We're not huge fans of the word "detox" here at Health. Our bodies are able to remove toxins on their own naturally, and they don't need additional help from a special diet or juice fast to do so. That said, when goop (Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle website) published its annual detox plan earlier this month, my coworker, Alison, and I were intrigued. After a December diet that mostly consisted of cheese plates and sugar cookies, the idea of hitting reset on our healthy eating habits sounded pretty great. Plus, the plan promises a "lighter, happier, refreshed you"—sold.
At first glance, the goop detox seems surprisingly approachable; as People.com put it, it's not "a diet filled with 'smoothies' and ingredients you’ve never heard of (last year’s was full of those)." But it still eliminates caffeine, alcohol, gluten, added sugar, processed oils and butters, vegetable oils, nightshades, corn, shellfish, red meat, soy, and dairy—in other words, all the good stuff. And when we ran the plan by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health's contributing nutrition editor, she warned us that even though the goop Detox is not a liquid cleanse, most of the meals lack an ideal balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fat: "It's not a starvation plan, but it may leave some people feeling hungry, depending on their age, height, activity level, and how much weight they have to lose," she explained.
We weren't thrilled by the idea of feeling hungry for five straight days, but two other things scared us even more than that. First, this plan requires a lot of meal prep—so much that even Cynthia said it "wouldn't be practical" for many of her clients. Second, coffee. We both average two to three cups a day, and going cold turkey sounded like torture, especially when we thought about the scientifically proven health benefits of coffee we'd be giving up. So we compromised: We made all of goop's recipes except for the lunches, since it would be easy to instead buy meals with detox-approved ingredients. We also agreed to cut back our coffee intake, rather than totally eliminate it.
We walked away from the five days feeling energized, inspired to eat healthier—and very, very hungry. Here's exactly how it went.
Day 1: Sunday
Kathleen: My detox did not get off to the best start. I woke up on Sunday morning, forgot I had agreed to do this, and promptly had two cups of espresso. (It had been a late Saturday night—sorry, GP.) I remembered after Alison texted me to tell me how much she was suffering. Oops.
I'd stocked up on most of the detox supplies earlier in the week, but I had a few things left to buy. So I went to my local health food store to spend an upsetting amount of money on almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower butter, and coconut nectar. (For the uninitiated, coconut nectar is like a more expensive and less delicious cousin of honey.) After that, it it was time to bake Gwyneth's Detox Granola Bars, which would be my breakfast for the next five days.
All the ingredients for the Detox Granola Bars
They were easy enough to make: you use a blender to turn the walnuts and gluten-free oats into a fine, flour-like powder, then combine all the ingredients in a bowl and spread the mixture onto a sheet pan. The result? While flavorful, they were the most dry and crumbly granola bars in the entire world (I don't think I will ever fully de-crumb my kitchen). But at least I could feel good about snacking on them—with almonds, flax seeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds, they deliver a serious dose of protein and healthy fats.
Next up: Gwyneth's Warming Morning Latte, which I decided to make even though it was technically the afternoon. The latte calls for 13 different ingredients, including sunflower butter, coconut nectar, coconut oil, and "transformational" powders from a brand called Sun Potion that retail for a cool $125 altogether. I had asked the good people of Sun Potion if they could send us press samples (I love my job, but dropping that much money on some dubious powders seemed above and beyond the call of duty) but they hadn't arrived yet. So I made the latte with the other 10 ingredients.
GP's Warming Morning Latte, sans Sun Potions
It was actually kind of good. While definitely not a coffee replacement, the drink was creamy and foamy at the top, thanks to coconut oil. And with spices like ground nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon, it tasted Christmas-y and a little nutty.
Dinner was Lentils With Salmon and Grilled Radicchio, which turned out to be my least favorite of all the recipes. The salmon and lentils were fine, but I'm not a fan of bitter greens and grilled radicchio is extremely bitter, even with balsamic vinegar on top.
Alison: My detox began with a non-caffeinated wake-up call on Sunday and a trip to Trader Joe’s (along with everyone else in the world) for all my supplies. Now, normally, my Trader Joe’s haul for the week averages around $30, so you can image my shock when it totaled $85—and I didn’t even get all of the ingredients I needed. As Kathleen mentioned, there were some that I needed to order online, some that I had at home already, and some that Trader Joe’s didn’t carry. So in addition to my $85 bill, I had around $40 more that I was going to spend by the end of the day. Woof.
I got home with a splitting headache and grocery bags heavy enough to break my back. So before unpacking, I sucked down a coffee and got to cooking. I started by making the Turkey & Sweet Potato Chili. It was a cold weekend in New York City, and it sounded perfect for my Sunday night. The recipe was easy enough to make, even for someone who is hopeless in the kitchen, and it was amazingly delicious (and filling). I also prepared the Detox Granola Bars.
Day 2: Monday
Kathleen: Breakfast: Crumbly granola bar and two well-intentioned cups of hot lemon water before I caved and had a coffee. Lunch: Salad from the company cafeteria with romaine lettuce, carrots, chickpeas, cucumbers, sunflower seeds, and tuna. I usually have a mid-afternoon snack of Goldfish or M&M's (they're free in the Health office, so hard to resist), but since they're not goop-approved, I had an apple. Meh. By the end of the workday, I was starving, so decided I'd make the Turkey & Sweet Potato Chili for dinner, which seemed like the heartiest of the recipes and Alison had confirmed last night to be delicious. And also did I mention I was starving?
Alison wasn't lying, the chili was awesome and the recipe makes a TON of it. My red meat-loving fiancé, who I somehow convinced to do this with me, even said he'd have this for dinner again.
Alison: For breakfast, I whipped up the Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal. It was a yummy and cozy addition to a cold morning. It filled my apartment with such an amazing aroma, I almost felt like I could taste it before I even had a bite. The best part? It kept me full until lunch. Today I also decided that I would try to go as long as possible without coffee. Bad idea. By 9 a.m. I was suffering and had to throw back a cup. For lunch, I brought the Crunchy Veggie Salad with Poached Chicken and Garlicky Sunbutter Dressing that I prepared the night before. I normally eat a salad for lunch, so this didn’t feel very different for me, but it was definitely more work than what I was used to for a typical lunch salad. Also, Kathleen and I had to get post-lunch coffee because neither of us were feeling great by midday. As an afternoon snack, I had an apple and some almond butter, which tided me over until I could eat dinner around 9 p.m. Luckily, I had the sweet potato chili already made, so I warmed up a bowl of that again (my avocados still weren’t ripe by this point, so I had to make due without them).
All in all, the food today was great, but I felt terrible throughout the day, and I figured it might be due to the lack of coffee in the a.m.
Day 3: Tuesday
Kathleen: Another dry granola bar for breakfast and some dry brown rice sushi for lunch (the detox does not allow soy sauce, which I sometimes forget is the tastiest part of sushi). I had one cup of coffee, which, while still cheating, is a huge improvement from my usual two to three cups. For dinner, I made the Laarb Lettuce Cups. I liked them a lot, but the last chicken lettuce cups I had were from Chrissy Teigen's cookbook, so this was a lesson in contrasts. The sauce in Gwyneth's version is a lot less flavorful than Chrissy's (which benefits from lots of Sriracha, hoisin, and Thai sweet chili sauce), but I admittedly felt a lot lighter after these.
Maybe too light—I was still hungry after dinner, so I had another granola bar and made a warming latte. It was good, but ugh, is it a pain to measure out all the different spices just for one little drink.
Alison: Today I decided that instead of waiting to feel terrible before I got coffee, I would start my day with just one cup, and then see how long I could last. I think this strategy worked, because I went the entire day on just the one cup of coffee. Go, me! For breakfast, I had a detox granola bar, which was tasty, but super dry. If I could eat yogurt on this detox, I would crumble it up and sprinkle it on top. For lunch, I had a salad from our company cafeteria with lettuce, carrots, beans, lentils, and a Miso Sweet Potato on the side. I forgot to have an afternoon snack, so by the time I got home I was starving and couldn’t wait to cook something else. Thankfully, I still had a TON of chili, so I had a bowl of that, with some finally-ripe avocado.
At this point, I needed to check in with myself. I didn’t feel restricted, although I missed my daily chocolate fix and I DEFINITELY missed cheese. But physically, I didn’t feel well—I felt achy, like I got hit by a bus. I shrugged it off due to the weather and a bad night of sleep.
Day 4: Wednesday
Kathleen: Granola bar for breakfast (they're starting to grow on me a little bit) and the leftover turkey chili from day two for lunch. I'd gone to yoga class Sunday and Tuesday, but this was my first cardio workout of the week, and I was curious to see how much energy I'd have. I did a lower body routine from Kayla Itsines's Bikini Body Guide, which always challenges me, and I was able to complete seven out of the eight circuits—not bad.
For dinner, I made the Crunchy Veggie Salad with Poached Chicken & Garlicky Sunbutter Dressing, which was my second favorite recipe after the chili. If there's anything Gwyneth knows well, it's aromatics: the chicken is cooked with cilantro stalks, shallot, garlic, and ginger, and was way more flavorful than any other poached chicken I'd ever made. I'm also obsessed with the garlicky sunbutter dressing, which basically tastes like very creamy peanut sauce.
And some exciting news: the Sun Potions arrived! The three that Gwyneth recommends for the warming latte are Sun Potion astragalus, Sun Potion tocos, and Sun Potion reishi. Since they cost $125 altogether, I wanted to believe that these powders would basically change my life. But not having any idea what they actually were, I asked Cynthia for her take. "There's some research to show that rice bran may help lower cholesterol," she said of the tocos. "It provides soluble fiber so it may boost fullness." She added that there's also some research to suggest that astralagus might improve athletic performance and regulate blood glucose and insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
But she scared me away from the reishi: "It's thought to boost immunity and reduce inflammation," she said, but pointed out that there was a fatal case of fulminant hepatitis when powdered reishi mushroom was taken orally for longer than one month. "It can also interact or interfere with some medications."
Yeah, nope. I left the reishi at my desk and took home the toros and the astralagus for my evening warming latte. I did feel like the powders bulked up the drink a bit, making it more filling and protein shake-like. But other than that, I'm not sure there was a big difference in taste. (In other words, maybe save your $125.)
Alison: Voila! I woke up today feeling amazing. I couldn’t believe it, but I sprung right out of bed, drank a coffee, and got to work. I checked in with Kathleen—she also felt like death the night before, but said she was feeling amazing today…coincidence or detox magic? Anyway, for breakfast I had the Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal again, which was great and tided me over until lunch. I had a salmon avocado roll for lunch, without soy sauce (womp). I was starving by the afternoon, so I had another apple and almond butter snack, which never fails to keep me satiated.
After work, I headed to a SoulCycle class. Post-work workouts are tough for me—I usually like to get them out of the way in the morning before fatigue sets in. I was worried that I'd suffer through the 45-minute spin class, but I was pleasantly surprised that I had boundless energy. It could’ve been the goop detox, but hey, it could’ve also been the awesome playlist (thanks, Elle!). When I got home, I whipped up the Detox Niçoise Salad with a Miso Sweet Potato on the side. I felt pretty full after this meal, and it got me thinking about the amount of protein I have been getting in this diet. The salad had eggs and tuna, the chili had three types of beans and turkey, etc. Normally, I am pretty light on the protein in my meals, so I am thinking that I after the detox I should add more protein to my dishes.
Day 5: Thursday
Kathleen: I skipped breakfast (bad, I know) and had a salad for lunch with greens, avocado, sunflower seeds, cucumber, Kalamata olives, and chickpeas, and an apple with peanut butter for my afternoon snack. I don't think there was enough protein in my salad because I left work the hungriest I've ever been hungry. Dinner was the Kitchen Sink Thai Fried Rice, which I was really looking forward to, because, rice! Carbs, I have missed you so much. I like the concept of this dish because you basically throw in all the remaining veggies you had to buy for the detox so they don't go to waste. I was so hungry, I forgot to take a picture before eating it. It was really good, but maybe a bit lacking in protein.
Alison: I woke up again with a ton of energy and in a great mood. I started my day with another dry detox bar for breakfast and a coffee. For lunch, I had a salad with greens, carrots, chickpeas, avocado, green beans, lentils, and cucumbers (nightshade vegetables, how I miss you!). I made the Laarb Lettuce Cups for dinner, which were my second favorite meal of the detox (the Miso Sweet Potato sides were my third favorite). I will probably make this chicken again to top salads, etc.
Kathleen: It is now Friday morning and I am very hungry. I can't wait to have two cups of guilt-free coffee today, a sandwich for lunch, and pasta for dinner. I weighed myself this morning and I've lost 5 lbs. on this detox, which seems like a lot in such a short amount of time, especially since I wasn't overweight to begin with.
But I do feel like I've had more energy than usual, even as I cut back on caffeine. And temporarily eliminating sugar and dairy was a good exercise—I admittedly probably eat more of these food groups than is ideal, and giving them up forced me to load up on healthier substitutions (for example, adding avocado to my salads instead of my go-to feta). I also like that I've been eating tons of leafy greens, and the recipes got me to try veggies I don't usually reach for at the supermarket, like bok choy.
These past five days have also made me realize that even though I consider myself to be a generally healthy eater, I rely a bit too heavily on carbs to create a filling meal. I also snack on the free Goldfish and M&Ms in my office more often than I've previously admitted to myself. Going forward, I'll probably try to eat fewer refined carbs and less red meat and sugar in general (too much sugar and red meat can lead to high cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease). But I'll be happily adding back whole grains (they're a good source of filling fiber), shellfish (clams and oysters are packed with vitamin B12), and soy (I just can't have a sushi roll without it).
Alison: I was pleasantly surprised with this detox. I felt happy that I was eating real food and full meals, which help me from feeling restricted. I don’t count calories (I don’t even look at them) and I don’t weigh myself, so I can’t speak to the calorie count per meal or any weight fluctuations I may have experienced, but I can say that I was able to eat to satiety for each meal and snack, and never felt like I needed something more. But I'm still not 100% sold on the idea of cutting entire food groups from my diet, unless for medical reasons. My diet typically includes a lot of dairy and gluten, and my body has never had a problem with either of those. I did feel highly energized toward the end of the five days, so I'm going to try to pinpoint a certain diet change that led me there (although perhaps cutting back on my caffeine intake helped me not feel so lethargic). Overall, I would do this again to help motivate me to get back to eating healthy foods after weeks of holiday overindulgence, but I don’t think I would call it a detox as much as I would call it a nutritious diet restart. But right now, I can’t wait to get back to everything I’ve missed this week. On tonight’s menu? Wine, cheese, and crackers.