Time for Spring Cleansing

Feeling overindulgent after a season of weddings, BBQs and backyard parties last summer, I started working on my wife, trying to convince her to join me in cleansing through the month of October. I have cleansed with varying levels of success over the past decade, always learning something new about myself and my relationship with my food. After much cajoling she agreed and we harangued a few more friends into doing it with us – strength in numbers, you know?! Our plan was to eliminate animal products, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, gluten-containing grains, sugar…all the good stuff. The goal was to get really simple and find the “reset” button on our eating habits. 


What the planning process brought up was less than simple. As it turns out, the choices we make for ourselves and for our health are very loaded. Historically, cleansing was a spiritual act. In ancient traditions all over the world, cleansing and fasting were used to reconnect with the divine - God, Creator, Allah, Buddha, etc. - and to the divine in oneself. This occurred in a time when affluence was physically apparent, not just in the clothes one wore but in the extra weight a wealthy person carried. Refined flour and sugar were luxuries in that time. 


Contrast that to what we have now and the reverse is true; refined, processed foods are cheaper than whole foods. Obesity and the health implications associated with it are affecting low-income earners more than high-income earners. Add to that phenomena environmental pollutants, high stress, contaminated food and water, and a national disconnect from our food and our bodies and we find ourselves in a hot mess. Now we need cleansing even more than ever. 


I can get really excited about cleansing, because, in addition to a necessity, I see it as an act of self-love. Restraining yourself from behaviors and habits that have become addictions and choosing to be incredibly intentional about everything you put in your body is nothing but an act of self-love. That’s really empowering! And, I believe that when even one person acts out of self-love, the whole world benefits. Imagine if we all practiced that everyday, what a difference we would make!


The terms cleanse, detox and fast are often used interchangeably. For myself, I think of cleansing and detoxing/detoxifying as restricting some foods, incorporating others and usually supplementing with herbs, teas, and physical practice to aid the process. Fasting by my definition, eliminates all but one or maybe a few food items. There are many, many ways to cleanse and, contrary to general opinion, the point is not to be hungry. The point is to be mindful of all the why’s, how’s and what’s you put in your body without thinking.


In a modern world with the availability of excess everything, the goals of cleansing are multi-faceted:

  •  It gives us a chance to reset into and reflect on a simpler lifestyle. Restricting our food options reminds us of the bounty we have at our fingertips. That simplicity will make this progressive world seem even more complicated and can help us realize that progress comes with a lot of pressure to always be “plugged in” and available. Cleansing can give us a chance to rethink and possibly reprioritize all of that. 
  •  It gives our digestive organs a respite from working through heavy foods (meat and dairy) and drugs (sugar, caffeine, alcohol, etc.). These things can bog down our system over time, paralyzing the cells in our intestines and compromising our elimination process. 
  •  We get to honor ourselves for the sacred and special beings that we are. Now, that may sound hokey, but really! Self-love, my friends, is a powerful thing!


Burdock rootBurdock rootThere are two seasons a year in which cleansing is very helpful and appropriate: spring and autumn, the transition seasons. And, oh so conveniently, we see the things we need to cleanse pop through the ground just in time: dandelion greens and roots, burdock root, fiddlehead ferns, ramps and nettles. All these items that we can forage for are cleansing for the digestive system and tone the liver after a winter of packing in the extra insulation. In the autumn, we have kale and other hearty greens, winter squash, brassicas and mustards. Cleansing in the autumn is more about clearing out the party of summertime before we move into winter, the season of rest. For me, that means clearing out ice cream and sausages…


While you can be creative with how you structure a cleanse, here are a few lessons I have learned that may help a cleanse-curious person be successful in the task: 


  •  Start the day out strong. Wake up early so you have plenty of time to stagger around your house without caffeine to kick you into high gear. Make yourself breakfast and pack a lunch. 
  •  Pack your fridge with lots of cleansing veggies. In addition to those already mentioned look into your stores from last season for kale, leeks, garlic, yams or sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, etc. Eat as many different veggies as you can every day. 
  •  Use this time as an opportunity to explore new foods and recipes. This spring I took on cooking gluten-free grains I’d never tried before, like millet and kasha, and found that I really like them. 
  •  Have a solid breakfast plan; the most important meal of the day. On my cleanse this spring, I ate a simple soup for breakfast every morning made with homemade chicken broth, poached pullet eggs from Braucher’s Sunshine Harvest Farm and spinach and ramps from Prairie Hollow Farm. It’s delicious, nutritious and it got me through the morning! 
  •  Snacks are important. If you’re used to eating meat and heavier meals, you may find yourself hungry within a few hours after you eat. Walnuts, or apples with almond butter are great to have on hand. Set yourself up so that you’re not searching for a midday snack with only candy and chips available to you.
  • Carve out time for processing. Cleansing can be really enlightening and profound…which sometimes means: draining, uncomfortable, and irritating. Make sure there is time for you to be alone. Schedule daily baths or trips to the sauna. Book yourself a massage or acupuncture appointment(s). Go for walks. Do yoga. Journal. The point of cleansing is to move old things out of your body, so don’t do all the work of bringing it up and then ignore it. 
  • Recruit a buddy or join a group cleanse (strength in numbers!). This spring I did the Spring Renewal Program at One Yoga hosted by Amy Patee and Jessica Flannigan, two very skilled and informed teachers. They run this program every spring and fall; it’s really great.

If you’ve never cleansed before, I highly recommend it. Just like we replenish the soil after a growing season, so must we replenish ourselves. If you’re intimidated by it, start small; a few days of simple eating is a great place to start. And remember, the struggle is only a finite experience. 

Jesse Haas is Co-Founder of Chakra Khan, where she is a Massage Therapist and Health Coach. Her approach to working with clients integrates whole body health and conscious eating. To learn more about her practice, visit or email her at