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I recently published my third book, Quantum Wellness:  A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness. That book details how small, incremental changes – to what we eat, how we think, how we move our bodies, how we relate to others, etc. – can reap huge rewards. One of the practices I recommend for “jumpstarting” a quantum shift to a higher state of wellness is a 21-day cleanse – a period of three weeks in which you abstain from sugar, caffeine, gluten, alcohol, and animal products and load yourself full of a wholesome, plant-based diet. Of all the things I wrote about in that book, it was the cleanse that elicited the most overwhelming response. Easily 90% of the questions and letters I receive from readers have to do with navigating those 21 days. Clearly, a nerve has been struck.  I don’t think it’s just that people want to detox and lose weight, although that is surely part of it. I think that the promise of experiencing real, discernible breakthroughs in each of the areas of body, mind, and spirit in a relatively short period of time appeals to the great many of us who have a serious desire for personal development and change.

And so I decided to devote a whole book to the cleanse – to answering your questions and going into greater depth about the process and offering you a hand as you try to go three weeks without some of the substances you reach for when you need comfort. Get ready for a miracle, because that’s what happens when you first make the decision to give yourself a big boost in the direction of quantum wellness, when you decide to take supremely good care of your body and confront the emotions that come up when you do. When you make your move – even if it’s a just a single step – toward the shift you’d like to experience, your body, mind, and spirit are brought to a whole new and altogether higher level.

My suggestion is that you read the book once through before you begin the cleanse, and then read it again as you’re conducting the cleanse—reading the chapters that are suggested for the respective days. There is information that comes later in the chapters that you may find useful to you from the outset of the cleanse, and my hope is that you will find value in reading it again for inspiration as you’re experiencing the cleanse, also. I think you’ll find value, for example, in working on visualization, taking time for fun, and exercise from day 1 of the cleanse, but if that seems like too much for you (I know this is a lot to throw at a person; there’s no right or wrong way to proceed), please feel free to begin incorporating those elements on the days to which they’re assigned, after you’re getting into the flow of dietary and other elements of the cleanse.

I started doing cleanses over twenty-five years ago because I wanted to lose weight, plain and simple. I hoped that taking a little break from my (over)eating routines might snap me out of unhealthy patterns.  I started off by fasting every Monday, forgoing all food except a recommended mixture of apple cider vinegar, honey, and water.  After a while, I moved on to juice fasts, where for a few days or even a week at a time I would consume only juices made from fruits, carrots, spinach, celery, ginger, and other vegetables [At other times over the years, I tried the various programs that were in vogue and that promised some sort of miracle. What I found out after all was that fasting didn’t work for me. I never experienced the promised weight loss or, if I did, it didn’t last. In fact whenever I would fast my metabolism would slow way down and put my body on starvation alert mode.  In other words, whatever calories I did ingest, my body hung onto tightly because it wasn’t so sure that more would be coming in.  

For many people, these practices have their merits, and many of them are quite detoxifying and healing, but they didn't work for me. Plus, not eating made me anxious and I couldn’t concentrate; all I could think about was what I would eat for that first “break fast” meal.

The Quantum Wellness 21-Day Cleanse is nothing like those punishing fasts I tried for all those years. It is extremely simple and nutritionally sound. In fact, it is more a healthy way of living than it is a harsh or difficult discipline.  It’s about choosing foods that don’t tax the body and make it work so hard; it’s about taking a break but not about starving.

The more I studied and looked into the ancient practice of giving up certain foods for a designated period of time, the more I realized that fasting and cleansing are not only good for making physical improvements, but they can also be a pathway to great clarity and even enlightenment.  Many masters throughout the ages have forgone food for periods of time so that they might feel closer to Spirit and less attached to the pedestrian rites of this world.  They would give up a number of things – perhaps just taking in the bare essentials - and go into a deep meditation or discourse with a Teacher.  Or, like Gandhi, they would give up eating as a way of making a strong and committed statement that would bring about changes in social conditions and a shift toward higher societal consciousness.  

The more I learned about fasting and cleansing traditions, the more I saw the wisdom in giving my body an occasional retreat so that I could break free from some of my lesser habits and cravings and the impulse for immediate gratification. From the early founders of Western medicine – Hippocrates, Galen, and Paracelsus – I learned that occasionally refraining from food was also a proven way to prevent and even cure disease.  Even the great philosophers Plato, Socrates, and Pythagoras regularly gave up food (or certain foods) so that they could enhance and enliven their sense of physical well being.

This cleanse is so simple and so powerful. For three weeks, you will refrain from eating what I call “The Big Five”:

  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • gluten
  • animal products
  • and refined sugar.
On first glance, it may seem like there will be nothing left to eat or drink! In fact, you will discover that there is a whole world of delicious and nutritious food to enjoy and that will help you feel more energetic, healthy, and clean.  And I guarantee you will not be hungry (unless you forget to eat!). In fact this is a “diet” you could stay on indefinitely, because it doesn’t deny your body any of its needs and is actually rich in nutritious vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and nuts, and chock full of everything you need to fuel your body for a lifetime.

Over the course of the three weeks I’ll be talking in some depth about why you’re avoiding these Big Five categories, but for now just trust me when I say that these substances are difficult for our bodies and can even be toxic, and a break from them will do you a world of good.  We won’t be doing any calorie counting or maniacally restricting carbs; I’ll just be here to remind you to eat lots of grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, which are loaded with naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, and give you plenty of suggestions for how to make them a part of your diet.  Simple, no?

I want to prepare you for the physiological downside that some people experience for a few days. Many people experience no physical problems or actual signs of withdrawal, but some people do—if you are in the latter category, please remind yourself that this is a signal of addiction, and you don’t want to be addicted. Please also keep reminding yourself that these bad physical feelings pass within a few days for almost everyone.

I know when I give up caffeine I get cranky and lethargic for the first few days.  But that’s part of the point. I become aware just how dependent my body has become on an artificial boost and how it’s forgotten how to feel good on its own.  Some people get headaches when they kick caffeine, but these pass within a few days at the most.  

Sugar can be another hard one for some people, especially people who are used to multiple sugary sodas or snacks every single day. But, as you probably know all too well, the sugar high is short lived and often bears a heavy price.  We need more and more to feel the boost, and no matter how much we ingest, we never feel great (and all the while we’re gaining weight from the calories and unused glycogen).  In fact, we often feel downright spun out and desperate for the next fix – almost like a drug addict.  In a few pages, we’ll look at why it’s so important to purge processed sugars from your diet, at least for a short time. I’ll also give you suggestions for alternative sweets.

If you are a steady drinker and you give up alcohol, you will likely experience some stress and anxiety that you were trying to blot out with the wine or vodka or what have you.  My advice is to take this opportunity to gently and with great compassion for yourself face the very things that you’ve been running from and maybe think about dealing with them in a whole new way.  If an old trauma is weighing on you, you might want to check out a support or fellowship group; learn to meditate and exercise to renew the feel-good chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins - that your brain naturally produces.  As you learn to face your demons, whatever they may be, you will see that they are not as omnipotent as you thought they were. (However, if your relationship with alcohol is at all problematic for you I urge you to get support.) You will tap into an inner reserve of serenity (I will help you along the way) while finding that you are part of something larger that wants your healing to occur.  This “flow” of healing energy will make itself known if you want it to.  

Even if you are only a social drinker (like me), not having a drink with friends at a festive dinner can be challenging.  You want to fit in and enjoy just like everyone else; but this discomfort will be short-lived as you realize you don’t need alcohol to relax and feel at ease.  The more present you are to the conversation, the less you will crave the comfort of a drink.  Changing our habits is shaky business at first, as habits come about because they provide some sense of security and regularity in the face of anxiety.  But the more you lean into the discomfort, instead of running from it or grabbing another drink, as long as you have a willingness to breathe through the difficult feelings, you will become more and more free to live at the highest levels of wellness.   

As you read on about how alcohol is metabolized, you will see that it acts a lot like sugar in the body, and so you might get intense cravings and feel agitated if you don’t “get your fix”; but of course, this is all the more reason to break the physical habituation, at least for the length of the cleanse.

Giving up gluten will not cause a physical sense of withdrawal, because you are likely to experience an almost instant relief from digestive problems (if you have them).  The difficulty you may have, though, is in finding things that don’t contain gluten. While you won’t suffer a bodily pang without it, you might have to spend a little extra time finding gluten-free products.  Breads and other products made with rice, corn, quinoa, potatoes, oats, and buckwheat are good bets. Honestly, just getting out of the bread habit alone will have you feeling leaner and cleaner in no time.  Many people don’t have an issue with gluten (I don’t).  But one of the more immediate benefits of giving it up for this short time is that you force yourself to shake loose of over- indulging in processed flours that tend to cause weight gain (processed flours react in the body much like straight sugar does) and fatigue.

Despite what you may have heard, withdrawing from animal products will not deprive your body of any essential nutrients, and you won’t feel tired or weak. There is plenty of protein and amino acids in plant-based food, without all the unhealthy fat and additives.  However, if meat was the mainstay of your diet before, you might feel a little lost and left out.  This is good. It shakes things up. In fact giving up animal products is one of the most important gifts you can give your body, mind, and spirit.  And I will walk you through it, helping you discover all the ways to eat without animal protein. You may be breaking from the crowd, but you will also, at least temporarily, find yourself leading the pack for more holistic and responsible living.  More on that later…

All this said, while I want to warn you that you may have cravings, I also want to stress that there are many, many people who don’t have a hard time at all, and also stress that almost everyone feels lighter and more energetic within a day or two—I hear from people constantly who say they didn’t even realize that they could feel so good. Their lethargic way of being had become their constant; with the cleanse, they realized that they could have more energy, need less sleep, and feel lighter and clearer, just by breaking their reliance of foods that are not right for the human body.  

Simply put, what you are doing in this cleanse is eliminating common cravings triggers, which are notorious for perpetuating the munchies (and then the self-flagellation that follows), as well as other unconstructive eating habits.  You are giving your body a break from artificial stimulants and depressants, and in so doing you will find your own natural balance. You are giving your body both a good detox and a chance to release itself from the vicious cycle of addictive eating or drinking and the shame that follows.  These are some big changes to make, I know, but we will take them methodically, learning about each as we go.  It may feel like a swirl of chaos as you find your way, but things will become clearer and easier sooner than you can imagine.  

The body is a brilliant and masterful system of healing and rejuvenation; it can often restore itself to perfect health if given half a chance.  And the cleanse is part of that push toward restoration. It will give your body a reprieve from old and tired ways so that you can gather your strength and then surge to a higher level of wellness.   

Why 21 days? Because that’s about how long it takes for your tastes to reset.  As your taste buds respond to healthier foods, you’re more likely to stick with new habits and be able to enjoy balanced blood sugar and freedom from old cravings.


There are so many reasons to do this cleanse. You may be motivated by a desire to trim a few pounds, or you may be doing it to detox from all the things you put in your body that you know are not the healthiest.  Personally, I do it at least once a year simply to give my body a break. We all have routines or habits around food that come to control us, and the cleanse gives us a chance to see these habits with clear eyes. I know that whenever I find myself thinking I “couldn’t possibly” give up this or that, I realize just how much I am owned and run by it. If it’s coffee that I think I can’t live without, I know it’s time to let go of coffee for a while and see what happens. If I’ve been turning to ice cream sundaes to calm my anxiety, then it’s ice cream sundaes that I have do live without, at least for a short time, so I can figure out that I am more powerful than the food.  Don’t we all want to be free and strong and happy, rather than dragged through life by our petty attachments? A cleanse is a great place to start.

You see, the Quantum Wellness Cleanse is not just good for the body, but it's also good for the soul.  As you read my daily notes and pointers, you will learn about how to eat in a humane and compassionate way, and about how your choices play out in the environment.. After three weeks you can expect to have lost a little bit of weight and have more energy, but most importantly, you will have found a way to eat that aligns you with your inner values of kindness and integrity.  You will most certainly be a whole lot healthier in every respect.

Doing this cleanse is one of the best ways I know to discover any negative emotional material we are covering over with food, so that we can shake it right out of our system.  And the beauty of it is, you can take what feels right from this program and leave the rest behind.. Once you’ve done the work, you can add things back in, though many people find that they want to stick with the changes that have so improved the way they look and feel.

Some of the changes you can expect from the 21-Day Quantum Wellness Cleanse are:  

  • more energy
  • clearer skin and eyes
  • weight loss
  • cessation of certain aches, pains, and digestive ailments
  • release from addictive habits
  • a profound and deepened awareness of your personal power and the effect you have in the world.  

Truly, it is a jump start to a whole new level of living and being.  

Here’s the thing about wellness:  it’s a continuum.  We get better at is as we go.  We get more informed, build esteem, and find what works as we keep putting one foot in front of the other.  We develop new tastes and discover different and interesting foods, and we move into a new rhythm.  And with every day that we say, “okay, I’m bigger than my old habits”, we rise to our greater selves. We soar. Consider this cleanse a gift you can give yourself anytime you need it – a gift that will improve your overall wellness not only by giving you the best possible nutrition but by getting you to look at everything that comes up during the process:  emotions, struggles, triumphs, new tools, and fresh ways of understanding how connected everything is.

You will discover how some of the foods from which you are abstaining have been affecting your body and your emotions. You’ll discover some of your emotional attachments to conditioned ways of thinking; For instance, when you’re unhappy, do you go for the ice cream? Don’t discount that as typical—it is, but it’s also something that you can overcome if you want to, at least for 21 days, and you’re likely to feel a deep sense of satisfaction when you do—and rightly so!). And that may also spur you to take a closer look at where that attachment came from and whether it makes sense to hold on to it when the cleanse is over.

To this day, I do the cleanse with the full knowledge that doing so gives my body a break from its heavy workload so that I can get rid of some old stored-up junk, but also that I am undertaking some of my most important inner work -- freeing myself from certain attachments and challenging myself to better understand my inner life and how it connects to all of life.  In this way, I not only heal myself, but I contribute to the healing of our precious world.

I encourage you to read through the book once to get a feel for the overall picture  of the cleanse and then go back and take each day, one at a time. We’ll cover a lot of ground but in increments. By the time you complete your first cleanse, you will know yourself so much better. You will find yourself relating to other people and the world around you in a more satisfying, more genuine way because you will be penetrating some of your own defenses, and you will find yourself on the whole, much clearer about so many things.  Over the course of the 21 days, I will be encouraging you to think deeply about where your food comes from and how its handling and its journey to your plate affect how you feel in your body and also how it affects the environment around you, and that will naturally raise your empathy for what others go through, too. This not only tends to make you happier on an individual level, it also makes for a friendlier world.  

But best of all, you will be spending three weeks eating delicious, nutrient-dense, fiber-rich food.  And you won’t be hungry at all!  

This cleanse has no strange concoctions to drink, no pills you must go out and purchase.  And of course it’s medically unassailable.  Do consult with your doctor before beginning, though, as it’s always wise to check in.  If you can, go to a doctor who is well versed in the latest peer-reviewed research on nutrition.

Remember, the cleanse is time limited. It is not a permanent change in diet.   After the cleanse has been completed, you can go back to the way you were eating, if you so choose.  And you still will have done yourself a favor, because by giving your body a break from the irritants of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, gluten, and animal products, your body will have gotten rest and a chance to heal. Your liver will have had a chance to purge some of the deeply held poisons it was too overwhelmed and burdened to deal with before.  Your adrenal glands will have come back to life so you will most probably have more energy.  Your brain cells will have begun to regenerate and make the “feel good” chemicals it is capable of producing when you aren’t leaning on alcohol.  And just wait till you see how your skin will glow after your body ingests so many naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in the vegetables, beans, grains, and fruits you will be enjoying.

People often ask me about “discipline.” They worry that they won’t be able to get through it or do it perfectly. Here’s what I tell them: challenge yourself, but don’t make yourself (or others around you!) crazy.  Do the best you can.  If something such as soy milk, has a tiny bit of sweetener in it and you can’t find one that doesn’t, enjoy it without worry.  If it’s your birthday or anniversary, have a glass of champagne (unless you think you are alcoholic and this would start a slippery slope).  If you are at someone’s dinner party and they have absolutely nothing you can eat except the pasta and it’s not gluten free, have the pasta and then pick back up the next day.  Our goal is progress, not perfection!  This won’t be a piece of cake (ok, pun intended), but it shouldn’t be oh-so-difficult.  The first few days will be the hardest, and then you will find your footing and off you go!  

For many people, it’s easier to do the cleanse with friends so that we can check in with and support each other.  Some people start blog groups so that they can share recipes and fellowship.  You might have a willing partner or spouse who is interested, or you may entice your entire office to join in, which always makes the cleanse a fun and interesting event.  Often enough, though, you will be on your own, which is just fine too!

However you go about doing the cleanse, the journey will be uniquely yours, and the changes you experience will be perfect and appropriate for you.  Get inspiration from your peers, but trust that your soul knows exactly what it needs to progress and thrive.  Listen to the wisdom that will whisper to you along the way, and may you realize the shift in your life that you always knew was possible.



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Kathy Freston is a New York Times best-selling author with a focus on healthy living and conscious eating.
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