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Here's What Happened When I Tried the Soup Cleanse for 5 Days

Photograph by Twenty20

I've always thought cleanses were silly. If you’re Beyoncé and want to subsist on nothing but lemons, maple syrup and cayenne pepper to slim down for a role, you go, girl. But for a regular person, a cleanse seems pointless, since any weight lost just comes right back once you start eating normally again. Anything extreme is not sustainable.

On the other hand, none of my usual weight-loss tricks had been working on those last five stubborn pregnancy pounds, all seemingly clumped around my midsection. My older child had taken to teasing me about my “big tummy” (thanks for nothing, Peppa Pig!) and I was feeling puffy, frustrated and willing to try just about anything.

So, when I read about the hot new trend in cleansing called a soup cleanse, I was intrigued. Rather than starving myself with an all-juice diet, I’d be eating actual food, just in mostly liquid form. The benefits of soup are that it’s an easy way to pack in tons of vegetables and, since it’s already pureed, you’re giving your overworked digestion system a little vacation, at least according to Dr. Gwyneth Paltrow of the GOOP Institute of Medicine. (I kid ... kind of.)

I found a local company to deliver a 5-day soup cleanse with everything I needed packaged in numbered mason jars. The hardest part was finding enough room in the fridge. The ingredients were all fresh, organic, gluten-free and vegan, with the exception of my daily dose of bone broth. I was encouraged to drink tons of water with lemon during the cleanse for “detoxifying” purposes. I'm not sure whether I believe in the whole detox concept. I mean, we never learned about “toxins” in high school science—are they real? But lemon water is very refreshing, so I went with it.

My goals for the cleanse: kick-start weight loss, curb sugar cravings and create healthier habits for the future.

DAY 1

I’m gulping down lemon water while I pack my kids’ lunches in the morning. The first thing I notice is that I can’t eat my preschooler’s PB&J crusts like I normally do. I think this is going to be the hardest thing about cleansing: As a mom, you still have to prepare three meals and who knows how many snacks for your kids every day, so there’s no avoiding all the sights and smells of yummy food.

Today's soups—spring vegetable, cauliflower leek and yellow split pea—are quite tasty, but my sweet tooth is begging for a cookie afterwards. Not this week, sweet tooth.

DAY 2

Between the soups, broths, detox teas and lemon water, I have to pee every 15 minutes, but I’m feeling pretty good. My body seems to appreciate healthy food and it's nice not to feel bloated for a change. I can do this!

A friend invited us over for dinner, so I BMOS (Brought My Own Soup). I was worried my daughters would notice I was eating something different and that I’d have to explain, but they couldn't have cared less. Kids!

Could I just live on soup forever?

DAY 3

Things have taken a dark turn. I have a pounding headache and I’m HANGRY. If sugar really is a drug, then maybe I legitimately am in detox. I hope I don’t get the shakes. I cancel plans for mom’s night out because smelling everyone’s food and looking at wine would kill me. Screw you, healing collagen broth!

What’s worse, the scale hasn’t budged.

DAY 4

I really miss chewing. Chewing seems like a party right now. The black bean soup I'm slurping tastes fine, but has very little texture. I'm allowed to add a sprinkling of pumpkin or hemp seeds and that helps—but not as much as actual crackers would.

On the brighter side, something has shifted overnight. I am much less hungry today. I actually can't finish my soup in one sitting and save the leftovers for later.

DAY 5

My belly is noticeably flatter, which means my jeans are easier to button and not stabbing me when I sit down. My whole body feels lighter and I practically float up the stairs like a helium balloon.

Maybe I'm just high from food deprivation, but I seriously feel so pure and clean that I'm slightly afraid of reintroducing real food tomorrow. Could I just live on soup forever? I have seemingly traded one addiction (sugar/carbs) for another (cleansing!) and now I understand what all the hype is about.

By the end of the cleanse (well, the morning after), I have lost 2.5 pounds, which thrills me. But can I keep it off? A girl can try.

What I learned:

- I probably don’t need to eat as much as I do on a daily basis, since I was quickly able to feel satisfied on less. I definitely don't need to be scavenging my kids' leftovers or shopping in the refrigerator because I'm bored.

- Variety may be the spice of life but I think it also makes me eat more! Keeping my meals sort of boring and predictable may help cut down on quantity.

- It feels fantastic not to be stuffed and bloated as I often am after dinner. If I’ve got to have my pasta, maybe I should try eating it at lunch and choosing a lighter salad or soup for dinner.

- I do well when healthy food is grab-and-go from my fridge. I've got to focus more on meal planning and prep. There's also no reason I couldn't re-create the soup cleanse on the cheap at home next time I need to reset.

- A lifetime of sugar lust cannot be cured in five days, but now I'm more conscious of trying to feed my cravings with fruit before I head for the ice cream.

At the end of the cleanse, friends asked if I felt like I had more energy and clarity. The truth is, eating well is not a cure for toddlers who like to cuddle at 3 a.m. and a mom with young children is always tired, no matter what she is or isn't eating. But tired with a flatter belly? I'll take it.

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