I Went on a 4-Week Gut Cleanse, and It Changed Everything
January and detoxing go hand in hand, but before you commit to a liquid-only diet for seven days, consider a different type of cleanse: the microbiome diet. Natural health enthusiasts swear this anti-inflammatory food plan can help with everything from acne to eczema and even depression by rebalancing the bacteria in your digestive system in just a few weeks—no juicing required. It sounds too good to be legit, but four weeks of following the diet totally transformed my skin, so stick around and hear me out.
This experiment began when my face exploded in chronic cystic acne a little over a year ago. Despite multiple visits to a dermatologist, three courses of antibiotics, and daily use of prescription creams like Tazorac, the breakouts continued—so in desperation, I scoured the internet for a natural fix. I started by cleaning up my beauty routine (if you haven’t tried May Lindstrom’s charcoal face mask, checked out my jojoba oil from The Buff, or replaced your toner with apple cider vinegar, your skin’s missing out), and then a colleague inspired me to seek the counsel of medicinal herbalist Daniela Turley. “She’s a total guru,” my friend assured me, so I pencilled in an appointment.
During our appointment—after I complained hysterically about a recent and particularly painful breakout—Turley calmly explained that my skin concerns were likely due to yeast growing in unhealthy quantities throughout my digestive system. Ironically, the antibiotics I’d been taking to treat my skin could have been contributing to the problem: “High-sugar diets, antibiotic use and certain diseases such as diabetes can make the gut flora more ‘yeasty,’” she said. Acne is apparently a very common symptom of a yeast imbalance, but Turley says clients also often complain of bloating, digestive issues, lethargy and foggy-headedness—and, yes, this is the same type of yeast infection that could present as vaginal thrush.
I’ve since done a lot of research into the microbiome diet, and while many natural and mainstream health pros swear that yeast overgrowth can present in these chronic (and admittedly fairly nonspecific) symptoms, this theory has been largely rejected by mainstream science and medicine. Still, this plan worked for me in a big way. After a couple of weeks on the diet (and using my new, natural beauty products,) the acne around my cheeks and chin faded. After a month, I was left with just a few reddish, fading marks. It’s been more than 12 months since that breakout, and my skin has been almost completely blemish-free since. Take a look at my skin after following the diet below.
If you’re interested in trying the detox yourself, you will need to follow two stages and then stick to a more relaxed maintenance program. The first stage is the treatment phase during which certain foods are banned so the “bad bacteria” are starved. Next, the second stage is about building up good bacteria and healing the gut lining. There’s actually a great book by Raphael Kellman, MD, that can help you plan meals during both stages of the diet.
Of course, you should always chat with a health pro before drastically changing your diet. But in the meantime, keep scrolling to learn more.
Stage One: 21 Days
During this stage, you’re encouraged to avoid all dairy, gluten, grains, corn and corn starch, eggs, trans fats, dried fruit, soy, deli meats, potato, sweet potato, beans and alcohol. Yep, it’s restrictive! Instead, eat beef, chicken, fish, lamb, and shellfish and vegetables like artichoke, asparagus, beets, berries, black radish, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, capers, carrots, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, kale and lettuce (except iceberg). Fruits like apples, cherries, coconut, kiwi and nuts such as almonds and walnuts are also allowed.
While you can’t have dairy, I did load up on probiotics by eating kefir, yoghurt from goat's milk, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Stage Two: Nine Days
This phase is just like stage one, but with more variety and a little more flexibility. Now you can start adding some eggs, gluten-free grains, potato and legumes back into your diet. For breakfast, I would poach a couple of eggs, or mix fruit salad with goat’s yoghurt (available at Whole Foods). Lunch was normally a chicken or egg salad, and for dinner, I’d usually have fish or steak with salad, or a stew with quinoa.
Stage Three: Maintenance
This final stage is really just about sustaining the lifestyle. Going forward, Turley suggests that the foods you ate during phase two make up 70% of your diet, but it is still “best to avoid unhealthy foods.” She told me to avoid anything processed or packaged as much as possible, as well as high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, canned foods, soy, fruit juice and canola oil, and recommends keeping gluten to a twice-per-week indulgence. Oh, and if you happen to take a course of antibiotics, you might have to start the whole diet from the beginning.
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