First, an admission: I am not a cleanse person. Nor am I typically that interested in them. Not the Master Cleanse. Not a juice cleanse. Not even a spiritual cleanse, as my religion doesn’t ask that I periodically fast to demonstrate my devotion to God. For good reason, too: Along with masturbation and exercise, food is one of the few dopamine dumps my sober brain is still permitted, and I enjoy everything about it: The planning, the eating, even the elimination long after the meal is finished.
Needless to say then, I approached my impeding five-day soup cleanse with skeptical apprehension and dread. I had modest goals: Lose weight, feel lighter, improve my gut health, eat more soup.
I asked David Wiss, MEL’s go-to dietitian from Nutrition in Recovery in L.A., if he had any thoughts before I jumped in. “The soup cleanse is better than a lot of the juice cleanses I see out there because it has real food with fiber content,” he explained to me. “One of the major problems with a lot of these other cleanses is that they are all juice and have no fiber.”
I remained skeptical, but we agreed to speak again in five days.
The cleanse I chose is called Soupure. On the company’s site, it explains that they “believe a healthy body is about nourishment, not deprivation,” and that they “collaborated with nutritional experts and culinary chefs to cultivate clean, delicious, nutrient and fiber rich soups and soup cleanses that detoxify and nourish your body, mind, and spirit.” To me, at least, that sounded a lot better than forcing down some seemingly bullshit concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.
Slightly less than a week’s worth of sustenance arrived in two insulated boxes packed with 35 bottles of various liquids labeled as follows:
- 5 CLEAN pineapple basil alkaline water
- 5 REBOOT pear yuzu alkaline water
- 3 SOOTHE chicken bone broth with miso
- 2 SAVORY beef bone broth
- 3 SUPERHERO nuts & seeds
- 2 ENERGIZE strawberry cashew
- 2 HEAL zucchini basil
- 1 RESTORE Japanese sweet potato
- 2 SATISFY lentil chickpea
- 2 REBUILD asparagus leek
- 1 ROBUST kale minestrone
- 1 VIBRANT tomato basil
- 1 PROTECT split pea chlorophyll or 1 PREVENT carrot ginger turmeric
- 3 CALM lemongrass consomme
- 2 INFUSE vegetable broth
The next step? Shotgunning them all over the course of the next 120 hours.
7 a.m., Pineapple Basil Alkaline Water (10 calories, 4 grams of carbs): In addition to depriving myself of solid foods, I’m instructed to forego caffeinated beverages. So instead of my regular venti iced coffee first thing in the morning, I “alkalize my system” with pineapple/cucumber-infused water. I got sober five years ago, but I wish I’d had this every time I woke up with a hangover. It’s delightful and what I imagine is offered at a spa in Bali. A sweet kiss meets the sides of my tongue before the rest coats my insides like a 1980s Pepto Bismol commercial.
8 a.m., Vegetable Broth (15 calories, 2 grams of carbs): The directions say to “stoke your digestive fires with a warm broth” and this one’s infused with carrot, onion, celery and thyme, and tastes like a cup of salty tea.
10 a.m., Chilled Strawberry, Sprouted Cashew and Honey Soup (120 calories, 10 grams of carbs): These aren’t just any fucking cashews: They’re “milked, soaked and sprouted to bring out their natural sweetness” and complemented by an enticing mixture of strawberry and honey. It makes for more than a passable substitute for what would typically be my second cup of coffee en route to work. Directions are to enjoy this “chilled mid-morning or post-workout breakfast.” I LOL at the latter and proceed with the former. (Pro-tip: Save half for an after-dinner dessert.)
12 p.m.: While I’m permitted a healthy lunch of “lean proteins, vegetables and legumes at no more than 400 calories,” I stick to the liquids and opt for an extra-large snack. Rather than a “teaspoon of unsalted nuts” — who the fuck eats a teaspoon of nuts? — I down a couple fistfuls of unsalted almonds with three glasses of water.
3 p.m., Beef Bone Broth (45 calories, 3 grams of carbs): As my colleague Tracy wrote for Jezebel a couple years ago, bone broth is a centuries-old practice of cooking animal bones into a nutrient-dense broth and heals everything you can think of. “It’s being touted as a winter miracle drink,” she wrote. “This East Village resto is serving it in to-go cups for $9 a pop. Gwynnie is pimping it on GOOP.” It tastes like something grandma might serve you when you have the flu. It’s a broth that satiates like a stew. I have zero hunger afterward.
5 p.m., Pear Yuzu Alkaline Water (15 calories, 4 grams of carbs): I enjoy this one on my drive home from work and am equally pleased by its nourishing, hydrating properties.
7 p.m., Kale Minestrone Soup (105 calories, 9 grams of carbs): Every once in awhile the Soupure bottles have odds and ends floating about, like this kale minestrone. I wouldn’t call it “hearty,” but it’s way thicker than a “broth” and after nothing but liquid all day, it feels like a feast. Nonetheless, I fall asleep with a nagging caffeine withdrawal headache.
Long story short: It’s a very similar menu to yesterday—as are the other remaining days — with a similar physical experience as well. The only real surprise? I didn’t wake up hungry.
I have a series of unnerving dreams. So much so that when I wake up, I Google “fucked up dreams soup cleanse,” which leads me to a webpage entitled “Pay Attention to Dreams During a Detox.” “Vivid or scary dreams are common when you’re detoxing,” it says. “In theory, as your cells release physical toxins, you’ll also release emotional toxins. These toxins can show up in the form of intense detox dreams at night.”
I also wake up with flulike muscle aches all over my body that increase throughout the day. I consider leaving work after lunch because of a developing fever.
I dreamed I was in a plane crash, and unlike the previous nightmares, I remember this one because it lasted all night. The plane kept falling in altitude, but there was nothing I could do about it. I kept checking my phone to see if I had service so I could call my mother to say goodbye, but the flight attendant informed me that we’d only have cell reception once the plane fell below 500 feet. She did, however, promise there would be enough time to send one text before we hit the ground, which I took some comfort in. She also asked me if I’d like anything to eat beforehand; I politely declined: “No thanks, I’m on a soup cleanse.” A flash of concrete entered into frame before I shot up in bed, drenched in sweat. My fever had broken.
I then have a Top 10 Bowel Movement of All Time: Double-tapered, wrap around the bowl. And then another above-average bowel movement in the afternoon, and then yet another after that.
I wake up in a good mood and have another above-average BM. I feel lighter than I have in months — likely due to all of the BM-ing. My weight reflects it, too: The same scale I used five days ago says I’ve lost almost 10 pounds. This is really working! I think to myself over and over again. I call my mom and tell her as much. I make a plan to speak with Wiss tomorrow to tell him as well. As a treat, I load up my dinner of hot lentil chickpea soup with an extra cup of Trader Joe’s “Just Chicken.”
As promised, Wiss and I connect the morning after my cleanse ends. “Cleanses and detoxes appeal to psychology way more than they do to biology,” he tells me, bursting my self-righteous bubble within seconds of answering the phone. “The idea of a quick cleanse or quick detox appeals to the part of the brain that’s looking for a quick fix. The reason it’s appealing is that it’s contained, pre-portioned and prescribed, but it doesn’t address big-picture issues.”
“But what about my nearly 10 pounds of weight loss?” I ask defeatedly.
“You probably lost some water weight from being on a low-sodium diet and not eating restaurant food, which decreases your water retention,” he explains. “You also probably lost some muscle mass because your protein intake was way lower than normal. It’s likely that you lost some fat as well. However, when you start eating again, there’s a high likelihood you’ll immediately regain that weight.”
“So the soup cleanse just made me think I was doing all of these positive things and the weight loss falsely reaffirmed them?”
“Correct,” Wiss says.
“It’s a brilliant business model,” he continues. “You don’t have to think about it, we’ll do it all for you. Step up to the challenge. We got you covered. Just plug in your credit card number. But the question is, if this stuff really worked, why are we in a growing epidemic of disordered eating, diabetes, obesity and food addiction?”
“But I had limited solid food for five days and then had substantial bowel movements,” I say, grasping at straws. “Doesn’t that mean I was purging toxins that were built up in my intestines?!”
“We do live in an era of gut-related issues,” Wiss concedes. “Some of this stuff can be helpful, especially if you were on a fast-food diet. But the body has lots of mechanisms for detoxification through the lungs, liver, kidney and excretion process. I suspect having abnormal and irregular bowel movements from extreme shocks related to cleanses is one of the things that get people to buy in more. All of this bad stuff that was in me is out of me now. This works!”
“But what about the bone broth? Isn’t that a centuries-old ancient recipe for health and wellness that heals everything you can think of, naturally? Gwynnie thought so…”
Wiss pauses: “Bone broth is just a trendy term for soup.”