I once fasted for 9 days on water when I was 18. Only water. I hallucinated a lot and was pretty weak. On Day 5, I was convinced that one of the other cleansers at the retreat center was a giant chocolate Easter bunny that I should eat.
(Don't worry, I was not water fasting on my own as we were supervised by holistic MDs at a residential wellness clinic.)
(Also, I did not eat the other cleanser.)
A few years later I attempted the Master Cleanse, where you only drink water with lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne for ten days. I was saying impressive things like, "Hey, have you seen my jar of Master Cleanse lemonade? ....What...? I am holding it? ....Oh." On day 3 of 10, my boss told me I needed to start eating or I could lose my job because I was making too many costly mistakes.
Then there was the time I tried to drink only green juices for a week. During a blizzard. After two days of weeping and the shakes, I started eating again.
I have spoken to 100s of clients who have told me similar stories of the different types of austere cleanses that they attempted. Often, their digestion will be wrecked for months or even years afterwards. Their adrenals may have been hit hard and they can't recover their strength. They quickly gain back the weight they lost - and more. Cravings overrule any sense of rational thoughts and they binge on cookies and chips.
Extreme cleanses can be too depleting to be effective. They can also start inner alarm bells that convince our nervous system that we are in danger, and that our body should hold onto all resources to help us survive the catastrophe, including extra weight and toxins.
Over the last 11 years I have personally guided over 3000 people in how to benefit from Ayurvedic cleansing, which is nourishing and strengthening while also detoxifying. I have also guided over 10,000 people in group cleanses.
Kitchari: Ayurveda's Detox Meal
One of the main pillars of an Ayurvedic cleanse is a healing dish of rice and lentils called kitchari (aka kichadi and kitchari). Kitchari is considered one of the most healing foods in Ayurveda and has been used for 1000s of years: by yogis, during Panchakarma deep detox retreats, for babies and the elderly, or to heal from an illness. Unlike severe fasts, kitchari provides carbohydrates and protein that keeps your blood sugar and nervous system calm and stable, while healing the lining of the gut.
As it is best to eat only kitchari, this cleanse is simple. No lengthy grocery lists, complicated recipes with strange ingredients or hours in the kitchen juicing and whipping up many mini meals.
I have done my own kitchari cleanse at least 25 times (I lost count). I have done it when I felt sick, had seasonal allergies, ate too many holiday treats, couldn't afford groceries and was waiting for my next paycheck, broke out in a strange rash, looked and felt like a slug after 7 months of travel, and at every change of season as 'health insurance' for longevity.
Personally, I call it a 'miracle meal' because it can help you feel better fast.
Simple ways to benefit from the healing powers of kitchari:
One Meal: Eat it for one of your meals. Great for breakfast, lunch or dinner!
One Day: Do a 1-day kitchari cleanse and only eat kitchari with cooked seasonal vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is especially beneficial if you do it once per week. If needed,you can add small amounts of whole food fats, such as 1-2 teaspoons of seeds (hemp, sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds) or 1/4 of an avocado. In the fall/winter, 1-2 teaspoons of ghee can be helpful.
For a Few Days: Follow the One Day plan above, and continue it for 3-5 days. In addition, drink CCF tea, which is a classic Ayurvedic digestive tea made with equal amounts of fennel, cumin and coriander seeds. The maximum is 7 days, as over-cleansing will deplete you. Wait at least 4-6 weeks before doing another one.
In another post I will go more into detail about how to do a more thorough cleanse that will also support a lovely detox of your liver and lymphatic system while nourishing your nervous system.
Simple Kitchari Recipe
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1 cup white basmati rice*
1 cup yellow split mung dal**
6 cups of water
1 handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
Thoroughly wash the rice and mung dal beans.
If you have time, soak the beans for a few hours or overnight (it's okay if you don't have time).
Dry roast the turmeric, cumin and coriander seeds for 1-2 minutes on medium heat in a pot.
Add the rice, dal and water to the pot.
Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and cover the pot with the lid a little bit ajar to prevent overflowing with foam.
Cook for 25-30 minutes until the rice and dahl are well cooked.
Serve with the chopped cilantro as a garnish
Add a little bit of Himalayan salt or sea salt to taste, if needed.
Flavor Variations: You can substitute almost any spices, as all spices have healing benefits. Here are a few ideas:
Turmeric and lemon juice only (this is surprisingly popular)
Cinnamon, cardamon and ginger
Mexican 'taco' seasoning with cilantro and lime juice (my favorite)
Italian herbs and lemon juice with fresh parsley
A few notes:
I love to cook mine in my pressure cooker or Instant Pot (at high pressure for 12 minutes)
A rice cooker also works great if the yellow split mung dal beans have been soaked overnight beforehand.
Though Ayurveda recommends preparing each meal fresh and not re-heating leftovers, I often make a big batch of kitchari to last me for 2-3 days, especially if I am busy or need to rest deeply. Though fresh food is best, we now have refrigerators and freezers that help preserve our foods more effectively than ancient times. Leftover kitchari usually need extra water added - more than you think. As it can turn a bit gelatinous in the fridge, I use a potato masher to turn it back into a soupy porridge.
*You can substitute brown basmati rice or quinoa if you need more energy and stamina. White basmati rice is the most cleansing and easiest to digest, but it isn't always the most filling on busy days.
**yellow split mung dal lentils can be hard to find. Look for organic ones online, or at your local Indian grocery store. Though they are one of the most common lentils in India, few health food stores (in America) carry them. If you cannot find them, whole mung beans (the green ones) or any small lentil will be fine.