Cleansing with Persephone
I have an addictive personality. When I stumble onto something I enjoy, I don’t just dabble with it. I embrace it, welcome it in, give it a place to stay, then chain it down like a captive. Comic books, exercise, popcorn, whiskey, collared zip-up vests, Jeeps, any type of technology (with a focus on Apple), cumin, Reese’s peanut butter cups, World of Warcraft, oranges, colored boxer briefs, cheese, and (cough) cigarettes, among many other things, were or still are an addiction.
So when I was asked if I’d like to take part in and write about island health coach Persephone Brown’s 10-day October Cleanse With Intention, it came as no shock that even after her regimented dietary cleanse concluded, I freely kept it going. This is one addiction I’m happy to invite to stay. If something makes you feel this good, why not?
My brief dietary history: In 2004 I weighed 210 pounds, more than 50 pounds heavier than I am now. My diet consisted mainly of grease, blocks of cheese, processed meats, heavy pastas and an arsenal of foods and beverages containing unholy amounts of salt, sugar and yeast. My vegetable intake was sporadic: St. Patty’s Day cabbage, mashed potatoes, squash and scant amount of greenery on Thanksgiving and Christmas. For fruit, syrupy juices.
That all changed the same year, when my 56-year-old mother became ill and was put on a diet of whole fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Her ways of buying, preparing and eating food changed radically. In support, my sister and I joined her in the transition and also became clients of the holistic nutritionist who literally saved her life. I remained on the program for two full years, then ramped it down, allowing myself organic meats, certain types of breads and cheese, glorious cheese. But I never wandered far from the path that we’d set together.
That is, until two years ago, when I moved back on island. Between a full workload, Block Island social life and the inability to procure the same types and varieties of foods I had been used to, the regimen was running at about 10 percent. I had lost the war I was waging to quick meals, yeasty beverages and a lack of motivation.
A week prior to beginning the cleanse, Persephone arranged a conference call for all 35 of us taking part. Most of us were from the island, but because she uses Facebook and email as a base for communication, she had members from states other than Rhode Island.
Before that call, she had sent everyone the cleanse shopping list and a bevy of recipes. The call laid the groundwork for the cleanse. She was clear with guidelines — what could be allowed and what couldn’t as far as food and beverage were concerned. Not surprisingly, whiskey was a no-no, along with every other type of alcohol, and any items containing sugar, preservatives, yeast or white flour, caffeine or gluten. Meat was out, too, but certain types of seafood were fine. Cheese... gone, along with the rest of the dairy group. Her focus for this cleanse: high fiber, protein and Omega 3s.
“Our relationship to food is about so much more than the food we choose to eat,” said Persephone. “We eat for entertainment, because of stress, or because of attachments to certain foods. The cleanse offers the opportunity to explore that relationship a little deeper by eliminating foods that are addictive and might create a toxic response in the body. We’re cleaning the slate, getting rid of nagging cravings and giving ourselves the opportunity to eat what our bodies — not our brains, our stress levels, our boredom or our attachments — are hungry for.”
An hour of cleanse conversation among the participants, discussing the shopping list, individual goals and expected outcomes was punctuated with reassurance and pointed coaching by Persephone. And then the 35 of us were set loose. But we still had some time before the cleanse began to do all our shopping, mentally prepare, and most importantly, polish off a sausage pizza (or five).
The cleanse was to begin on Monday, Oct. 9, and finish Oct. 18. On Saturday Oct. 6, I ferried off and went to Whole Foods in Cranston, where I was able to fulfill the entire shopping list. I bought a little more than I needed in case I wanted to continue with the cleanse past its cutoff date. My bill for everything was $198. However, it would have been more like the $100 - $150 Persephone says is normal if I hadn’t gone all-organic and used the opportunity to stock up.
Getting with the program
Day one, and I was cranky. I missed my coffee. I already missed, in advance, visiting the Red Bird for a six-pack or bottle of wine. I couldn’t seem to feel full when I ate — as an American, it’s my birthright to gorge myself to capacity, dammit.
Yet, I knew the choices I had been making were not the best for me. I thought back to how I had eaten over the past couple years and I contrasted that with how I remembered feeling when I was eating well the years prior. And I thought about the miracle recovery my mother made by radically altering her dietary routine. I hung in there.
Although I wanted a beer and a burger and coffee and mayo and cheese on a roast beef sandwich, I made butternut squash soup, sautéed some Swiss chard, onions and garlic in extra virgin olive oil, steamed some brown rice and hunkered down for the next nine days. The first day taught me that it’s not what you can’t have, but what you should have, that will make the difference.
Says Persephone, on the foods she allows in the cleanse, “I’ve made changes over time to make the cleanse more accessible and more sustainable. It felt to me that if someone was going to do this, it was more important that they have success with healthier eating and lifestyle for more long-term while still cleansing, than focus on deprivation for 10 days only to go back to how they ate before or worse.”
Each morning I woke up and was greeted with an email from Persephone. Seriously, Persephone, what time do you get up? Every email began with an inspiring message and was followed by her thoughts for what she hoped the day would bring for the members of her cleanse family, along with a new recipe to try for the day. And each new day also brought an update to the Facebook cleanse group page. Because she was doing the cleanse along with us, not simply laying down the law, she used the Facebook page to communicate her own daily struggles and accomplishments with the cleanse and allow us to provide our own, give feedback and ask questions. For many, that interaction was crucial, because when doing a cleanse, especially if you’re the only one of your friends or family doing it, you feel isolated. The Facebook group Persephone set up allowed us all to be reminded that for at least these 10 days, we stood as one.
One of the side effects of a cleanse can be headaches and by day three, they started. Nothing horrible or debilitating, just a presence in my head that popped in every so often to knock. After day five, it was gone.
After day three I had dropped two pounds. Weight loss was not on my personal goal list, so I asked Persephone through the Facebook group if I could add some coconut milk to my morning fruit smoothie (my concoction is fresh squeezed orange juice, strawberry, blueberry, flax oil, a banana, protein powder and fresh ginger — all organic). Although not one of the items on the yes list, she allowed its use, as it has many known medicinal and health benefits. And it’s a good source of healthy fat. With the coconut milk in the diet, I maintained weight.
Each person comes to the cleanse with their own personal goal. “Most people,” says Persephone, “are looking to lose weight with the cleanse, between 5-15 pounds, and can, depending on how much excess they have to lose. There have been people who have healed or found the source of long-standing joint pain, allergies, and digestive issues. One cleanser went to her doctor after cleansing for a routine checkup and found that her numbers for cholesterol, high blood pressure and blood sugars had declined significantly. He thought it was a miracle but it was just a healthy diet.”
Throughout the cleanse, Persephone provides ready-made meals for purchase at her home on the island. If you know you’re not going to have time to cook at night, all you have to do is call it in by the day’s cutoff time and pick it up. I wish I had tried one of her meals, but I was honestly having fun making a mess of my kitchen every night. A couple of the favorites that I made were sweet potato, beet and cabbage salad; roasted mahi mahi with fennel bulb; and fresh tomato sauce and fettuccini (surprise — the fettuccini is peeled zucchini and summer squash).
Persephone provides these recipes and more — they’re one of the great perks of the program that will stand me in good stead for years.
I cheated on day six. Local marksman John Fournier asked if I could fix a tiny problem with his computer — a 10-minute job. In exchange he gave me a choice cut of the 10-point buck he had bagged that day, the opening day of hunting season. Local, fresh, organic protein, I rationalized. This had to be better than any meat I’d get anywhere else. And Lord, was it! I slow cooked it for 10 hours with organic vegetable broth, celery, onion, carrots, garlic, shredded cabbage, scallions, red bell pepper, a little Irish sea salt, pepper and lots of cumin (yep, still one of the major addictions).
Forgive me, Persephone.
On many occasions throughout the cleanse, Persephone brought up the concept of brain fog and how the cleanse might help it dissipate. I had heard of it, but was never quite aware of what it was until about day seven of the cleanse, when it started clearing. I still don’t think it’s totally gone, and with all the damage I’ve done to my body, who knows if it ever will, but throughout the day I’m no longer feeling like there is a haze around me. Perhaps brain fog is based on a lack of energy due to poor diet. I really don’t know. All I can say is that my interactions with people, my focus on work, the way I perceive and react to people and events around me has changed and my awareness has become more acute. As I said, this all started about day seven and has improved further. The brain fog still lets me know I have a ways to go, though — at least once a day when I can’t remember where I left my keys. On a positive note, I haven’t lost the TV remote in two weeks.
My energy level has improved markedly. As a matter of fact, since about day eight I’ve been having a hard time falling asleep. Whereas I used to be asleep by 10 or 11 p.m., now I’m routinely up well past midnight. But when I wake up in the morning, I’m wide awake. No groggy feeling, and that is without coffee, only the stimulus of bare feet on the hardwood floor.
The cleanse officially ends, but I decide I want to keep it going.
I told Persephone when I contacted her about writing the story of my experience that my goal was to use her cleanse as a kickstart back to the way I had been eating a few years ago. Her program not only helped me accomplish that, but opened me up to other ways of viewing food and food preparation. I clearly have a new addiction.
The 10-day program costs $99, or $49 for repeat cleansers. There is a November cleanse beginning on Monday, Nov. 5, and another starting January 14. Persephone is on her fourth year of running the cleanse and has “graduated” more than 12 groups. For more information, go to www.persephonebrown.com.