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.

  • EricaB

    Sounds like you had a great experience…or at least discovered some great things because of an awful experience :)

    I do think that Moderndayhermit might be right, however…it could just be the toxins leaving your body. As a massage therapist, it isn’t uncommon for people to get pretty congested after a massage. My understanding is that we are moving toxins.

    Having said that, I think you made the right decision! And I am glad that you are happy!

  • Anonymous

    People get sick when they go off heroin too, but that doesn’t mean the heroin is good for them!

  • NukeDad

    My little sister tried something similar years ago. She was surviving on cranberry juice, 4 mile jogs and tree limbs. Her Doctor told her that her knees were now destroyed, and to go directly to Burger King and eat a cheeseburger before her spine caved in. 2 knee replacements and 10 years later she is on a balanced diet and back to normal. Good luck to you.

  • rb

    My doctor essentially said the same thing about cleanses. She said they can help psychologically, but there is no physiological basis for them.

    Now caffeine, on the other hand, is a great thing to be without. Or mostly without. I had to give up my Peet’s drip coffee when I had PPD seven years ago. I still drink iced tea and the occasional diet coke, but I feel so much better not jump-starting myself every morning with trembling hands and racing heart. I drank two cups of regular coffee this last Sunday, because it was mislabeled decaf, and I was miserably anxious all day.

  • Jennifer B

    I’ve never done a cleanse before, so sorry to pick out a little area of the whole blog. But, I did have MAJOR anxiety after my third child and can relate to waking up every morning feeling like I was going to puke. Went to a GREAT therapist, cut back on any caffeine consumption, and started anti-D’s! I am grateful for wise medical professionals.

  • Self Righteous Eater

    Everyone (including me) can be so damn self-righteous when it comes to food.

    So here’s my self-righteous comment: It seems that the Armstrong family is very susceptible to sinus infections, not dependent on diet. I also wonder if Heather was getting enough calories/fat/carbohydrates/nutrients on the cleanse. She’s a very slim woman as it is, and probably burns up calories like nobody’s business with all the stuff going on in that household! I don’t think Hobnobs are part of a balanced diet, but the psychological benefit may be better than any sweet potato.

    Also, I agree with the person who said that tofu should be eaten in moderation, not as a substitute for all animal protein. Particularly for women.

  • manika

    I’m curious…did the doc give any specific reasons why this isn’t good for you? Sounded like you were eating all the right things. I guess the sudden withdrawal? Heck, if the doc says you have to have alcohol and hobnobs, you have to have alcohol and hobnobs!

  • Dana from California

    I’m glad someone in this world loves sweet potatoes. My father scarred me for life by making me eat them when I was seven. I hated them… I hated that cloyingly sweet taste and the texture. To this day, I have not had a sweet potato. I don’t like yams, either. And, every Christmas, my brother-in-law makes some comment about how he just LOVES the yams.

    They looked tasty. But that’s where it ends. ;)

  • Katherine

    Wow, so many unexpected changes just from changing what you eat! I’m glad you shared this, it’s really fascinating.

  • Lori

    I could have sworn Oprah did a show that said the cleanse was bad, Dr Oz or something, that it doesn’t help anything. This must have happened after Oprah’s original cleanse. Anyway I think the idea, what I’ve always been told anyway, is to slowly cut back on the bad things, refined sugar, caffeine, whatever it is. I know it’s not as fun because then you can’t tell everyone I’M ON A CLEANSE and make people jealous because they’ll want to do it too, remember this started with Oprah, how many difficult books have people insisted on reading due to her. I know I was jealous of this whole cleanse but that little voice in the back of my head that loves caffeine said hell no. The closest I did was going on the South Beach Diet and when I gave up I horded a box of Saltines like it was a bar of gold I personally found in the Amazon. So it’s good that you got something good from it. Moderation is key I think.

  • Ms Sparky

    Wow. I really try to find and eat ethically grown meat. I do my best to stay off all the artificial crap. Beer is my weakness.

    Good luck to you. I’ll be monitoring your progress.

    Ms Sparky

  • latenac

    If it takes going from one extreme to another to arrive at the middle then what you did was worth it. Being aware of what we eat, where it comes from and how it got to our plate is worthwhile.

    I’d like to 100th a neti pot for sinuses. It saved me during pregnancy and now saves me during allergy seasons.

    And if you should need to wean yourself off of caffeine again, try it gradually by eliminating one cup a day. It stops you from having to go through the headaches. We were very grateful growing up when my mother decided to try that method rather than quitting cold turkey.

  • http://TALESMUD.COM Christine

    my god woman! you are my hero!! srsly.

  • Anonymous

    I also highly recommend “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver for anyone interested in changing the way they look at their food. For me, it means that I now get the majority of my fruits and vegetables from a local farm. It also means that I am growing my own small herb and vegetable garden on my tiny apartment patio. It is highly gratifying.

    I have not changed my animal product choices as much as I would like to yet (due mainly to the cost), but I am certainly more self aware and hope to move to eating locally raised meats also.

  • http://SHELLEYBURGON.COM shelley

    thanks so much for sharing. i love the idea of ethically grown meat. but it seems like such an oxymoron in today’s society. we want it. and we want it fast!

  • Melly

    Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

  • http://KYLEHASTINGS.COM Kyle

    props to your hubby. i am really seeing a different, more manly man, coming through lately. glad to see he stands up and shoves some male ego into the equation. thanks as always for a great read.

  • Mrs. Chicken

    I totally get this. I am on a gestational diabetes diet and cutting out sugar and most fat has totally sucked the donkey, but on the other hand, fruit now tastes like candy bars.

    Like, it tastes so good I could eat a whole watermelon RIGHT NOW.

    And I also discovered a really good whole-grain pasta with protein that will take a big place in my diet, even after I birth this kid. I’ve never liked meat that much, and I struggled to eat enough protein.

    But giving up coffee? Never.

  • http://PRODIGYGUILD.COM Lucy

    i have been vegan for about 6 months now. i totally relate to the de-tox sickies.

  • Vinsanity

    Ethical meat is the best. And that is a purely selfish statement — happy animals make delicious meat.

    My family only eats ethically raised beef, pork, and chicken. And we eat meat every day – the trick is to get a meat freezer and buy the meat in bulk.

    Seriously – try eating a steak from a grass-fed steer and compare it to one bought from the store. If you can’t tell the difference, you probably want to visit the doctor to get your taste buds checked.

  • k

    hmm. im on an allergy elimination diet (my throat closes up and i almost die with startling frequency and i cant figure out why) that is very similar to the cleanse. i cant eat diary, red meat, shellfish, wheat, glutten, citrus, tomatos, potatos, nightshades, sugar, sugar subtitutes, any prepackaged foods, grapes, corn (corn starch/baking power/dextrose), table salt, caffine etc etc. I’ve been on it for over 2 months without a problem. im sad it didnt work for you :(

    also, the fact that you mentioned brown rice pasta exists and its just my stupid grocery store only selling me the white rice pasta has just made me extremely happy.

  • Calee

    I’m so glad you went to the doctor. As for the cleanse, it seems like a good thing, but in moderation. We’re Eastern Orthodox so we spend about half the year on a vegan diet, but the rest of the time- we love all sorts of food.

    It’s all about balance and doing what’s right for your body while being aware of the effect what you put into it has on you whole person.

  • Starsky

    I rarely comment on anybody’s blog but I found yours to be truly captivating. I want to commend you on your cleanse and lasting as long as you did. You are talking to the queen of cleansing and the kind of willpower involved, if given the opportunity, could manifest itself as the anti-christ.

    What I wanted to recommend to you (if you didn’t already know this), is after you finish your stint of antibiotics, you should begin a regiment of probiotics. Now I understand that the word “regiment” might cause your airway to constrict but dont panic just yet. Basically, when you take antibiotics you are not only killing the bad bacteria but you are killing the good bacteria as well. This is beyond detrimental and can lead to even worse illnesses and more frequent infections in the body.

    I spent a good five years of my life as a walking sinus infection, taking a string of antibiotics. I spent another five years on a diet consisting mainly of organic, lean meats and vegetables because I was so ill. Not fun.

    Yogurt is a form of a probiotic as well as a product called kefir (much like yogurt). Kefir is used primarily in european countries but I believe you can find it at whole foods or trader joe’s or markets like those. Just check around. But yogurt and kefir are your best options. You should probably have your husband do it as well. And I know you wanted to cut out dairy products but yogurt/ kefir is definitely not the same as drinking pasteurized milk and eating pasteurized cheese. The cultures/ enzymes in these products feed the body in the proper way. Mind you, few mainstream doctors believe this is necessary. But this is only used to help the body bring itself back into balance.

    The reaction that you and your friend experienced during the cleanse is more than likely a normal occurrence. Usually when you cleanse, you are allowing toxins to remove themselves and sometimes you experience old symptoms or the toxins get stuck and cause you to become ill. Cleanses can be tricky. I have definitely wandered onto the side of error more than once.

    And while I may seem a bit creepy (fava beans or chianti, anyone?) that I would be so concerned with your cleansing, I only try to spread whatever knowledge I have been afforded. Just take it into consideration. It’s a small addition to your already changing diet. Good luck with your new found awareness.

  • Rebecca

    A cleanse that involves no sugar, bread, alcohol and caffeine!

    There is only one serious problem with this cleanse, no sugar. As women our bodies need sugar, we crave it. Without a little amount of sugar within the run of a week I get bad headaches and extremely cranky (just ask my husband ;) . I’m not a diabetic, have no health problems, matter of fact I’m as healthy as a horse. When I read that this cleanse was making you so seriously sick (sorry to hear that, btw) I come to the conclusion that it must be the sugar. All you have to do is cut back on the rest and have a little sugar fix (not overload) everyday and you’ll be feeling great! So go buy yourself some Junior Mints and enjoy!

  • Honey

    Even after reading both your and Carol’s last entries, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the concept of the cleanse, itself, foibling your immune systems. (Then again, I am jonesing for an idyllic biochemistry or physiology course about now.) Moreover, is it sudden deprivation itself that depletes immunity, rather than the body’s specific need for gluten, alcohol, meat, dairy, caffeine, or artificial something? I have enjoyed sharing in your short journey on the dietary straight and narrow. Twelve years ago, I went cold turkey off pop, soda, and soda pop. To this day, a single sip of it gives me an instantaneous painful hiccup. More than the carbonation, the high fructose corn syrup or carcinogenic artificial sweeteners became revolting to me, not just in pop but in a myriad of processed foodthings. Don’t even let me go off about the partially hydrogenated oils or, lord forbid, cigarettes! I don’t miss any of that.

    Let’s not forget that the world is a hungry place.

  • Anonymous

    I went on a two week cleanse and about at day 10, thought I was going to die too. What the cleanse did most for me is to change the way I look at food – yes, I still eat too much sugar and caffeine, but it made me appreciate the idea of whole food. Good job. Congrats being done!


    I tried giving up Starbucks, but I can’t. It’s like my DOC: drug of choice.

  • jennyg

    I have not read all the comments.. but has noone talked about the elephant in the room?

    You’re underweight. Sometimes severely. If you don’t get enough calories, you get sick. Then you die.

    You should be challenging yourself to eat healthy foods that will help you gain weight. All of this cleanse/detox/whatnot is quite geared toward losing weight, which is probably one reason they work for some people a bit.

    There is no evidence anywhere to suggest a “detoxification” effect of feeling sick. “Flushing toxins from your body” is A LOAD OF CRAP, SISTER!! But eating healthier, realizing what your limits are (some people are just not genetically good metabolizers of caffeine)- that’s all good. Elimination diets to diagnose food sensitivies- fantastic. That’s not “flushing toxins”.

    So much press and attention and garbage is paid to trying to blame being overweight for all health problems. And being overweight is a problem. But very little attention is paid to the health effects of being underweight; those effects are real, and can be severe, too. Just because your body type is not shamed, but lauded, does not make these go away. I’m sure it is a significant challenge for you to gain weight, just like it is for others to lose it, and often for similar reasons (mental as opposed to physical).

    I’ve seen enough people masquerade unhealthy eating habits/disorders as “cleanses” or other weird, restrictive diets. I think you know that those things, and OCD, are related. Hopefully you are headed to a healthier place, where a healthy diet is not an excuse to starve yourself, but instead, is a tool to nourish yourself. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that, but I’m glad you had one that did.

  • Sugar

    There’s a lot to be said about cutting back on all the items listed in the cleanse, but I love that your doctor told you to knock it off. I wasn’t about to get all 100% pure on the cleanse, but after you brought it up, I did reduce the Sugar and Coffee intake. I also added in some of the snacks you blogged about. And you know what? I feel pretty good. Sorry you had to suffer for the greater good of the blogosphere, but thanks for your honesty.

  • Anonymous

    Funny, I saw this clip from Rescue Me on Hulu yesterday and thought of you… (it’s cleanse-related, and only 5 minutes.)

  • http://R3NEW.COM emily

    lol. so funny. i would be sending him flowers too!

  • Liz

    Glad you found The Sweet Potato. Have you also found spaghetti squash? I swear on my life, it tastes almost just like spaghetti. I’m eating some right now, with diced tomatoes, garlic, and parmesan cheese. It’s freaking fantastic.

  • micha

    something i have been wondering is if you have had any depression? especially from the coffee cut-out. i quit drinking coke when i was just out of college and i got so depressed. and then i would not drink it for ages, and then even just one bottle would send me heading for the razor blades. jokes.

  • April

    Congradulations on making it as long as you did on the cleanse. The longest I went on a cleanse was 7 days on the master cleanse aka The Lemonade Diet; and it changed my life as well. While it sucks that you felt like crap, it is great that you realized there were many healthier things out there that you like.

    As for the sinus infection, I wish you the best. I have dealt with those for many years. My recomendation is Musinex, lots of water, sit with you head over steam for about 10 minutes and then a luke warm shower right after.

    Thank you for talking about your experince on the cleanse. I have been thinking about doing one again and I kept telling myslef that feeling like crap was not so bad and I could get through it. After reading how miserable you were I realized that it was pretty bad and I don’t want to put my body through that again.

    Good luck with getting rid of the sinus infection.

  • simone

    ethical meat. nice one. i am with you on the sweat potato too.

  • amy

    Well, you had me inspired to do the cleanse next month in an effort to kick-start a get healthy/weight loss program. Now you have me inspired to do Weight Watchers.

  • hihorosie

    Interesting and yet not surprising to hear that from a medical doctor but you do need to do what is best for you so I’m glad to hear you’re taking care of yourself. As I was reading your post I was thinking that it was probably your body detoxing – some people get horribly sick like that from detoxing. Glad to hear that the cleanse was valuable though and hope you’re feeling better STAT!

  • Lyndsey

    First, carrying a gun in Utah is legal. I read about it in the LA newspaper. Although you can’t shoot anybody.

    Second, my husband is a nutrition consultant and is always bugging me to do a cleanse or a fast. Well, both have been a disaster for me so, I did cut back on many things like artificial sweetners and artificial flavorings. However, if I could have a Coke every day I would but I don’t because my husband would give me the stink eye.

  • dcfullest

    I gave up caffeine about six months ago, in an attempt to improve my fertility. I haven’t managed to get pregnant yet, but my anxiety has dropped significantly. It is shocking how much the caffeine, “fed” my anxiety. I am so glad I gave it up and doubt I will ever go back to drinking diet coke.

  • Mandy

    Totally off topic, but I teared up at your Daily Photo and the text today. I also have a 17 year old niece who is the bees knees and one of my favorite people in the world. I’m glad you have one too.

  • Katie

    No milk? Seriously? I thought milk was so good for you! I can honestly say I have no idea what I would do if milk was cut out of my diet.

    P.S. I laughed so hard when I read the line: “…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…”

  • Lori Magno


    Anything you do to feel better and more in balance is great. I’m glad the doc told you to chill on the cleanse, but I’m happy to hear you found some healthy aspects that you’ll keep.

    Cheers to you & the family. Accessories are in the mail!


  • Shannon River

    What about soy meat? Soy burgers taste really, really good.
    I am trying to cut way down on dairy (mostly cheese) as well… Although there are other alternatives such as rice/soy/almond milk, etc.
    The ethically raised meat is good. Definitely. It just breaks my heart what animals have to go through. (but it’s still easy being a vegetarian! I’ve been one for 15 years now!)

  • Franca Bollo

    Factory farm animals everywhere thank you for your commitment to only eat meat from animals raised humanely. Before I turned to your site I responded to yet another call to action from the Humane Society regarding downer cows. There’s always a video attached but I cannot watch. The opening still is bad enough and I know it’s not the worst of it.

    I would love to eat bacon again but until we change the way we raise animals for food I cannot be complicit in the suffering it causes.

    Your thoughtful commentary is appreciated, not just on this issue but many others.

  • Seleta

    The reason you have been feeling miserable is because while you were cleansing, Candida Albicans were dying in your body. Candida is a bacteria that lives in harmony in your stomach along with normal body flora. But, when our diets become sugar, yeast and dairy rich, opportunistic Candida overpopulates and jumps into the bloodstream, where it causes all kinds of problems. It also causes things like sugar cravings, because it must live. Guess what feeds Candida? Sugar, yeast and alcohol. Guess what feeds cancer cells? Sugar, yeast and alcohol.

    So when you began to cleanse, the Candida began to die off thus causing sheer misery for you. The WORSE YOU FEEL, THE MORE YOU’RE KILLING OFF CANDIDA. This is called die-off symptoms. Get the book, “The Yeast Connection” By William Cook, M.D. It will change your life. Warning: most Western doctors do not take Candida into consideration when treating a patient. Antibiotics and birth control pills also feed Candida. It’s actually an epidemic in our culture today.

    You are handling your stress better because 1) You’re eating healthier and 2) the caffeine is no longer over-stimulating your adrenal glands [these are glands which rest above your kidneys and are responsible for a number of functions, one of which is releasing adrenaline when stressed]. When you stimulate the adrenal glands, you feel stressed. When the adrenal glands overwork, it can cause you to feel exhausted and edgy.

    Take grapefruit seed extract and eat a low sugar, no wheat diet if you want to keep the high energy level and reduce stress. Trust me, you will see a huge difference in your thinking and your body. Great job lasting 8 days on your cleanse!

    Good luck!

  • Erin


    As someone who is as anti-cleanse as your doctor, I am stoked to hear you aren’t doing it anymore. And yay for positive – and attainable – diet changes too.

  • MissM

    Best. Entry. Ever.

  • Eavesdrop Writer

    Whew! I feel better just knowing you will stop the cleanse. And I thought getting sick on bacon flavored vodka was bad…well, it was pretty bad come to think of it.

  • Minka

    Hi Heather,

    Not to burst your bubble. But at least in ayurveda and naturopathy, they believe that you are likely to suffer from congestion and even skin breakout during cleanses because the body is draining toxins out faster than usual. You should probably check with some certified person. I know because I had a strange skin condition and congestion when I started naturopathy and I was told it’s normal. My two cents !

  • Dawn Coyote

    Quitting coffee: if you have to do it again, mix it with increasing amounts of decaf over a two week period, and you won’t get the dreadful withdrawal. I’ve quit drinking it 9 times, and only did it cold turkey the first time. 9 times. Not a typo. I refuse to go for 10. I’m a coffee drinker.

    Wheat: I feel like crap a lot, too. If I give up wheat, and cut way down on sugar and dairy, I feel much, much better almost right away. YMMV.

    Meat: Must. Have. I was also a vegetarian for 8 years. No more. My body loves meat, and loves it hard*.

    * marbled, of course, like rib eyes and such.