In life, we have to rid ourselves of junk: piles of paper, books we no longer read, old clothes and all that clutter. Our bodies are no different. Taking a rest from certain foods is a great way clean out your body and listen to what it needs.

As a busy mom of two, I am guilty of revving up in the morning with caffeine and little else. Often lunch is forgotten, or eaten in a haze of meeting deadlines. After school, when the crash hits I take the kids for a “treat” but we all know it is really for me because I could kill someone for a cookie and a latte. By the time dinner-bath-bed is over, I cruise into the kitchen and anything looks good. Often, I finish their dinner. Hang on, where’s my dinner?

In any given day, my food intake can consist of coffee, sugar, and uneaten tubs of veggie sticks and hummus in the schoolyard. Sound familiar? If moms fed themselves half as healthily as we feed our children, we would be glowing pillars of strength as opposed to sunken-eyed corpses staring back in the mirror some days.

So, what if you decided for two weeks to focus on your nutritional health: on taking certain culprits off your plate, and filling up your plate with the good stuff?

The word “cleanse” gets a bad rep because it comes with the idea of deprivation, hunger and self-disciplined rigor. When I told friends and colleagues I was cleansing again, there was the litany of comments: But you are so healthy…I could never give up coffee/sugar/bread…what do you eat…aren’t you hungry?

Cleansing is as much about what put onto your plate, as what you take off. “A good cleanse can help reset your entire system,” says Jules Peláez, the co-creator of The Conscious Cleanse, a program that focuses on whole-food eating, eliminating sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine and other foods for two weeks, then slowly reintroducing them through testing periods. “A cleanse helps us slow down, be present to what and how we’re eating and gives us a break from foods that could be causing cravings and fatigue,” says Peláez. “And a funny thing happens when you clean out your system – your cravings shift.”

I had done The Conscious Cleanse in the past, with both success and failure. The focus is on eating whole, unprocessed foods: the mainstays are non-starchy vegetables, proteins like chicken breast and salmon, legumes, gluten-free grains like quinoa and brown rice, nuts and tons of water. Breakfast time meant green smoothies, lunches of carrot-lentil soup or giant salads, and dinner with more veggies and protein. A central tenet of the cleanse is food combining – eating protein with veggies, veggies with starch but never protein with starch. Fruit is allowed, but if you are trying to kick a sugar habit – like I was – try to limit it to those lower on the glycemic index like apples and berries.

Doing all this for two weeks can be a little tough for many people. But if you are going to try and give three foods a rest, here are my top three culprits – and why:

Gluten
You love bread. And cereal. And pasta. But, do they love you?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats (those that aren’t designated gluten-free), which has a glue-like property that helps bind and thicken food. Unfortunately, it can also do this to your insides making you feel bloated. Too much gluten can lead to weight gain.

There have been countless, brilliant articles on the rise of the gluten-free movement. Research says that as many as one-third of North Americans are trying to go gluten-free, and sales of gluten-free products in 2016 are expected to exceed 15 billion dollars. But do you need to give it a break? Or are people jumping on a bandwagon because of the mounting evidence that giving up gluten helps you lose weight?

The answer is complicated: research suggests that only about 1% of the population has celiac disease – a condition that causes an abnormal response to gluten – meaning that most people can tolerate gluten. Celiacs, however, can’t digest gluten and eating it can cause damage to their intestines. For the rest of us, giving gluten a miss for a couple of weeks is a good way to discover if you are better off without it, or in moderation. Remember – taking away any food group for a few weeks will likely result in weight loss, as you are taking those calories out of your diet.

If you love pasta, there are lots of options – quinoa and brown rice pasta are readily available in grocery stores. Be careful about stocking up on gluten-free products like crackers and cookies – more often than not, they take out gluten and pump in sugar. And, when you eliminate any food from your diet, you need to make sure you replace the nutrients that are lost – filling up your plate with lots of vegetables and fruit is a good way to make sure you aren’t robbing your body of nutrients.

Dairy
Once upon a time a Kardashian gave up dairy and lost weight. The end.

The anti-dairy movement is almost as strong as the gluten-free movement, with almond milk sales soaring across North America. However, there is some credence to it: most of us stop producing the enzyme that helps us breakdown lactose after we have been weaned as babies. The result? When we take in dairy products like milk, cheese, butter and ice cream, and we can’t digest them well. End result? Bloat. While various dairy associations and milk boards have run successful PR campaigns claiming you need milk for strong bones and for healthy living, the fact is you can get calcium from a number of sources – green leafy vegetables being one of the best. Try to cut out dairy for two weeks and see how you feel. No one is saying you have to say goodbye to cheese forever.

Sugar

Sugar is a carbohydrate that provides us with energy – its sole purpose. It has no nutritional value, and undeniably it is making us fat. In fact, sugar is killing us. And it is everywhere and in everything, particularly processed food, a staple in many households. According to Statistics Canada, one out of every five calories Canadians consume each day comes from sugar; this works out to 26 teaspoons of sugar a day. Our sugar consumption has more than doubled in the last decade. And it is wreaking havoc on our bodies. Here is a lowdown on the damaging effects of sugar…

 

  • Sugar causes our blood sugar levels to spike: we eat sugar, we crave it more. It causes mood swings, and irritability
  • Our immune system can be reduced by as much as 80% after eating sugar
  • Consuming too much sugar can deplete our bodies of essential vitamins and minerals
  • Sugar causes acne, skin problems and accelerates aging
  • Sugar is the one of the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease
  • Sugar stresses us out: after we have a big dose, our energy dips down and our body releases stress hormones like cortisol to raise the blood sugar back up again – but this can make us feel shaky and anxious.

 

If you take only one thing off your plate for two weeks, make it sugar (that includes most alcohol – which is full of sugar). You won’t break the addiction in two weeks (it will take longer than that) but see how you feel.

In The Conscious Cleanse, there are many other foods you don’t eat for two weeks: soy (including tamari and edamame), eggs, corn, starchy vegetables and nightshades. The focus is on greens – raw, steamed, blended, in soups – and other veggies. But after two weeks, you really do feel amazing. It is whether you can sustain that healthy lifestyle which becomes the pressing question.

At the end of two weeks, I felt lighter, clearer and more positive. I had lost six pounds, but other members of the cleanse were reporting 10-15 lb weight loss. I no longer craved my 3pm “pick me up”, had lost the little bit bloat around my middle that sugar (and wine!) always brings and felt vibrant.

But could I sustain it?

Stay tuned for my next blog – After the Cleanse: Can you truly moderate?

Erin Phelan is a health and fitness professional, personal trainer and writer. Find her at www.80-percent.com, Follow herFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.