Before we dive into this, I have a confession to make. I'm a fairly clean-eating vegetarian who hasn't eaten dairy for about three months now. So when the Sakara team approached me about doing their new Level II detox (a five-day intensive cleanse program designed with top New York City medical practitioner Aviva Romm, MD) I didn't even blink. It'll be easy, I thought to myself, I love Sakara's meals. So I immediately typed "I'm in" and hit send without any hesitation whatsoever. How hard can it be? Well, as someone who's never detoxed before (I did go sugar-free for a month, does that count?), I didn't realize the challenge ahead. Since I failed to read the fine print in that initial email, I learned later on that a true detox is quite the undertaking, and you need to be prepared both physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The emotional part of the detox was surprising and something I truly didn't expect (cut to the end of this piece for my spiritual awakening), but as Sakara co-founders, Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle explained, detoxing is also about stripping away the negative thought patterns and behaviors that are weighing you down. "You're not just cleansing from food, but also deep-rooted emotions and thoughts that are keeping you from feeling like your best self," they said. You see, when you cut out all dairy, sugar, grains, nuts, soy, and nightshades from your diet, your body goes through a major cleansing and detoxification process, which results in a very powerful transformative experience, both inside and out. And I certainly felt it.
You might think by omitting all these food groups it doesn't leave much left to eat, right? But you'd be wrong. The number one detox myth the Sakara girls want to debunk through this program is that you can't eat food and still detox. "A liquid-only diet is not the only way to detox, and many times juice cleanses are laden with sugar and lacking in important plant fibers (aka microbiome food), which counteract any detoxification benefits," they told MyDomaine. "We wanted to create this detox to show people that food truly is medicine, and powerful detoxing comes from flooding the body with all the nutrients it needs." So come with me as I take you through my detox journey, for better and for worse, and then for better, again. It was a wild and enlightening ride.
Jenna Peffley for MyDomaine
Since I was already a clean-eating vegetarian I didn't think there would be much preparation. The program is 100% organic and plant-based, so what was there to prep for? A lot, actually. For one, there's no caffeine allowed. This meant I had to give up my favorite morning ritual: coffee. Ditching the java juice was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and I hadn't even started the detox yet—here are all the details of my caffeine cleanse if you're game. But as DuBoise explained, even if you eat clean now, you may have toxic buildup that's been accumulating in your body for a long time.
"Level II is designed to release those toxins, while also eliminating things from your diet that are fine in moderation (like caffeine and alcohol) but can cause stress and inflammation on your system in excess," she said. "The program also gives your digestive system a rest so your body can heal. And everyone can benefit from devoting a few days to themselves and their health." In order to transition my body for the detox, I was asked to do the following for the first five days before:
Eat (extra) clean.
Now was the time to eat a really clean, plant-based diet. This meant cutting out all processed and packaged foods, sweets, and junk and eating four to six cups of leafy greens each day. Trust me, that's harder than it sounds.
To flush out those lingering toxins I had to drink three liters of water a day.
Say goodbye to coffee and sugar (that means alcohol, too).
Since there is no caffeine or sugar on Level II, cutting it out before you start means you'll experience fewer cravings and better detoxification results.
Adjust my calendar.
This program is all about me, so that meant scaling back my calendar and opting out of social events. So I swapped out happy hour drinks and birthday dinners for relaxing baths and yoga instead.
Set my intentions.
Remember that thoughts become things! I was advised to set aside some time to think about why I was doing this program and to focus on what I want to get out of it, physically and emotionally.
Track my progress.
I wrote so much down during my pre, during, and post detox process. It was amazing how much I wanted to journal and detail my experience. Sharing it with everyone around me really helped to stay on track when I really wanted to throw in the towel. (Trust me, everyone knew about my detox!)
DAY 1: A Little Nervous But Ready for a Challenge
I woke up feeling ready and full of energy despite being a little nauseous and really nervous about the five days ahead. But I had already done the hard part five days earlier (quitting caffeine was hell), and I was so glad I leaned into the detox by weaning off sugar too. So, thankfully, I didn't feel too many detox effects on day one, but it was early days. I knew this would be harder than it seemed, but I was feeling brave. So I gave my body a dry brush (provided in the kit and required twice daily to stimulate the lymphatic system), drank my beauty water (yes, this exists) and proceeded to breakfast.
One of the hardest things was waking up to salad and vegetables. My palette isn't used to eating root vegetables first thing in the morning, so this meal was certainly interesting. I can't say I've ever had dinner for breakfast, but it was an experience. I made sure I took mindful bites (as per the recommendation) and the sauce provided was surprisingly flavorful considering it had no sugar, dairy or grains. Once eaten, I swallowed my morning pack of medical-grade vitamins.
About two hours after breakfast, you're given a digestive herbal tea that aids the detoxification process. The tea is bitter, but it helped to settle my stomach, activate my liver, and reduce bloating.
The mineralizing nori wrap with superfood wasabi was the highlight of my day. It was surprisingly filling; I could hardly eat it all. It had broccoli, avocado, cucumber, and celery root wrapped in nori. It also came with a small salad. Delicious.
Mid-Afternoon Prebiotic Drink
This electrolyte-rich afternoon drink was a much-needed pick-me-up. The coconut meat in the coconut water gave me a healthy dose of fatty acids and saturated fats. It really boosted my energy too. I'm so glad this drink exists in the detox because it really helped carry me through to dinner each day, and I really looked forward to it.
For the first four nights, you are given a medicinal broth for your final meal. This was hands down the hardest part about the detox. All of the food provided was great, delicious, and nutritious, but the broth was hard to swallow. I knew how much good it was doing my body though, so I drank it slowly and with each sip I thanked this magical blend of 20 medicinal mushrooms, healing spices, nourishing omegas, and ancient herbs for nourishing my body. It wasn't easy.
After the broth, you are given a detox water with chlorophyll, magnesium, and 72 ionic trace minerals. It's refreshing and tastes good too.
DAY 2: Feeling Optimistic
I woke up energized and certainly not as nauseous as the morning before. Surprisingly, I wasn't feeling that hungry. I sipped my beauty water but desperately craved my morning cup of Earl Grey tea (more from a simple morning ritual perspective than an actual bodily need).
This morning's option, Deep Forest Detox, was much tastier than the morning before with its fennel, sunchoke, burdock root, celery root, and kale. I'm not sure if it was just my taste buds opening up to new flavors (now that sugar was out of my body), but I didn't hate eating it.
Doing the detox during the workweek was a blessing and a curse. I was too distracted and busy to realize I was detoxing, but the high level of tea and water I was drinking to flush out the toxins meant I was getting up to pee every hour. It was tedious but it felt good to drink that much and made me realize how little I do drink during the day. Lunch was tasty, and I ate all of it. I felt like I couldn't eat much on day one but today it felt much easier to chew and get through the meals. By the time I got to 3 p.m. however, I was hankering for that probiotic kefir coconut drink. I now live for that drink. It gets me through without any hunger pains (well, not major ones) until dinner.
Guess what's on the menu? Yup, medicinal broth. I heated it up and sat down with all my liquids lined up in front of me ready to feast like a detox queen—my broth, night water, and digestive tea. Despite the flavor, I felt surprisingly satisfied after drinking it. But by 9 p.m. my stomach was grumbling. So I went to bed. When there are no post-dinner snacks or a glass of wine waiting for you after you put your son to bed, there really isn't anything else to be up for. Really. I felt like a grandma, albeit a hungry one. So I took some deep mindful breaths and called it a night. Sleep is definitely what my body needed anyway.
DAY 3: Fatigued But Determined
Luckily the online nature of my role allows me to work from home (and I thankfully work for a company that allows that open office flexibility). Why? Because by day three I was really feeling the "cleanse" part of the detox. Let's just say after a few nights of only having Iiquid broth entering your body for dinner, there isn't much else but liquid to leave it either. I was also experiencing the detoxification effects: a slight headache, fatigue, low energy levels, lightheadedness, body aches, diarrhea, and irritability. But as Duboise explains, this is because I'm eliminating common culprits of inflammation, sugar spikes, and harmful bacteria in the gut.
"Through whole foods, you're simultaneously flooding your body with nutrients to help actively heal and repair," she adds. "If it feels challenging, remember that you're taking your body out of a chronic state of stress and resetting it to a natural state of feeling happy, healthy, rested, and clean." I was certainly feeling that "challenging" part, and from this point on, it really took a lot of self-discipline to keep going, but I was determined to see it through.
After two days of eating unsweetened, veggie-packed breakfasts, I ate this one without the trepidation I had earlier in the week. I heated it slightly, chewed mindfully, and felt nourished, surprisingly.
This was the most delicious meal of the week. The cabbage dumplings were so yummy, but it was the healing galangal broth that made it extra tasty. After having mostly cold salads for the first two days, this was a welcome warm meal.
The broth was really hard to swallow tonight. I think after having such light meals the past three days and little chewing for dinner, I was feeling the effects. I was also feeling hungry tonight but according to the manual, that's a normal part of the detox process. "Your meals are designed to decrease the amount of work your digestive system has to do in order to assimilate nutrients. So you might feel hungry sometimes, but that's okay. Allowing yourself to feel a little hungry every now and then gives your body a chance to cleanse without being bombarded with more digestive work. This is when the healing occurs." So with that advice, I gave my slightly hungry body a dry scrub, bath, and went to bed early.
DAY 4: SOUP DAY (AKA Liquids All Day)
Soup day is all liquids, from breakfast to dinner. Without a doubt, this was the absolute hardest part of the entire five-day detox. Yes, it's day four, so you think the worst of it is over, but in fact, this is when the real detox kicks in. It's when your body does the most work, and while it's hard, I understand now how crucial it was in the process (hindsight is 20/20).
This liquid day is fundamental to removing digestive stress in the body. Since there is very minimal digestion happening, it helps your body focus on healing. To rectify the fact I wasn't eating, I drank a boatload of herbal tea to curb my hunger (and boy was I hungry). It also happened that my soup day fell on a Saturday, which didn't help since my husband and son were not detoxing and proceeded to enjoy their regular weekend meals of waffles, burgers, and chips. Torture.
The morning greens detox blend is delicious. I am so thrilled to have a green smoothie that I savour every last drop. Unfortunately, the bottle went down too quickly, and I proceeded to have another herbal tea, followed by another, and another.
When I said the cabbage dumplings were the most delicious, I lied. It was this alkalizing carrot and ginger soup. Wow, this is definitely a meal I would eat outside of the detox. It was smooth and surprisingly creamy with a great ginger kick to it. It filled me up too, at least until the coconut kefir drink mid-afternoon.
Since I had only had liquids all day, I must confess that being faced with the medicinal broth, again, for dinner was really tough. I really did not feel like it, but I remembered Whitney's kind note on Instagram and it got me through it; "I know it ain't easy (that's why it's Level II) but your body is strong and an amazing healer on its own. Message me if you need anything—even just moral support!" Bless.
DAY 5: ALMOST THERE, and I feel amazing
Day five could not come soon enough. I woke up feeling like a child giddy with excitement at being able to chew something again. On the last day of my detox, it was time to reflect on the wave of emotions I rode from I can't do this anymore to I'm feeling so good, this is easy. But as I moved out of day five and slowly eased back into eating regular food, I have to say the biggest thing I've taken out of this cleanse (aside from my body being healed from the inside) is the clarity and awakening across so many aspects of my life.
The Sakara team mentioned it would happen at the beginning, but it's not until you experience it that you truly understand. Cleansing is worth it just for that alone. It allowed the fog to lift and my mind to be quiet, helping me focus on the truly important things that are happening around me in the moment and opening up creative portals that were sitting dormant for so long. So if you've been thinking about doing a detox, be ready because it's certainly challenging, but there are so many reasons it's worth it. I'm grateful for the opportunity.
Today it was all about reintroducing solids again. The sunshine squash protein frittata was mind-blowingly good. When you've just had liquids all day, your body welcomes any solids with open taste buds. And mine were jumping off my tongue with joy at each bite.
Finally, a cleansing kale salad with acorn squash, purple cauliflower, zucchini, and sunflower seed romesco. I was in heaven. I devoured every last morsel. If there's one thing this detox taught me, it was gratitude, and I had an immense amount of it for this meal. I could have burst with happiness.
This was my first day chewing for dinner, and it was the best feeling. Honestly, I can't explain the gratitude. I know I have gone on about it, but being reminded of the simple pleasure of chewing and eating is such a rare and unique moment of bliss. I reveled in it. And the detox macro bowl with Japanese pumpkin, hijiki, purple cauliflower, Anasazi beans, and avocado shiso dressing was the best reward.
DAY 6: I DID IT!
I truly feel like I rode an emotional roller coaster over the course of this five-day detox. And I have to say, the one thing that got me through this whole detox was my morning commute to work listening to Patti Smith poetically recite her story Just Kids on Audible. The bittersweet tale moved me, and in my mindful (and lightheaded) detox state, it opened my eyes to new possibilities and inspired my inner creative to explore different mediums. I feel like picking up a camera again and taking photos, and my mind is racing with new ways I can express myself through art. I had no idea that a detox would lift the fog of reality from my eyes and awaken my spirit in the way that it did.
It sounds like witchcraft and a little woo-woo, but I really believe I was in a heightened state of awareness with a sharp mind and crystal clarity. A whimsical feeling overtook me, something I hadn't felt since a child. It was unexpected and completely overwhelming, and I definitely got in touch with my artistic self. I felt liberated from the constraints and shackles of perfectionism; I was finally able to let go. It felt good.
I'm so thankful for Michelle from the Sakara Wellness Team who was assigned as my daily support. She truly helped me during moments of struggle and many hunger pains. I physically and mentally feel so accomplished; it's amazing how good I feel. My self-discipline (which is already pretty solid) was definitely challenged, but I'm proud I stuck to the program.
But aside from the physical (and spiritual) change, my skin is positively glowing. It's the clearest it's been since I was a teenager—no redness, inflammation, or breakouts. I don't look tired or saggy. It truly is a skin miracle. All the bloating I had been experiencing pre-detox was gone too. I was charged with a boundless energy, not just within my body but my mind too. I can't recommend this detox enough. While I wasn't sure if it was necessary at first, now I'm going to make it an annual affair. In fact, my husband is currently on his fifth day of a gut cleanse detox after seeing how good I looked and felt. True story.
Have you ever done an intense detox before? Did you have an emotional experience too?
This detox plan was paid for by Sakara. Editors' opinions are their own.