Why a Cleanse Isn’t Always for Everyone—Plus a Healthy Chili Recipe

vegetarian chili

Yesterday, my husband and I started a dietary cleanse for the New Year. After more than a month of less-than-healthy holiday eating, it seemed like a great idea. But then we chose to base ours off the concept of the Daniel Diet, an extremely restrictive cleanse that allows no meat, dairy, refined carbs, leavened breads, sugars of any kind (even the healthy ones, like honey and molasses), caffeine, and alcohol. Instead, you eat legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. You’re supposed to do it for three weeks, which I thought would be easy-peasy. I used to nearly eat that way before as a flexitarian, and anything could be done for three weeks, right? Plus I love a good challenge, and new diets and recipes are always good blog fodder.

Today, I quit the cleanse.

Normally I’m not a quitter, but after just a day and a half I realized that this diet went against absolutely everything I believe in food-wise. Actually, I realized it after only about six hours, in tears at one point yesterday, but I pressed on hoping I would feel differently with a little more time. I tried to deal with it today by tweeting a play-by-play of my misery, but I think it only served to annoy my followers. At any rate, I can’t take it any longer.

What it boils down to is this: I believe that food should be enjoyed and fully experienced (in moderation, of course), not restricted and agonized over. In other words, it’s not the food I had a hard time with (although I did), it was the mindset I needed to adapt in order to do it. Tying negative attributes to foods and denying entire food groups has both mental and physical ramifications—so much so that it’s considered a condition with its very own name: disordered eating. I know it’s only three weeks, but it’s a slippery slope that I don’t want to find myself near. Stronger people have been brainwashed in less time.

(I should stress that in all of this I am in no way referring to anything like Celiac disease or lactose intolerance or other conditions where one is unable to eat certain food groups for health reasons, or vegetarians or vegans who do so for moral/ethical reasons. You guys are totally cool. And so are the short-term cleansers who are able to manage without the mental agony I am experiencing. You’re better people than I.)

Yes, food serves a larger purpose than taste bud gratification: it fuels and sustains the body. But I believe that food can be both healthy and delicious, satisfying, and enjoyable. I ate yesterday’s lunch (a sad, mushy bean burger) and immediately announced that I felt completely unsatisfied, even though nutritionally it contained a similar amount of calories, fat, and carbs as a normal lunch. My husband also summed it up in a succinct tweet this morning about why he too was disappointed in the cleanse: “. . . it’s the lack of looking forward to what I get to eat today.” His hashtag (#firstworldproblems) brings up a very good point—if I was doing this for ethical reasons, showing solidarity for those less fortunate in food, it would be another thing altogether, but that wasn’t our motivation.

Although I “quit,” it doesn’t mean I’m going back to my holiday binging; rather, I’m resuming my normal, what I do consider healthy, Mediterranean-inspired diet, which includes things like meat, milk, yogurt, eggs, fish, and—yes—dark chocolate, caffeinated coffee, and yeast bread, glorious bread (whole-wheat, of course). Hey, I’m Italian; what can I say? However, this does require a trip to the grocery store to restock, so I guess I’m going back to that way of eating tomorrow.

Which is okay, because I do have some surprisingly delicious cleanse leftovers in my fridge right now: this fabulous chili. Although it’s a vegetarian chili, it’s amazing—what a brilliant idea to use balsamic vinegar, which totally makes this dish. I may try adding meat next time, although I can’t say that it would add anything at all to this already perfect recipe.

Vegetarian Chili

Adapted from Door Sixteen

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1–2 chipotle in adobo sauce, seeds removed, diced
14 oz diced tomatoes
28 oz cooked or canned black beans, with cooking or canning liquid (I’m thinking you could replace half of this with beef if you wanted to)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 to 1 ½ cups cooked brown rice (I’d omit if using beef)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in a large pot. Add the onions, carrots, and bell pepper and sauté about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about one minute more. Add chipotle, tomatoes, beans (with canning or cooking liquid), corn, spices and salt. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Stir in rice and balsamic vinegar and serve.

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2 responses to “Why a Cleanse Isn’t Always for Everyone—Plus a Healthy Chili Recipe

  1. Elisa- this post is right on. For the average person without a medical need, restrictive diets like this, even short term, can cause more problems then benefits by the stress they induce. If its not delicious to you, it’s not going to benefit your health! Happy Eating – Eric

    • Thanks, Eric! It means a lot to have my thoughts to be validated by a nutrition expert like you. Hope you’ve been enjoying delicious things this New Year too!

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