Everyone I know, myself included, is juggling too many things. But we also don’t want to be told to slow down or to give something up. If anything, I hear from friends, already with full plates, about other projects they’re looking to take on: the next school event they’ve signed on to work, boards they’ve recently joined, causes they want to champion, or new relationships they’re investing time in. In the background of all this productivity and duty and excitement, I hear a common refrain that’s all too relatable. It’s typically pushed to the side, downplayed, or simply drowned out: I don’t feel…great.
There’s so much that’s outside our control, but how do we begin to claim some autonomy over our own health and well-being? What levers can we pull that can make a difference in how we feel? And how do we do this without sacrificing, without saying “no” to the things we want to say “yes” to, without pulling back at the office or at home or anywhere else?
Everyone’s toolbox for optimal wellness looks different. For me, the most powerful reset button is food. I don’t know any magic bullets, but eating clean comes close. (Although I have to say that good sleep is high up on the list for me, too.) There’s a marked difference, for the better, in how I feel, and to a lesser degree how I look, when I’m eating at least fairly clean.
When I say “clean,” a lot of people picture me living off foods like kale, oat milk, kelp powder, wheatgrass—and who knows what other foods that I would never actually eat. I also typically do a cleanse only once a year, which is not about punishing my body for enjoying things like burgers and whiskey the rest of the year. Eating clean as a baseline, or full-on, for a set period of time isn’t a moral choice, and it shouldn’t have to feel like an act of deprivation.
Of course, I see why it looks that way. At the core of almost every cleanse I’ve tried that’s worked—in at least giving me more energy—is cutting out a specified set of ingredients from your diet for a set amount of time. The ingredients excluded on most cleanses are processed foods and sugars, gluten, dairy, red meat, soy, peanuts, nightshades, alcohol, and caffeine. In general, these foods are more likely to be associated with sensitivities, inflammatory reactions, and digestive issues. My good friend Dr. Alejandro Junger (more from him on page 231) has called them “toxic triggers,” which, he explains, can compromise the integrity of the gut lining and health of the intestinal flora. You may have heard the functional medicine phrase “leaky gut”—a condition in which the gut lining is perforated—which is thought to be connected to a host of health issues. Dr. Junger has explained to me that the gut is the most complex system in the body—it processes food, absorbs nutrients, eliminates toxins, helps to regulate mood, and is home to about 70 percent of our immune system and a nervous system larger than the one inside our skulls.
It makes sense: When the gut is off, the body isn’t running optimally. And when people eliminate or at least limit their toxic triggers, the results can be dramatic and all-encompassing—some notice improvements in their skin complexion, others less bloat, and some a more level mood, for starters. But maybe the most rewarding effect of switching to a cleaner diet is the ability to better tune into what your body likes and what it prefers to do without. If you don’t know if you’re sensitive to cheese or nightshades like eggplants, removing basic inflammatory triggers for an extended period of time (twenty-one days seems to be a threshold) gives you a cleaner slate to find out. After, assuming you have the time and patience to reintroduce food groups one at a time, you can see how each ingredient affects you or not. (I also recommend getting tested for food sensitivities and allergies if it’s a concern.)
Admittedly, part of the reason eating clean is associated with deprivation is that, once you remove things like mozzarella and pasta, the food offerings on the table have not traditionally been all that exciting. This was partly the impetus behind my cookbook It’s All Good—to find a way to make mealtimes fun and full of taste and flavour, without falling back on the classic comfort foods.
For The Clean Plate, the challenge was ratcheted up: Everything had to follow the basic tenets of super-clean eating as outlined by doctors—no loopholes—so that almost anyone with a food sensitivity or on nearly any cleanse could use the recipes for inspiration. And use them seamlessly—in a way that didn’t put the focus on what was missing from their plate, but rather on what was there. Mostly, I was searching for food that tasted and felt as nourishing as it was healthy. Self-care and self-love have become overused words, but I don’t think these feelings are present enough in the kitchen or when we’re sitting down to eat. (I type this as I’m hurriedly eating a leftover salad at my desk, in front of my laptop, before my next meeting.) I never want to cook or eat something that feels like a compromise, like I’m saying “no” to what my body is craving.
What also makes this book different for me is that I developed recipes to work as part of six different week-long healing cleanses—each one anchored by a trusted health expert and tailored to support the body through a challenge that has been a roadblock in my life or in the lives of friends or family at one time or another. I think of these mini cleanses as gateways to the potency of nutrient-dense, whole foods. After the recipes, the doctors share their respective perspectives on tackling weight-loss resistance, dealing with heavy metals, giving our adrenals a break, resetting from Candida, getting proactive about cardiovascular health, and tapping into the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. (In the next section, you’ll see more on how these different targeted cleanses are broken down.)
Healthy and delicious are not mutually exclusive. The challenge of cleaning up a recipe is inherently enticing to me—whether I’m experimenting at home, trying to approximate something from a fast-food joint that my family is partial to, or in the goop test kitchen putting my own spin on John Legend’s fried chicken wings. I hope you see a little bit of all that—healthy, delicious, fun—in every recipe that follows.