Last Thursday was day four of my cleanse, and at about 3:00 PM that afternoon my caffeine-withdrawal headache subsided for a few hours and I got a rush of energy that I had hoped would be an indicator of things to come. But that night I did not sleep a wink, and I felt like puking all day Friday. Saturday morning I woke up with a sinus infection to end all sinus infections that I tried to ignore, but by that afternoon I was lying prostrate in bed moaning in pain. By Sunday the entire right side of my face was paralyzed, and I could only chew food with the teeth at the back of the left side of my mouth. Which basically narrowed down my food choices to whatever would fit through a straw. My dead grandmother was allowed to eat more than I was.

Monday morning Jon said that if I didn’t call the doctor to get some antibiotics he was going to call up there himself, except he wouldn’t say it was because his wife had a sinus infection, he’d say it was because his wife needed a lobotomy. Did they have any spare q-tips? How about some cotton balls? Could he borrow a pair of dull-edged scissors? So I made an appointment for that afternoon, hauled my miserable body up to the clinic and told my story to the doctor. He nodded, said, yep, sounds like another sinus infection, and as he picked up his pen to start writing me a prescription I casually mentioned that I had started a diet cleanse a week earlier. Not a crazy one, no. It’s not one of those cleanses that requires you to shove a garden hose up your colon, so you can stop worrying that I am going to poop right here on the table in your examination room.

He stopped himself immediately, set down his pen and was all, you’re doing what? So I repeated myself and listed off all the things that I had not eaten in almost eight days. He shook his head silently, leaned over so that his elbows were resting on his knees and said, “Do you want to know my medical opinion about that?”

“That depends,” I said, not sure yet if I wanted him to agree or disagree with me. Here I had gone almost eight days on this cleanse without slipping up once, and if he was going to tell me that he thought I was crazy then I might just have to poop on his examination table. Because DO YOU KNOW WHAT I HAVEN’T EATEN IN ALMOST EIGHT DAYS? I COULD GIVE YOU A LIST BUT YOU’D GET BORED AFTER PAGE 200. But if he thought that what I was doing was fine, then oh my god, I’d have to go how many more days without sugar? Thirteen? I can’t even count that high.

He continued to shake his head. “I am absolutely certain,” he continued, “that the reason you have this sinus infection is because you’re doing this cleanse. And my opinion is that you should stop.”

I almost kissed that man on the lips.

I hadn’t gone into that room looking for a reason to stop the cleanse, but when those words came out of his mouth I realized just how miserable I had been all week. And because my emotions were so out of whack it felt like he had told me that from now on when I peed, one hundred dollar bills would fall out of my vagina and into the toilet.

So I got in my car, drove to the grocery store, dropped off my prescription at the pharmacy and then walked over to the British foods section, picked up a package of Hobnobs, and ate one right there in the aisle BEFORE I EVEN PAID FOR IT. I had to grab hold of the shelves to balance myself because I experienced a full-body orgasm.

And then Mama had a glass of wine with dinner.

But the interesting thing has been that I haven’t gone off the cleanse all that much. In fact, I tried having a cup of coffee yesterday morning, but it tasted rancid. And all day today my meals have been meals I would have eaten on the cleanse. So I think that what I experienced and learned in those eight days has made a huge difference in my attitude and awareness of food. I’ve already made the decision to give up artificial sweeteners and to cut back dramatically on milk, cheese, and bread. I’m also excited to eat more of the foods that I found that have no added sugars (pasta sauces in particular, and I’m loving pasta made with brown rice), and am ready to cut back on all meat that hasn’t been raised ethically (yes, I know, many of you will have so much to say about this in the comments, I can see the adjectives now). This means I will most likely go without meat for long periods of time which doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me now that I’ve found The Sweet Potato. Also, I don’t see myself ever being a regular coffee drinker again. That’s a huge change in just eight days.

The biggest difference I noticed and continue to notice is how much better I am at handling my anxiety, it’s almost like night and day. I’m knee-deep in the middle of making revisions to the manuscript of my second book that comes out next year, and because I’m looking squarely between the eyes of a deadline I’d normally wake up feeling like I’d just swallowed a box of razors. And I haven’t felt that in over ten days. It’s been a refreshing break from the dizzying nausea that usually greets me in the morning.

My friend Carol had been doing the cleanse with me, and she got just as sick if not sicker than I got, so when I was driving from the doctor’s office to the grocery store I called her from my cell phone, something I don’t normally do because if it were legal I’d carry around a gun and shoot people who drive and talk on their cell phones at the same time, but this was important, I was about to change someone’s life. When she answered her phone she sounded like she was on the verge of dying, so I told her what my doctor had told me, and I thought I heard the faint whisper of a tear roll down her cheek. “Thank God!” she said. “Thank God you got sick and went to the doctor!”

And then we agreed that we should both send him flowers.

  • J. Bo

    Sometimes a (brief) severe regimen can jump-start a (long-term) mindful plan. Sounds like you just experienced exactly that.

    I raise my glass in your direction, toasting good nutrition, good health, and good vibes, whatever that means for you and however you manage to get there!

  • Liz

    Yeah! I can quit feeling guilty that i’m not cleansing too!

  • Pete Dunn

    I have a steak and a bottle of Southern Comfort with your name on it. Just say the word.

  • Chris Howard

    Wow, previous commenter Amy J. really hit it on the head. The only thing I have to add is to read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. He discusses all the nutrition fads and crazes, and comes up with some very common sense rules for us all to follow- eat real food, mostly vegetables, not too much.

  • Cara

    I’m really happy that you are so open about your experience with this “cleanse.” It seems like so often you see celebrities – Oprah, I’m talking to you – who push these sorts of diets and regular folks think “well, heck, Oprah did it, it must be okay” and the fact is, they just aren’t healthy.

    By the way, the verification words for me to type in are: SENDING DEFEAT. Awfully pessimistic for a computer.

  • DeAnna

    If yer gonna be gettin’ all healthy and shit, you might like Susun Weed. She’s an herbalist, and she’s all about eating healthy and she talks about how “food is medicine” and other things that would make your mother roll her eyes. However, her website is pretty terrible and makes me want to roll my eyes so much that I can hardly read any of it. Best to try out her book, Healing Wise.

    And also, I’m impressed that your doctor asked you first if you wanted his opinion. I like a doctor who knows how to let the patient choose the level of information they want. More doctors should do that.

  • Megan

    May I suggest trying the Caramel Bar recipe in the link to celebrate? They are dangerous, in all the good ways, and just might lead to another climactic day. For real.

  • Astrogirl426

    Oh, I’m so sorry to hear you got sick, but I’m glad you decided to end the cleanse. As soon as I read how sick you were, I thought, she needs to stop cleansing. Even if the cleanse itself didn’t make you sick, once you got sick, it didn’t make any sense to keep cleansing.

    And good for you that you had such great results come out of it. I too am trying to be more mindful of what I eat, and have found that it’s not about depriving myself of things I like, it’s about upgrading. So when I want some chocolate, instead of eating a half package of Oreos, I instead eat few pieces of really good dark chocolate. We can still have the yummy things we want; we just need to choose the better quality items (the choice you made about meat is an excellent point). Yay, Dooce!

  • Marianne

    The Sweet Potato truly is a gift from the Gods.

    Glad that this cleanse has helped you learn more about your approach to food, but it’s a shame that you ended up sick in the process.

  • Jen in OR

    I ALWAYS choose the thing with sugar over the thing with chemicals designed to taste like sugar. I don’t understand why people are all excited about splenda and the like. The little voice in my head says that stuff is unnatural and wrong.

    Enjoy your cookies, cheese and humane meat!!

  • Jacquie

    Eight days is cleansing enough, for God’s sake.

    How clean do you want to be, anyway?

    Glad you’re feeling better, enjoy the subdued retox :)

  • Connie


    (Not really, I just always wanted to use that in proper context.)

    I wonder what Oprah went/is going through. She probably lied. You know she must have lied. You know she threw in a cheeseburger here and there along with a bottle of Bourbon. You know it.

  • Becky

    You’re the valedictorian of honesty.

  • M@

    Did he say HOW they were connected? I don’t know much about nutrition or health, but I don’t know how a sinus issue can be connected to a GI cleanse issue. Did it lower your immune system perhaps? Was it shock from such a drastic change so quickly? I’d like to know because I was considering the same cleanse.

  • Karen Sugarpants

    I recently blogged about doing a cleanse (June 12) and ultimately decided against it right before you began blogging about yours. Sorry Heather, but THANK GOD. If yours had gone well, I might have reconsidered. There goes $65!
    Anyway, what I have found is that there are many blogs out there that have recipes that are super healthy and packed with natural foods – shop the perimeter of your grocery store only and check out some of the blogs I listed in my April 17th entry – Delicious Wisdom has this vodka tomato penne that my family loved and it’s good for you! :)
    (I didn’t include the links cuz I’m trying not to be spammy)

  • Tay

    It’s both a relief and a disappointment it didn’t work out for the full 21 days. My guess is that, despite not depriving yourself of anything necessary to your health, your body had come to be dependent on all sorts of things and started to go into shock when it unexpectedly had to go without. It’s like you got the DT’s of food addiction, or something.

    I fully support and am excited by your decision to eat cruelty free meat :) I’ve been vegan for some time now, couldn’t be happier or healthier.

  • Sarah

    Giving up caffeine is HUGE; good for you! On a completely unrelated note, I enjoyed listening to your interview. You know, it’s kind of Buddhist – the fact that you enjoy the writing about here and now and not having to string longer narrative together with a theme; you’re staying in the moment. It also reminded me a lot of that same tendency I’ve been struggling with in myself. BUT, we may be rewired to be that way. Check out the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in the current Atlantic. Maybe it’s becoming that way for writers who blog, too :)

  • Little Read Hen

    Have you tried the rice pasta from Trader Joe’s? They do the best one that I have been able to find and don’t charge five times as much for it. Tinkyada is also very good.

  • merlotmom

    Oh, thank god! I was hoping you’d come to this very conclusion but didn’t want to be the party pooper. Getting rid of caffeine, white sugar and white flour, and minimizing the alcohol, will do wonders and you can still LIVE. Congratulations and now that you have that sinus infection – nettie pot anyone??

  • Helen

    Okay, so now don’t you feel just *a little bit* bad about having removed whatever comments were in opposition to your cleanse post?

    You deleted a lot of them — I went through and found many numbers were missing. I wonder why you didn’t want to hear the not-so-good things people had to say. All positive comments sounds boring to me, but what do I know…

    Anyway, glad to hear you’re being less militant to yourself.

  • starshine

    It sounds like you really learned a lot from this experience.

    I think cleanses are good–sort of like hitting a reset button on your system. In many ways, it sounds like that happened for you in spite of having to cut it short.

    Good for you for listening to your body and to your doctor!

    Now get well soon!

  • Tana

    Food is a drug. It has a chemical reaction within our bodies so it stands to reason it would affect us so. It sure seems to me that sticking to a diabetic diet, whether diabetic or not makes a big difference. I know I get terribly depressed if I eat too much white foods (white bread, white pasta).

    Good luck with that.

  • Jennifer

    I made the sweet potato fries tonight. Yum. :)

    Cleanse, schmeanse. You rock no matter what. :)

  • Jen

    Awesome post!! I have entertained the thought of doing a cleanse, but thqanks to you, I will just modify my habits!!

  • Ava’s nanny

    I did a mini-version of your cleanse and realized on day 2 how much I love Pink Prosecco. Now I won’t feel guilty for having some, knowing it’s hard for others, too. :) Thank yoooooooou.

  • Amy

    #187: LION BARS. YES. GOD, YES.

  • Mandy

    I’ve been thinking about doing this cleanse, too, so I’m also curious to know why it was your doctor felt the cleanse was causing the problem.

  • naia

    i have to make a comment about tofu since it is what most vegetarians and vegans are told to eat. i think the tofu that’s available here in the u.s. is highly processed therefore difficult to digest, especially food products with soy in them like soy patty for instance. people in asia do eat a lot of tofu (i’m korean by the way) but it’s really different from how it’s made and cooked here. and some people even make their own tofu which tastes absolutely amazing, full of flavor, nothing like the processed ones. i hope one day if you haven’t already, be able to taste it. someone should really look into this. there’s such a huge market for it.

  • Ava’s nanny

    P.S. Sweet potato fries rawk with edamame.

  • Heather

    MODERATION. Everything in moderation. Caffine, alcohol, meat, dairy, fruit. Even too many sweet potatoes can make ya sick if you eat too many.

  • Lisa

    Good to know! You saved the rest of us from having to do our own cleanse! I hope you are feeling better! Good for you anyway, for sticking it out so long! That takes a lot of will!

  • Regular Girl

    I doubt you would be reading this far down the comment page, but I just wanted to share that my mom suffered all her life from sinus trouble (always blowing her nose, sinus infections all the time etc.) and she finally just got her sinuses removed. Seriously.

    She’s a changed woman and even though there is a chance they’ll grown back, the effects are amazing.

    Maybe something to talk to your doctor about…

  • Emily

    No judgment, Heather. Two steps forward, one step back, you did what you needed to do. ROCK ON.

  • Jen

    I’m glad that you’re feeling better, cleanse or no cleanse. And I’m really happy that you’ve found positive changes that will help you in your life.

    Keep on truckin’!

  • Fishing Around

    I tried the Sweet Potato. It’s great. I think I might adapt it into my life without the November turkey involved on a more regular basis.

  • jeana

    I think doing a complete cleanse with so many things would be a train wreck if your body is accustomed. BUT….what if there were 8 weeks involved, and each week you cut back on one more item? Or, once a month wean off of one of the items? You’d probably not notice as much, and feel wonderful.

    Good for you to have attempted it and recognizing some of the healthy pros. I think your doctor was smart to make you stop it, there were too many different withdrawals going on in your body at once. :(

  • Jennine


    I’ve only shared this with my closest friends but in this case I will make an exception.

    Better Than Cleanse Cake


    * 1 (18.25 ounce) package devil’s food cake mix
    * 1/2 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
    * 6 ounces caramel ice cream topping
    * 3 (1.4 ounce) bars chocolate covered toffee, chopped
    * 1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed


    1. Bake cake according to package directions for a 9×13 inch pan; cool on wire rack for 5 minutes. Make slits across the top of the cake, making sure not to go through to the bottom.
    2. In a saucepan over low heat, combine sweetened condensed milk and caramel topping, stirring until smooth and blended. Slowly pour the warm topping mixture over the top of the warm cake, letting it sink into the slits; then sprinkle the crushed chocolate toffee bars liberally across the entire cake while still warm. (Hint: I crush my candy bars into small chunks as opposed to crumbs – I like to have pieces I can chew on!)
    3. Let cake cool completely, then top with whipped topping. Decorate the top of the cake with some more chocolate toffee bar chunks and swirls of caramel topping. Refrigerate and serve right from the pan!


  • Andra

    Gee, for all the vegans and vegetarians who claimed not to be preachy about their lifestyles earlier on in CleanseGate, they sure are making up for it now.

  • Jane

    i am right there with you on the coffee thing in terms of anxiety. you should try brahmi aswell. i know it sounds funny from a strange person with a crappy blog (mine is crappy.. not yours.. just to state the obvious).. but brahmi is like gingko belibo (or however you spell it).. but better. it is ayuverdic and just bloody awesome. seriously just try it. it will change your life. (and it is natural)

  • Kristy

    Two or three times a year I get a sinus infection that makes the skin on my face hurt and my teeth feel loose. I take a couple of cloves of garlic and either cut it into pill-sized pieces and swallow it with orange juice, or mince it really fine and coat it with a tsp of honey to make it easy to swallow. Do that two or three days in a row and it will completely knock out the infection, but you’ll feel much better by the next morning after the first dose. It works great for sinus-related sore throats, too.

  • Lou

    you always make me spit my milk! even though this is almost tangibly less edgy it is still funny as hell.

  • emily

    I think it is good that you have stopped doing something that was not good for your body, and that good things came of it. But doing anything cold turkey is a shock, and balance is needed to make long term changes. And you know this, and you don’t know me, so this is silly to even be writing this.

  • Moderndayhermit

    When I stopped smoking I was (seriously) sick from sinus infections and colds for 2.5 months. It was insane how shitty I felt.

    On one hand I think “what a load of shit” when people claim that the toxins are leaving but on the other hand…I have to wonder.

  • monica

    Thanks for sharing your experience on the cleanse. I had been considering doing it myself, but before this happened to you, I had already decided not to. I checked out the book and just really didn’t feel like I wanted to commit to it. Like you, I think as long as I’m aware of what I’m eating, it’ll benefit my body. So thanks for taking one for the team so to speak :)

  • caro

    Mmmm….Hobnobs. I *love* Hobnobs.

  • CoffeeDrinker

    Glad to know you are (mostly) off the cleanse and wanted to add…

    COFFEE IS GOOD FOR YOU! It really is. It has been shown to lower the risk of Parkinson’s, diabetes, liver cancer/cirrosis….google it!

    Just saying. Coffee is almost exclusively beneficial to your health, it has very few drawbacks and a TON of health benefits.

  • stevie

    coffee is a killer. i find the same thing with most of the foods you mentioned in terms of really cranking up the stress levels.
    it is the same for kids ya know.

  • unreliable narrator

    OH THANK GOD. Enough with the orthorexia, right? We Americans, at least since the time of Tocqueville’s observation, seem to think that no matter what our international sins of overconsumption, we can atone for them by not eating whatever things Oprah thinks we should not eat. It’s like my new concept of envirorexia/ecorexia—”If I just reuse this Ziploc bag, I’m helping get rid of that Texas-sized swamp of plastic floating in the Pacific! And I’ll be good and go to Jebus in heben when I dies.” It started with Calvinism and survives to this day, our weird god-complex that we’re individually and uniquely responsible for corporate and government emerging phenomena, and that our virtue or lack of same is represented by our diets. Bizarre, perhaps; but no more historically bizarre than nineteenth-century hysterical blindness/paralysis; or medieval witchhunts (“She turned me into a newt!”). Isn’t the most politically powerful act a woman can perform, really—isn’t it to EAT? Take up space, in the world. Breathe its air, imbibe its offerings. —And yeah, from one mentally interesting person to another: Coffee and excesses of sugar can fuck you up so bad, so fast. But food is for eating, and life for living. I toast your return to the immanent, incarnate world with an uplifted Hobnob.

  • http://LAZARYN.COM lazzie

    i think it is such a smart idea moving toward a really healthy diet. Leta will thank you when you live to be 100. (or maybe not!..)

  • Andrea

    Fascinating discussion. As someone who is amateurishly interested in health and alternative health issues (albeit pretty well educated), it may well be that I am more interested in the comments than you. So you likely will not get down this far. But for what it is worth, my two cents, assvice, whatever you want to call it.

    –I wouldn’t put so much faith in a doctor who so regularly dispenses antibiotics, which we know can become less effective over time and lead to more problems. Also, the “conventional medical” field in general is beyond backwards when it comes to diet. Look at the food they serve in hospitals: jello in fluorescent colors. You did not go into detail about what you had given up, but based on the short list you provided, it did not seem in anyway unhealthy. So, while I don’t necessarily think cleanses are essential, I don’t see how you can take a doctor seriously who says, “Young lady, run home and resume eating sugar.” Come on.

    –Likewise, I don’t put a lot of stock in all these come-lately writers who have no degrees in nutrition but profess to know what is good for you. Our bodies are all different. Some seem to do well on traditional diets with a lot of cooked meat. Some do well on raw. Here in San Francisco, I always find it interesting when I go to my favorite raw restaruant. Half the people who work there appear to be glowing and half look half-dead. If you search hard enough you can find all sorts of testimonials: People who were cured from cancer by eating raw, and people who got better after eating a lot of meats and stews and fats (Check out the Weston A. Price foundation). And so many doctors seem convinced caffeine is good for you , but I wonder if that is just because they don’t want to give up their coffee.
    I do know one thing that is dead wrong in that Quantum Wellness book is the advice to eat tofu like all the time. Tofu is a processed food, highly unhealthy when eaten in excess.

    –The one piece of health advice I do think is universal is that processed foods are bad. As a loyal reader of your blog, I’ve noticed that you’ve had a fair amount of contempt for people who promote organic foods, or who criticize you for eating processed, but that stuff is full of chemicals, which just is not good for anyone.

    –And, as a loyal reader of your very wonderful blog, I’ve noticed that poor you always seems to have a sinus infection. I can’t begin to try to say why, but it doesn’t seem to be strictly linked to your latest diet. And, FYI, there is a fascinating theory that sinus infections are basically caused by the shape of our faces, with some people just having more narrow passageways that causes stuff to clog up. Sounds preposterous, but in the unlikely event that you read this far, check out this site:

    So, for what its worth, I think that processed foods are the enemy, doctors are not gods and need to be questioned, and medicines like antibiotics should be used in moderation.

    And I apologize if I offend by offering unwanted advice. You seem to be looking for some advice.