I officially finished my 21-day Goop Cleanse last Thursday and enjoyed my first non-Elimination-Diet meal on Friday night when my friend made some amazing homemade pasta and a delicious lemon cake. Aside from my much-needed splurge, I plan to stick to the Elimination Diet as home base for the next week or two as I reintroduce foods into my diet.
The Cleanse has caused me to reflect on my own diet and food habits. During the last month, I have experienced a number of revelations about food, cooking, food culture, and myself that reach far beyond the limits of the Cleanse. These are lessons that I will apply to my cooking and eating habits in the future.
1. Sometimes a smoothie is what’s for dinner. “What’s for dinner?” seems to be the eternal question during the week when you’re done with work for the day and heading home. For me, it was always a bit stressful to figure out what to cook for dinner during the week, and quick dinners like homemade pizza often ended up in the rotation.
On the Cleanse, however, the dinner question practically disappeared. During the first week of the Cleanse, I made dinner most nights during the week, trying to come up with recipes that were Cleanse-friendly, but that somewhat resembled what I was used to eating. I ended up feeling overwhelmed. There I was preparing dinner for C and I, an Elimination Diet lunch and snacks for the next day, and smoothie ingredients for the following morning – something had to give.
I decided to let myself off the hook and fully embrace the Cleanse, which meant that dinner became a green smoothie and usually a side of cooked vegetables or socca. Sometimes that would be followed up with a bowl of fruit, millet, and toasted nuts in cashew milk, or sometimes C and I just enjoyed a mug of Chocolate Herbal Tea while watching an episode of Dexter.
Letting go of the daily dinner quandary was the best decision I have made in a while. Sticking to smoothies on busy days is healthy, cuts down on stress, and leaves you extra free time during the week. It’s basically like eating a big salad without the chopping and dressing. And it doesn’t have to be a smoothie to fit into a busy week – any simple dish with fruit and vegetables will do the trick.
2. Keep it simple. Aside from switching to smoothies for dinner, I realized that the best way to stick with the Cleanse was to keep meals simple. Steamed greens with roasted chicken and mushrooms is a delicious meal and Cleanse-friendly, so why make it more complicated and try to other people’s recipes that include ingredients that you can’t eat?
I learned to focus on the foods that I could eat: produce, gluten-free grains, and protein. Since I used to snack on bowls of cereal, I started combining cold cooked grains, toasted nuts, and chopped fresh fruit to make a healthy, unprocessed snack that could just as easily serve as a breakfast.
Another discovery during the Cleanse was the “steamed salad” work lunch. Salads seem to be a dieter’s standby, but to be honest, I get sick of eating salad for lunch everyday. The constant munching on raw vegetables is somewhat tiresome, and during the winter, I long for a warm, comforting meal to perk me up during the workday.
The Steamed Salad recipe is simple and not really a "recipe" at all. Take a microwave-safe lunch container and add:
Greens – spinach is my favorite for this, and I literally pack as much will fit into the container
Protein – roasted organic chicken breast was the most common for me, but fresh or cooked mushrooms were really flavorful and gave a meaty flavor to the dish too
Herbs (optional) – if you have fresh herbs, they are perfect in here. Just a few torn leaves of basil add lots of flavor.
Grains and Sauce (optional) – I sometimes add a bit of quinoa or millet to the bowl and some homemade Cleanse-friendly pesto (don't use store-bought pesto for this - it likely contains dairy).
Extra veggies (optional) – If you have leftover roasted veggies, throw a few in for flavor. Also, I like to peel long strips of raw carrots and add them to the bowl, and the result is that they steam quickly in the microwave and lend a light sweetness to the salad.
Lemon – slice off a sliver of a lemon and store it in the container, removing it before you microwave, and then squeeze the lemon juice over the top of the salad after cooking.
Seasoning – if you’re not using any sauce, you’ll probably want to add a pinch of salt to the dish, and maybe even some red pepper flakes if you want some heat. I refrain from adding garlic for the sake of my coworkers, but the choice is yours.
Microwave the salad covered for about 1 minute 30 seconds on high, until the greens have steamed and shrunk down and the other ingredients are warm. Squeeze the lemon over the top and stir to combine.
3. Feed your body, not your emotions. Food is extremely powerful and brings up lots of memories and emotions. I find myself drawn to certain foods when I’m in a particular mood, or even when the weather changes (snowy days inevitably lead to thoughts of mac and cheese, while a hot summer day might bring about gazpacho). There’s nothing inherently wrong with these emotions, but sometimes these tendencies can lead you to eat food for purely emotional reasons.
Food is expensive therapy, and unless you’re willing to pay the price, it's best to cope in other ways. Being on the Cleanse was a great way to cut down on emotional eating. Lots of snack and comfort foods were cut out of the Cleanse, including popcorn, potatoes, chocolate (other than cocoa powder), and anything containing wheat (bread, crackers, pretzels, pasta). I really couldn’t get into much trouble with fruits, vegetables, chicken, and quinoa in the house. I developed my Herbal Hot Chocolate to enjoy as a dessert at the end of the day and really enjoyed my whole grain “cereal” bowls, but those are healthy indulgences. It’s important to enjoy your food, but it's not meant to cure boredom, wake you up, or comfort you when you’re feeling sad.
I have realized that by practicing self love - nourishing your body with healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and making time in the day to do the things that you love - removes the urges that lead to emotional eating. In addition, but cutting out sugar, caffeine, and many carbohydrates, I found my mood was consistently calm during the Cleanse. Little things during the day bothered me less, and I felt more content. Whether that was because I was taking control of my food choices and working towards a higher goal, or just because good food makes you feel better, I’m not sure. In any case, I am still enjoying the foods and meals I discovered on the Cleanse, and I plan to use this experience to influence my cooking philosophy.
Food matters, and by nourishing your body with healthy foods that make you feel great, your soul can’t help but rejoice as well.