorporate workouts, yoga, group sessions for support, etc. The only place I found in the Puget Sound region that offered both the eating plan as well as the physical activities that further assist in detoxing was the Sanctuary Spa in Redmond, which has a sister spa, the lovely Soul Ease in Kirkland.

A detox through the spa would cover all supplements; meetings with the naturopath; support meetings; and unlimited Pilates, yoga and other exercise classes, as well as two spa treatments. (If I'm cutting out sugar, I need to find the love somewhere, and a massage and detox mud wrap sound pretty sweet.) Total cost: $800 — which is high — but if you live on the Eastside and can attend an exercise class daily, it's actually a pretty good deal. (For me, schlepping from West Seattle was tough, so I probably wouldn't do the Sanctuary program again. (Note to would-be entrepreneurs: Open one of these babies in Central or West Seattle.) To have a naturopath supervise just the eating detox plan and supplements should run you about $120-$160.

How was my month? Glowing, with a few rough spots:

The Must Eliminate List: Dairy products, white bread or anything made with white flour, sugar of all varieties, eggs, shellfish, grapefruit, processed food, beef and pork, butter and all saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, coffee and black tea, soda, alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs, chocolate, peanuts. I've never smoked, and gave up alcohol and drugs years ago, but the thing I'm already missing, even before I start, is coffee. My one vice!

Shopping: I pile a PCC cart so high with leafy green things, I forget what's at the bottom. Oh yes, organic lemons for the filtered water I'd be drinking each morning instead of ... coffee. They look so invigorating. My fridge can barely contain all the stuff I bought, and all I could think is, it all has to fit inside me.

Cooking: The Sanctuary Spa program comes with a great handbook and a separate recipe book, so I cooked up some soups, chili and bean dishes to have on hand for portable lunches and dinners. I have to admit they smell great and are full of either delicious ingredients or ones like kale (which there is no way to make delicious), which are good for me and can be disguised by other flavors. Thankfully.

Day One: I start with a lovely glass of water with some organic lemon juice and try not to think about the French press pot I put away so I wouldn't have to look at it. It's actually quite good (the water), and part of the trick of the month is upping my water intake to at least 10 8-ounce glasses of filtered water, to help the body rinse itself out. There are three meals and two snacks per day, with protein at each, so in reality I'm not going to go hungry. Right?

Day Three: I'm in a groove, taking my homemade stuff to work and starting to notice just how much mindless office eating goes on. I honestly don't crave any junk food. True, every day looks like I've packed for the Shackleford Expedition just for my two snacks and lunch, but this has the side benefit of entertaining my colleagues, who ask things like, "What's for lunch, Anne? A rutabaga?" Funny, Colleen. (Note to self: Be sure to disguise tomorrow's lunch of Puréed Winter Vegetables.)

Day Five: Sweet Jesus, I have to have coffee. I reason that because I've never smoked and stopped drinking so long ago, maybe I'm actually not giving my liver enough to do. What if I'm inadvertently encouraging a lazy liver? I brew one perfect cup of Italian roast, and it tastes amazing. And I put in soy milk like a good girl, and one cup is all I want. In fact, it ends up lasting me several days. Which has to be better than the three cups per day I was downing before. I guess denial and rationalizing go along with any kind of eating plan.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to work out every day — cardio three days a week and yoga or Pilates at least three, as prescribed by Dr. Kathleen Jade, who's overseeing my cleanse. I feel energetic and really love working out more.

Day 10: I've lost three pounds and can tell I'm toning up along the waistline. Woo-hoo! This just might be working. Meanwhile, I'm midway through week two, in which all poultry and lamb are eliminated, but I can still have fish. Have I mentioned how much I love fish?

Day 14: My colleague Raina tells me about her friend who did a cleanse, and who became fixated by "the stuff that came out," including "gray stuff." This is all that Raina will say, except that her friend was very excited by the discovery. I wonder what the gray stuff might be — that chewing gum I swallowed that Mom warned would "stay in there forever"? I vow to keep a close watch but not to share what I find with my colleagues.

Day 17: I'm getting more creative with my vegan cooking — there are some great grain/bean recipes, and PCC and Whole Foods are like gourmet dreams. Tofu is actually very tasty when you stop and focus on it, and you can add garlic to just about everything and improve it. Friends tell me my skin is glowing. I actually think it is.

Day 18: I've lost six pounds — six real ones! My mood is high, too — which I realize might have something to do with the full-spectrum saunas I've been taking at Soul Ease (one is mandatory each week, minimum). It's the same light as in the Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps, and it occurs to me that maybe drinking in that light during the gloomy winter might also be part of why I feel so good.

Day 21: The quote on my journal today is from Ken Wilbur: "Few of us have lost our minds, but most of us have long ago lost our bodies." I know what he means, and I am starting to feel like I'm "getting my body back" — paying more attention to how it feels and what it's really saying it needs and wants.

Day 23: Juice fast day. This is No Fun. Making the juice, even the weirdo juice like "dinner," which is cabbage, leek, kale (the sneakiest of vegetables) and broccoli juice, is fun, and drinking it is fun, too. But this all lasts about 1 ½ minutes per meal, which leaves a whole lot of the day to moon over things like quinoa cereal with almond butter. I feel like Homer Simpson with doughnuts: "mmm ... quinoa ... "

Day 26: Start to get a cold; endure ribbing from friends who think what my body needs is a big tray of grease. Devout to the end, I treat my cold with juices and light veggie dishes, which taste good.

Day 28: Done! I've lost nine pounds in a month, and feel so good I'm going to keep going (loosely) on the plan, supplemented by a little dairy and, of course, medicinal doses of coffee.

Anne Hurley: ahurley@seattletimes.com

Detox resources

Bastyr Center for Natural Health: Detoxification diets, information, referrals and appointments: www.bastyrcenter.org/content/view/205/

The Sanctuary Spa: 8862 161st Ave. N.E., Redmond, 425-895-9900; www.thesanctuaryredmond.com

Soul Ease Yoga Spa: 114 Central Way, Kirkland, 425-828-9770; www.soulease.net

www.detox.org, a consortium of physicians who recommend and oversee detox cleanse programs around the West.


There are dozens of books extolling the claims of detoxing; here are some of the most popular, according to Amazon.com:

"The New Detox Diet: The Complete Guide for Lifelong Vitality," by Elson M. Haas, M.D. Celestial Arts, $16.95. This common-sense handbook is grounded in reality and contains excellent recipes and menu plans.

"The Detox Solution: The Missing Link to Radiant Health, Abundant Energy, Ideal Weight and Peace of Mind," by Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald, Illumination Press, $19.95. Fitzgerald's book contains good nutritional information and explores more of the emotional connections to losing touch with one's body; Fitzgerald has become a media personality on the subject of detox cleanses, and her background as an acupuncturist, nutritionist and doctor of homeopathic medicine is impressive. Her Web site: www.thedetoxsolution.com

"Detox for Life: Detox Your Mind, Body, Relationships and Home," by Josephine Collins, Nyland, Peters & Small, $19.95. This pretty coffee-table book has some useful diet-detox tips (a great chart on herbs and their uses) and lots of other marginal info ("Ten Tips for Flirting"), though the chapters on creating a more supportive home environment might be useful to some.

"The Detox Book," by Bruce Fife, N.D., Piccadilly Books, $20. Fife's book is more woo-woo than my comfort zone would prefer, detailing different types of "organ" cleanses, promising the flushing of "stones" from the system, suggesting the drinking of "food-grade hydrogen peroxide" to aid types of elimination, and promising that detoxing is the cure for virtually all modern diseases.

Anne Hurley

Dear Reader

Have you ever tried a detox cleanse? Or do you wonder about them? Send your experiences and questions to talktous@seattletimes.com, and we'll get some experts to respond for a followup story.