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Your 6-step guide to trying a cleanse—and actually sticking with it


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Just because you’ve decided to do a detox doesn’t mean the rest of the world is going to give up alcohol and sugar along with you.

The reality? You’re bound to find yourself in at least a few situations that don’t vibe with the guidelines of your reset along the way. Maybe your co-worker brings Girl Scout cookies into the office. Or your best friend throws an impromptu engagement party and asks you to lead the champagne toast.

Even if your cleansing path isn’t completely paved in green juice and golden milk lattes, it pays to stay the course.

Even if your cleansing path isn’t completely paved in green juice and golden milk lattes, holistic nutritionist and detox expert Elissa Goodman says it pays to stay the course as much as possible, especially if you’re doing a short detox. “Having alcohol or sugar pretty much defeats the purpose of your commitment,” she says, and consuming either can lead to some lousy side effects like headaches, irritability, or a blood sugar crash.

Willpower only gets a girl so far, though (you’re human after all), which is why having a game plan from the get-go is the easiest way to make it through your reset—and ultimately reap the biggest benefits.

So stick that Thin Mints box in the freezer for now, and scroll down to see 6 simple rules for handling your detox like a pro.

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Photo: Stocksy/Lumina
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

1. Plan your detox wisely

Often cleansing can be a spur-of-the-moment, emotionally driven kind of thing—you might decide to detox after a particularly festive weekend or right before a beach vacation. But Goodman says part of your prep should include scanning your calendar for any potential conflicts.

“Choose cleanse dates that you can commit to,” she says. “Are you really going to cleanse on your birthday week or during a celebratory time?”

“Are you really going to cleanse on your birthday week or during a celebratory time?”

If so, make sure that you have a strategy in place for any pre-planned outings. “You can always choose to have a sparkling water with citrus instead of a cocktail, choose a vegan option for dinner or lunch, or skip dessert,” Goodman offers.

And if you do decide get the chocolate cake, avoid letting it derail you altogether. “Don’t beat yourself up,” says Goodman. “Just get back to it for the next meal.”

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Photo: Stocksy/Lucas Ottone
Photo: Stocksy/Lucas Ottone

2. Be patient with your “bacon brain”

Fact: You will be fantasizing about many of the things you’re giving up during the course of your cleanse. But just because you’ve got bacon on the brain on day one doesn’t mean you’ll still be obsessing over it the next day—or even the next hour.

“Remember that cravings come in waves; they don’t necessarily get worse,” says Goodman. “If you can ride them out, they’ll go away. The less you feed the cravings, the less you’ll have them.” The converse is true, too—if you give in to your hankering, chances are you’ll want it even more.

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Photo: Stocksy/Robert Zaleski
Photo: Stocksy/Robert Zaleski

3. Have healthy swaps on hand

Before you start your detox, get real about your biggest weaknesses—and then stock up on unprocessed, good-for-you alternatives.

“If you feel the need to cheat because of a craving for something sweet, choose fruit or naturally sweet choices—dates, figs, a piece of dark chocolate—and use stevia as your natural sweetener of choice,” suggests Goodman. “If you can’t stop those sugar cravings, take 500 mg of L-glutamine three times daily; this amino acid is incredible for stopping cravings.”

“Listen to your body; it always tells you what’s working or not working for you.”

She recommends pickled vegetables if you’re dying for something crunchy, and if you’re unable to drop caffeine cold-turkey, wean yourself off with matcha or a single cup of organic coffee.

And what if you’ve decided to go without animal protein, but you’re feeling weak and lethargic? “If a vegan detox is too strict for you, you can have a 4–6 oz piece of wild salmon, or organic, grass-fed turkey or chicken,” Goodman says. After all, eating all plants, all the time isn’t for everyone. “If you’re doing a program that just doesn’t work for you, you shouldn’t continue. Listen to your body; it always tells you what’s working or not working for you.”

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Photo: Stocksy/Marija Kovac
Photo: Stocksy/Marija Kovac

4. Fight hunger before it starts

Sometimes, a specific craving isn’t the problem—for many, a constant feeling of low-grade hunger while cleansing can lead to transgressions.

While this is to be expected with any big dietary change-up, Goodman says there are ways to keep the munchies at bay. “Stay hydrated, because this can be misinterpreted as hunger,” she offers. “Sleep is also critical, because it affects hormone levels that trigger your appetite and increase your cravings for sugar and carbs.” So make sure you’re clocking a full night’s rest (now might be the time to set a digital curfew, too).

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Photo: Stocksy/Marija Mandic
Photo: Stocksy/Marija Mandic

5. Investigate your emotional triggers

Often, when we’re tempted to raid the corner store for M&Ms and Diet Coke, it’s not actually about the food at all. That’s why Goodman says a cleanse is the perfect time to look at the “why” behind your cravings and break up with bad habits.

“Begin to identify when you’re eating for emotional reasons,” she says. “If emotions are bringing you into the kitchen, try other ways to soothe yourself—read a good book, listen to music, practice yoga, or meditate.”

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Photo: Stocksy/Bonnin Studio
Photo: Stocksy/Bonnin Studio

6. Turn cleansing into a lifestyle

In Goodman’s opinion, a detox shouldn’t just be something you do twice a year. “My philosophy on cleansing is that it should be a daily practice,” she says. “I’m talking about drinking lots of lemon water, adding a green juice without sugar, taking a detox supplement—like Gaia Milk Thistle before bed or Pure Encapsulations’ GI/Liver Detox—sleeping eight hours, and finding time in your day to de-stress.”

She insists that striking a healthy balance is the best way “to not to feel guilty when a special occasion comes up and you want to participate.” Because honestly, there are few things more toxic than food-induced stress.

For in-depth cleanse prep, here are beginner’s guides to quitting sugar and coffee. Plus, three reasons you should detox, according to these clean-eating gurus.