I eat shit.
Well, not shit shit, but like, food shit. I eat children's cereal every morning, and snack on Cheetos and Snickers throughout the day. I drink soda. If you sent me to the grocery store and told me to pick out leeks and scallions, I would break down crying in confusion.
Seriously: what are these things?
That said, I want to eat well. I'm no longer a teenager, which I guess means I should be thinking about my health ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ After reading countless articles that yell at me for eating anything that tastes good, I have come to see the error in my ways. Apparently, I cannot continue on like this, and I must atone for my inability to restrain myself. Like a wayward son returning home, I am here for absolution.
I must exorcise my food demons.
I've been this close to purchasing juice cleanses several times on Groupon.
But every time, something held me back. Maybe it was all the articles and nutritionists that have clearly stated how unhealthy they are. Or maybe it was just the fact that I couldn't imagine not eating for three days. Either way, I never juiced.
That’s when I discovered the soup cleanse:
Could this be the solution to my cleansing dreams? Was it actually healthy? Could it exorcise my food demons?
I reached out to Ryan Andrews, MS, RD, a coach with Precision Nutrition, and I asked him: "Why are cleanses so popular?"
"A lot of people don't trust themselves, they think they need rules and regulations," Andrews said, speaking directly to my nature. "People think they need to purge the toxins. They need to ask for forgiveness for their eating sins."
Andrews was so, so right. When I brought up the souping cleanse specifically, he immediately saw why it might be superior to juice cleanses. With soups, he said, "you can work in a greater variation of vegetable, including beans, and you're using more fiber." Chewing is also an important initial step in the eating process. With this glowing encouragement, I knew souping was exactly the quick fix I had in mind.
True, Andrews also told me that “nothing specifically about vegetable soups” can “blow everything away,” and that the downsides (tbd) may outweigh the benefits.
But I ignored that. I ordered the soup.
There are a bunch of different companies that offer soup cleanses: Splendid Spoon, Real Food Works, Soupure. Given that there over 179 types of soup, and that doesn't even include stews (!), there is likely a wide variation. I chose a three-day cleanse from Real Food Works, mostly because I felt I had sinned at least three day's worth.
In a terrible twist of fate, the soups arrived the same day I received a stack of cheese from Beecher's. It was very tempting, but the cheese would have to wait. I had a soul to cleanse.
This cleanse prescribes eating six soups each day. I was expecting some nice chunky soups, perhaps a chicken noodle, so I was surprised to find that all of the soups were puréed. Doesn't that cancel out the health benefits from chewing? You know, if you're not chewing at all?
The soups arrive in difficult-to-open plastic containers.
DAY 1: The Cleanse Begins
I hated this soup! I did not know whether I was supposed to heat it up or not. So I tried both ways. Both ways tasted equally bad!
The instructions that accompanied the soups directed me to sit with my soup and savor each bite. It took me over an hour to finish this soup, and that's certainly not because I was "savoring" it.
Next I moved on to the carrot soup! It was yummy. Having had carrot soup before, I knew it should be warmed. Two soups into my cleanse, and I was still very hungry. In time, I would come to realize this feeling is just what you feel during a soup cleanse.
With a name like "purify," you would think this soup was the most important in terms of cleansing my demons. And in many ways, the taste fit the bill. It reminded me of that feeling when seawater comes out your nose. It's unpleasant and bitter, but it's also mother nature's Neti pot.
I had to soup in meetings because there was just so much damn soup.
By the time I got to my fourth soup, I had been carrying soups around all day. I was never without a soup, because liquid soups are not quickly eaten. They take more time than drinking AND eating real food. However, I like this soup. I'm a big fan of soups that aren't puke green. This soup was made of beets, which I love. I would have preferred just eating beets, but alas, this was a soup cleanse.
This was the worst soup. Dinner is one of my favorite meals, and this soup was ruining it. I snuck some salt and pepper in it, but that only made it barely edible.
This was hands down the best soup. Probably because it was the "dessert" soup, and it was filled with fruit. I'm a big honeydew-head. That said, this soup was also clearly a juice parading around as a soup. Hey Transcend: I'm on to you.
All day I feared my bowel movement.
I am a very regular BMer, so when I had gone 24 hours without a single movement, I got nervous. Turns out, I had reason to be, because what came out of my body can only be described as a waterfall. Suddenly, TLC's warnings became clear: they were talking about souping the whole time.
I went to bed feeling hungry — I feeling I hate and typically avoid. I was not looking forward to day 2.
I dreaded this day. I woke up hungry, and realized I would continue to be hungry for two full days. Plus, it was a Friday, and I couldn't even drink, since the cleanse only allowed for drinking water. I was going to have to eat the same six soups today, half of which were barely edible. It was going to be a long day.
Too. Many. Soups.
I carried my bowl into every meeting, and even ate it during a live stream. My coworker April pranked me by adding whiskey to my "Purify" soup, so I had to throw it out.
I ate my last soup at Fat Cat, while my other friends drank beer and played ping pong.
Later that night, we continued bar-hopping in the West Village, and I grew sadder and sadder. But if I really wanted to cleanse my food soul, I had to stay strong.
My biggest test arrived when the group decided to drunk-eat at Five Guys. The burgers and the fries smelled phenomenal. I could feel the demons in me screaming for sustenance. "Stay strong," I said, walking with them up to the cash register. And then I got an idea.
“Do you guys have a to-go bowl?” I asked.
The cash man looked at me quizzically and then pulled out a tin bowl. "Like this?" he replied.
Exactly. I ordered a cookies and cream milkshake and poured it into that bowl. That's how I came to enjoy:
No — this soup is not, technically, a part of this cleanse. But it IS soup-y.
The soup is cold, which is acceptable, and it most certainly includes a liquid. An amazing thing happened as I inhaled this extra soup: I felt full. I had a bit of a stomach ache, but I felt full. Maybe my body had just been hankering for some calcium? Calcium I could only get in a milkshake soup? I may never know. But one thing I knew for sure: the food demons remained to live another day.
Although I had concluded most of the soups tasted better hot, by day three, my soul was so defeated I couldn't even put the bowls in the microwave. I ate most of them cold. I had plans with my friend Clara and had to bring soup in a lunchbox to her house. It felt lame, but I knew I was almost out of the woods.
My gag reflex started kicking in on Day 3. My body was thoroughly done with soups — especially gross ones that taste like seaweed. I couldn't even finish my Replenish soup. It sat in the fridge for three more days.
Nevertheless, going to bed that night, I felt accomplished. Sadly, that healthy feeling never followed.
The Day After The Cleanse
I celebrated ending my soup cleanse by making a big, unhealthy breakfast of blueberry lemon pancakes, bacon and tea. Yes, I would have eaten cereal too, but I found myself uninterested in eating anything from a bowl. I needed a few days until bowls earned my trust back. Besides, I had so much fun chewing! Chewing is way better than swallowing. I alsed BMed like, right away. And it was a good, healthy BM. It came out smooth like soft-serve.
What I Learned:
Souping was a highly unpleasant experience, but I expected it to be. Exorcisms are never fun. Besides, it felt like necessary punishment for eating poorly. And now, finally, I was food-demon free and healthy.
… Well, not really. As you might have already guessed, you don't need to eat soup-based food at all to feel better. "When we are eating minimally processed foods, plant-based foods, we should achieve our health goals," Dr. Andrews explained.
But for those of you who, like me, might choose souping because we need the structure and will make poor eating decisions unless someone tells us otherwise, Andrews recommends hooking up with a coach or nutritionist. And if that's a big step for you, there is no shortage of meal plans online. Andrews recommends checking out Whole Foods Market for healthy and delicious sample meal plans.
Bottom line: If you’re looking to eat healthier, or trying to lose weight, don’t do a soup cleanse.
We all struggle with our food demons, and there's no really no cure-all or easy exorcism. This is good news! Cleanses are also expensive, anyway. If you like soup, make your own. Eat vegetables. You know, everything your parents taught you to do.
Souping did not make me healthier, though I did have a hankering for steamed broccoli this past week, which is something I've never experienced before. So maybe I am doing better finding a balance in eating healthy.