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.

  • Sammyhill Hagar

    You and my mother need to meet. You are exactly the same. I love you both for the hilarity you make life out to be.

    Enjoy those diarrhea bombs coming back to real food. It’s a bitch.

  • Karina

    I’ve been gluten-free for six years and casein-free for the last year. Giving up wheat and dairy changed my life (I can leave the house before noon again- without my bottle of Pepto Bismol).

    Tuning in to our bodies, and paying attention to how food affects us is just plain smart. It’s not new agey spiritual or virtuous. It’s practical. More like an investment. And not only for us. For our kids, too.

    And when you’ve got fabulous brown rice pasta, strawberries, wine and flourless chocolate brownies- it’s not even deprivation.

  • Bette

    Wait a second–your doctor told you that you eating fresh, non-processed food and not having alcohol, sugar, caffeine, meat, dairy or wheat for a total of one week was BAD for you? Um, did he also mention the fact that when one person in a household gets sick, the other people who live in that household–and breathe the same air and, thus, the same germs–tend to get sick as well? Alcohol, meat, sugar, or not?

    I know that it is pretty much verbotin here come across like I am not agreeing 100% with what you have to say–your fans are dedicated ones, always armed with their stones and flaming torches–but I think that your doctor is pretty short-sighted. I think it is great that you decided to end the cleanse when you wanted to, but your doctor telling someone that not eating processed foods, alcohol, and sugar is making her ill? That is crazy. If you weren’t eating FOOD, that would be different. If you weren’t getting any nutrients, that would be different. But you were eating complete meals with protein, carbohydrates, fresh vegetables, and real, actual food in them. And you were only going to do it for 21 days. Eight days with no booze or caffeine or meat gave you a sinus infection? Are you kidding me?

    Again, I think it’s great that you made a decision to end the cleanse when you wanted to. Nobody should feel horribly deprived or ill at ease with the way his or her life is being lived. However, for your doctor to tell you that eating real, healthy food is making you sick and is BAD for you? I am sorry, but that is just wrong. And I’m a big fan of booze and coffee. But I am also a fan of seeing informed doctors who are not conservative, closed-minded fools. And any doctor who tells someone to stop eating real, complete, healthy food is a fool.

  • Red

    aha! yes, I love you Heather, as you confirmed my actions of killing the cleanse as well!

    I am linking to your post.

    ~Cheers~ Here’s to 0 headaches~ lot’s of wine, coffee and bacon!!!!!

    p.s. I was going to suggest Fakin’ Bacon while you were vegetarian, but, not nearly as yummy!

  • omar

    i would like to be able to give up meat, at least for periods of time, but with the little options i have as a student (being busy all day and eating on campus food at the school with the worst food) meat is the only thing that keeps me going. i have tried cutting back in other unhealthy food though.

  • TheSpectrum

    OH NO! I’m on Day #6. Does this mean in a few days, I’m going to keel over and die too!?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t want to criticize the good (eat your hob nobs doctor), but as a regular blog reader, I gotta ask, Don’t you get sinus infections a lot, diet notwithstanding?

  • eej

    How/why would a cleanse give you a sinus infection? I don’t get that.

  • Anonymous

    Heather- I am proud of you! As a health professional in the “natural” world, I ALWAYS advise my clients to build their bodies before a cleanse. If you don’t, you experience what just happened to you. It is to rough on our bodies to just start dumping toxins, etc… and expect it to assimilate and not crash. Also, what will happen during such a cleanse where you have not built your body is old illnesses that have lied dormant will crop up..i.e. the sinus infection. So, your Dr. was right. You needed to stop, but continue to modify. How do you build? Doing what you are doing… changing your habits slowly with food and eliminating what you have… awesome! Also, whole food supplements (herbs- and not THOSE kind of herbs ;) ) completely help. I think eating clean meats, and no artificial sweeteners, less sugar and dairy is the way to go and I see it improve lives everyday. Keep it up!

  • Ingrid

    Why did your doctor believe that cutting our sugar, alcohol, and caffeine make you sick??

  • After School Care Guy

    Man that sounds awful. I don’t fully understand why the cleanse caused all that stuff to happen to you but it is pretty scary!

    *sips mocha latte*

  • Natalie

    Thank you for trying this first. Oprah scares me.

    I need to cleanse my body, but instinct tells me I can’t do it all at once. It’s sort of like when you’ve got a lot of goals, you have to face them one at a time instead of all at once.

    I’m guessing (without any medical knowledge whatsoever) that your system went into a state of shock. Your body gets used to these things no matter how bad they are for you.

    Cleansing your body should not make you ill, I don’t care what anybody says.

  • Jamie

    Cleansings are hell. I lasted two and a half days on mine. I couldn’t take the caffeine withdrawls. I needs the coffee!

  • Red

    Ingrid and others questioning sickness:
    It is really just the fact of toxins leaving the body which is why it plagues us with sickness, so in essence it is better to endure the pain and suffering, to rid it all from out bodies, then we will feel amazing……haha, in due time.

    If we stop the cleansing process though, we will go back to our normal toxic state and not feel the withdrawl. Kinda like a drug~

    It is actually better to go through it- but, only worth it if you plan on trying to stay toxic free!


  • Teresa

    @ #97
    Candida albicans is not a bacterium!

    Sorry. It pisses me off when people give health advice when all they’re doing is regurgitating whatever literature fuelling the pop natural health kick they’re on, and don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

    Good to hear you’re taking care of you.

  • ilovebutter

    I would not take nutritional advise from an MD – they only do 30-40 hours of nutrition in their entire 8 years of training. I have a degree in nutrition, and rarely have I heard sound nutritional advice come from an MD.

    Getting sick was probably a side effect of the cleanse. The theory goes that eliminating the “bad” foods allows your body to start processing stored toxins, etc. This often makes people get sick, or at least feel like utter crap for a few days. Your sinus infection was just another layer of crap being expelled by your body.

    You should have stuck with the cleanse longer and stuck it out. But, I’m glad you learned something and hope you continue the changes for the long term.

  • amyd

    You are a brave woman, and as usual have proven you eventually show some intelligence. Okay, so you didn’t kiss the doctor. Hence just “some” ;)

    Reading your blog has had an interesting side effect in my life: whenever I’m constipated, I think of you, and of the things you’ve tried. So, I’m genuinely interested: how was your poop with this diet?

  • Random Diva

    LMGDAO. Sorry to laugh at your expense but the post is still dang funny. I have been waiting to hear how its going, knowing the inevitable sickness as happens with any major cleanse/change in diet was coming. But Kudos for 1st going to the Dr. and not being stubborn, and secondly for not going back to alot of carbs, coffee and non ethical meat.

    Non-ethical meat abstinence makes me most proud of ya. I still cant live without my coffee, cigarettes and alcohol but I dont miss all the carbs at all, have decent energy, and am slim. Everything in moderation ya know and I certainly dont want to eat guilty meat, no matter how tasty. Keep it up and thanks for sharing!

  • paul in kirkland

    If you’re interested, there’s a really lengthy discussion on healthy eating over in the SmugMug photo forums. Yea, I know it’s a weird place for that discussion, but apparently the Muggers have gone whole foodie and are loving every minute of it.

    I dunno if your comment system will see that I’m adding a link, grab my ip address and follow the innnertubes to my house and fry my machine in vengeance (and if so, f you Jon :) , but here goes:

    Enjoy. Lots of good stuff there.

  • holly in SF

    I have done a cleanse, but not one quite so intense and only lasted 12 days. I think they illustrate something VERY important, which you have learned: we CAN cut back on the bad and STILL enjoy some of the things we love that aren’t so great for us. It’s all about moderation. Just being aware of what we eat is a first step. Two book recommendations, which I am sure you have heard: Omnivore’s dilemma and In Defense of Food. same author.

    btw, House of Stools is gone on Divisidero here in SF! I think of your site every time I drive past that intersection…

  • naz

    well said Bette.

  • Duped

    * OH. GREAT *

    NOW you tell me!!! I just went out and bought the damn book yesterday, after all your lovely posts. :(

  • Give Up Coffee

    I have been trying to give up coffee for a long time now. It is harder than it seems. When you think you have got somewhere you convince yourself that one more wouldn’t hurt. And then you’re right back where you started.

    Dr. Oz on Oprah said that coffee is good for you if you drink it without the sugar and what not. Hope he’s right cos I can’t see myself quitting.

  • Heather

    I’ve been following your posts about the cleanse and I don’t really agree with your doctor. I don’t think what you did caused the sinus infection. My sinuses actually are worse when I eat dairy. I need to quit coffee again. I quit and go back on a regular basis. Although like you I admit that when I drink a cup of it since my last long time off it, I just don’t like it like I used too.

  • paul in kirkland

    Oh, I should add that the reason I even posted that comment is because of your reference to how the cleanse has helped your anxiety.

    There are several comments in that forum thread from people who claim to have experienced the same thing, so I figured if there’s anything I could do to make you feel better psychologically it was worth risking your frying my computer remotely…

  • Stephanie Brown

    Everyone who has recommended Michael Pollan’s books (like In Defense of Food or Omnivore’s Dilemma) is spot on. I think all this fad stuff is really taxing on your body, especially all at once… Try to think more simply and eat real food and make small changes where you can… gradually. You’re on the right track with the meat, etc. I’m always trying (keyword: trying) to think, “What would nature do?” these days when I’m at the grocery store. Would nature produce all the stuff that’s in this x, y or z thing?

  • Buy Watches

    Coffee – Dr. OZ also said that cleanses are a waste of time. He said the only thing that they are good for is getting you started on a healthier diet.

    Buy Watches.

  • Janie

    Oh Good God, I adore HobNobs!!!! And the ones with chocolate on them?!?! I can’t believe you have HobNobs in Utah! I have to go to the UK for HobNobs or make my friends bring me them when they come here. I might have to move to Utah. You have HobNobs and Malteasers and God only knows what else! You’re killing me!

    Re: your cleanse. Anything that is ‘over the top’ is nuts as far as I’m concerned. Listen, I cleansed and lost 120 lbs merely by frequently eating small amounts of food prepared (or not prepared acutally) as naturally as possible. Yes, when I wanted to keep losing I cut out sugar completely for almost a year, but in the maintaing phase you just keep it as unprocessed as possible, indulging in processed cookies and crap in a REASONABLE FASHION. Believe me, that was pretty damn cleansing because when I did eat some sugar or some salt or some processed foods I practically got high! (or sick depending on what it was LOL). Heather, indulging in unprocessed….non-packaged…foods as much as possible is really the only cleanse you need. Just try to keep away from the chemicals in packaged food whenever you reasonably can. Geez…why bother living if you can never eat M&Ms? Malteasers? Doritos? (Meanwhile, LMAO, just keep eating those HobNobs….they’ll cleanse the crap right outta you in no time!!!!)

  • Adria

    I’ve never in my life seen a Hobknob, but now I’ll be looking.

    I did a similar thing for a week. I felt better than I ever have, in between feeling like crap and wanting to die.

    Funny how that works.

  • NeoCleo

    Sounds to me as though you found your natural balance between the two extremes you’ve been living so I think this kinda makes up for having to get sick in order to prove a point to yourself. Makes sense to me, anyway, if not in fact to anyone else. Me and the voices in my head. We’re off to see the Wizard now. TTFN

  • sue

    ME TOO!!!!!
    I made it through the “cleanse” for 4.5 days, and the headaches were so bad that my boyfriend was threatening to hold me down and shove a ham sandwich down me. And I have a pretty healthy diet to begin with, and consider myself a tough broad with some willpower. All I know is anything that makes me feel that bad can’t be good, and it was the right decision for both of us to go off it when we did. Thank jeebus for the men in our life not wanting to see us miserable, huh?

  • Janie

    Laughing my a** off, Jessie!! I just adore Dooce fans! They are so funny!

    < <<<2. Jessie said:
    I want to thank you for being so honest and descriptive about your anxiety. It is a little ray of sane sunshine to me when I am loosing my own marbles.
    oh, and also?
    FIRST!!! Woot!

    06.25.08 - 08:14 PM
    3. Jessie said:>>>>

  • Shen-Shen

    Heather, you’re my hero!

  • The Modern Gal

    I’m interested in hearing more about the doctor’s reasons why he thought the cleanse caused the sinus infection and you should stop.

  • Bodybuilding Health

    I have done a few cleanses in my time and they always start bad but end well. The main thing is to ensure that they lead somewhere – make sure they take your diet to healthier levels.

    I am proud you tried one! Let us know how the sinus infection ends.

  • nicole

    so interesting! i would love to hear your dr.’s medical opinion about *why* doing the cleanse made you sick … i think some people would say it’s just the toxins leaving your body but perhaps it is something else? more details!!!

    but that’s great you are off the coffee. speaking from experience, i am so much more anxious when i drink coffee regularly. i mean … it just heightens it so much, as you probably know.

    good luck w/ the deadline!

  • The Voracious Vegan

    Oh Dooce, I’m sorry you’re not feeling well but please take a minute to reconsider your actions. A doctor tells you that by cutting out unhealthy foods, you are doing a bad thing? Excuse me? Dairy products are not only the end result of rape and torture and the direct foundation of the veal industry, but they are pure poison for humans to ingest. Do you have any idea how much pus there actually is in the American milk supply? And consumption of meat is not only the result of billions of slaughtered sentient creatures, it is also unnecessary for human health and can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, and a mulititude of other health problems. If a vegan diet is so unhealthy then why does the FDA, USDA, ADA and WHO, all agree that it is a perfectly suitable diet for all stages of life and can even lower our risk for all sorts of debilitating diseases, like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc?

    Dooce, one doctor told you something at a time when you were feeling sick and crappy and vulnerable. You were changing a life time of unhealthy eating habits, of course you were going to feel out of whack. A person with any severe addiction feels awful when they are withdrawing, but no doctor would tell them to go back to the cigarrettes, booze, whatever.

    Doctors are not infallible, a lot of them are idiots. Do more research, speak to more than just one person, and think about what is really, truly best for you. Just a few days ago you were brimming over with determination and hope, don’t be scared of your own potential, just see where it leads you.

    And let me just make one last point. There is no such thing as ‘happy’ or ‘humane’ meat, or eggs, or dairy. Whenever something is based on the exploitation and ultimate slaughter of a sentient creature it cannot, by definition, be happy or humane. For more information please visit

    Good luck Dooce, I hope you feel better soon.

  • Ad Suit

    TO #313 ~ M@ ???

    Is that YOU???!!! Have been looking for you, if it’s you, former 6D co-victim. Hope you are well? If you’re out there, drop me an e-mail & let me know how to contact you. Love and miss you, your former next door office neighbor. :)

  • TxSuzyQ

    Wow… I guess people have lots of opinions on diets, cleanses and just about everything else around here! Geesh!

    Anyway, hope you’re feeling better, Heather!

  • Anne Lindenfeld

    Thank the Lord. I can now keep on eating scrapple for breakfast and know that everything is okay with the world.

    I used to be a big cleanse, vegetarian, no this or that person. Now I just try to eat in moderation. Just like my grandmother did, who died at 99.9 years of age. (She was so trying to make 100.) She didn’t need glasses, take any kind of medication, or abstain completely from anything. And that dry martini every night before dinner was de rigeur.

  • margalit

    I’m not keeping track or anything, but you’ve had a LOT of sinus infections this year. Like way more than any human being should have to endure. And they seem to get better with a Z-pack but come back again within weeks. This is a VERY familiar pattern. It’s the pattern of someone (like me) who has an infection but whose sinuses are so impacted they can’t clear themselves because (and this is gross) there isn’t enough of an opening to drain out all the snot. Um, yeah.

    Have you had a CAT scan on your sinus cavities? You MIGHT want to talk to your doctor about that, seeing as you spend about half of your waking hours with headaches and head pain from the damn sinuses. An ENT is the doctor of choice for sinus issues. They’ll look at your sinuses thru the CT scan, and if indeed your sinuses are impacted, surgery is the next step. It is HORRIBLE INVASIVE PAINFUL surgery. HORRIBLE.

    But it works. It really does. I had little windows cut into my 4 front sinuses, and the sphenoid sinus cavity, the big one in the back that presses on your optic nerve and causes meningitis and blindness if not drained… yeah that one, was totally impacted. They drained it, opened it up, and since that surgery in 1994 I’ve had maybe 4 sinus infections.

    Again HORRIBLE HORRIBLE surgery. But blindness and meningitis? Is there really a choice?

    Glad you ended that cleanse. It sounded horrid.

  • Anonymous

    surely you’re smart enough to know that there is no logical connection to being on a cleanse (which is more just a healthy diet) and getting a … sinus infection? right? i mean, maybe flu-like symptoms, but a sinus problems? seriously. confirmation bias is a dangerous thing. :)

  • K.Rogers

    I ain’t no doctor, but I can tell you that anyone who works as hard as you do, all day every day, needs a good healthy balanced diet, including fats and sugars. Calories.

    Being healthy means taking care of yourself, not depriving yourself, or forcing yourself to suffer. (read: pillar monks- bad idea)

    I’m glad you’ve decided to knock that shit off. ;)

    That is all.

  • Liz

    I’ll never forget the time I went off my dancer’s diet of 1200 calories a day with an allotted 20 g of fat/day. Holy crap… it was like the heavens opened up and suddenly I could see again. My senses were heightened, I smiled… SMILED while I ate; something that hadn’t happened in years. I’ve never turned back and I thank God every day for Doritos. :) Congrats on making it as long as you did! I’m sure you did your body some good, right?

  • Christy

    While there is probably a little part of you that wishes you had gone through with this, don’t underestimate what you’ve accomplished. You learned a lot in 8 days and there is no reason you cannot slowly remove those other unwanted things from your diet…in a way that doesn’t send your body into shock.

    I gave up refined sugar (only for a few weeks), but now I’m not snacking on it all day like I used to. And I’m much better about reading labels and finding natural sweeteners.

    I’m hoping to take more junk out of my diet eventually, but I’m nursing my daughter right now and don’t want to risk anything funny until she’s weaned.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience. Your writing is always a pleasure to read.

  • Bonnie

    Wow, that’s really unfortunate. The reason why you were sick is because your body was throwing out old toxins that had built up in your body from eating junk for so many years. Yeah, it sucks when it comes out, but if you start eating junk again, that just means all those told toxins are going to stay in your body. I’m surprised that this doctor didn’t tell you that. He could have at least suggested that you slow down the cleanse. It sounds like that’s what you ended up doing anyway, though, so that’s good.

  • Birdygal

    Reguarding your sinus infections, 2 words, Neti Pot.
    I swear, I am not a healthy grain eater at all and the Neti Pot has changed my life. It is like crazy irrigation for your sinuses and it works. Since I started using one (weekly) I have not had 1 sinus infection. This also means I have not had any antibiotics or the inevitable yeast infection that follows. If my Neti Pot had a penis I would marry it, I love it that much.

  • Jeni

    @ #340-

    My exact thought. It’s always the same with Heather’s posts. We readers are never happy either way.

  • http://SHINNISM.COM simone cruize

    lol. great post. first time here. i love it!

  • almost vegetarian

    Doctor’s receive a woefully inadequate maximum of three hours of nutritional training. Training that, all these years later, is now ridiculously obsolete.

    Unless he can plausably explain how giving up sugar, gluten, caffeine, alcohol, or animal products can possibly give you a sinus infection, than I would seriously question his diagnosis.

    Remember, doctor’s are wrong all the time. And patients die because of it. So you may not want to take his word as gospel. Especially as he still gave you a prescription when, if his diagnosis is correct, removing the cause would cure the symptom.

    Here’s hoping you feel better.