When Katie Uhran emerged from winter feeling sluggish and run-down, she knew she needed a change. So, when friends mentioned they were starting an Ayurvedic-based cleanse, she was intrigued.
“I wanted to feel lighter, energized and like I had washed away all the cobwebs that built up during the winter months,” says Uhran, a Nantucket-based personal trainer and blogger. And unlike fasting diets, teatoxes and juice cleanses that promise a fast weight loss, she could eat real food. Plus, teaming up with friends meant a built-in support system. Sounds like a win win, right?
Uhran is one of the many in the wellness scene who are embarking on a different type of detox regimen — the Kitchari Cleanse. The Kitchari Cleanse lasts anywhere from one to seven days and involves you eating kitchari — a soothing traditional meal made from yellow mung dal, jasmine or basmati rice, ghee and aromatic spices, like mustard seed, cumin and turmeric. You can also add some seasonal vegetables, like carrots, celery and spinach. If there was an Ayurvedic cleanse equivalent of souping, this would be it.
But can eating monotonous meals for several days backfire and make you crave unhealthy foods even more in the end? Here’s what you need to know about the Kitchari Cleanse.
The Kitchari Cleanse: An Ancient Monodiet Detox
Kitchari isn’t exactly new. According to Ayurveda, the holistic medical system developed in India over 5,000 years ago, kitchari is a cleansing and detoxifying food.
During the cleanse, you eat the stew for breakfast, lunch and dinner along with lots of water throughout the day. The reason? Ayurvedic practitioners believe that this monodiet of easy-to-digest food gives your body and digestive system time to rest. While most cleanses and detoxes out there are geared towards weight loss and athletic performance, the Kitchari Cleanse is about resetting your gut — the body’s second brain and command center for sleep, immunity, hormone balance and other important functions.
“In Ayurveda, it’s all about the digestive fire, also known as agni in Sanskrit. When you do the cleanse, it helps to reset the digestive fire,” says Marissa Mele, owner of Five Prana Ayurveda in Cleveland, Ohio. The foods we eat play a large role in how we feel and how our body processes the nutrients. Eating fried, high-fat foods can disrupt your microbiome, causing the typical irritable bowel symptoms. “It can dull the digestive fire and cause gas, bloating and constipation.”
“Detoxing from an Ayurvedic standpoint isn’t just for the body but for the mind as well.”
Cleansing the Gut — and the Mind?
“Detoxing from an Ayurvedic standpoint isn’t just for the body but for the mind as well,” says Mele. “Kitchari is good for all three doshas [the three primary constitutions in the Ayurvedic system that stand for your physical, emotional and mental health], and is considered a healthy and balanced food.”
Since you’re eating real food, you may not experience the same intense hanger pains and headaches, according to Anita Mirchandani, MS, RD CDN and spokesperson for the New York State Dietetic Association. “This is the stuff that dietitians recommend you eat anyway,” she says. The rice, lentils, vegetables and fat from the ghee provide everything you need in a complete meal. Plus, spices like turmeric, mustard seed and cardamom are immune boosters, notes Mirchandani.
Mirchandani says since you’re slowing down to chew your food, it has a more therapeutic effect on your body than just consuming something like juice. “Juice is ultimately sugar and your body rapidly absorbs it. You may also lose some of the probiotic bacteria that you’ve built up in your gut because you’re urinating frequently,” she says.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
While the Kitchari Cleanse may take the guesswork out of meal planning for the week, eating the same thing over and over for all your daily meals can get boring fast. And each person will react differently to the cleanse depending on what your body is used to. Some people might find relief while others may feel bloated.
“If you’re used to eating salads and a vegetable-rich diet, this may not suit you and may make you more uncomfortable. Some people will be constipated because it’s a lot of carbohydrates,” says Mirchandani.
By the same token, people who have stomach issues or IBD may not take well to the Kitchari Cleanse because you’re introducing super fibrous foods in a more frequent fashion. Plus, these foods can be harder for the body to break down during the digestive process.
For Uhran, who signed up for a seven-day Kitchari Cleanse, after a few days of eating only kitchari, says she started to feel terrible. “I could feel a decrease in my energy levels, and I noticed that towards the end I had a really hard time sleeping. I started feeling very anxious…I didn’t have that healthy, strong, beautiful glow,” she says. “Even though it was for a short period of time, I realized that this was not for me.”
Keep in mind that this diet is not recommended for pregnant women, children, the elderly or if you’re sick, Mirchandani and Mele explain. According to Ayurveda, menstruating women should also hold off.
The Bottom Line
While kitchari is a nutritious meal, you don’t have to commit to several days of a specific cleanse to reap the benefits. Mirchandani says you can incorporate the recipe into your diet once a week or just start cooking more with the immune-boosting spices like mustard seed and cumin.
“Try it for a short period of time. Try it for a day. If you feel like you want more of a detoxifying effect, then add more time,” says Mele. “When people say they’re going to do it for seven days, it’s hard to sustain. Even if you just have kitchari for dinner or lunch, it’s a good meal to have.”
If you’re considering doing the Kitchari Cleanse for a period of time, be sure to consult with your doctor before changing anything about your diet. Keep in mind that the Kitchari Cleanse also hasn’t been studied in great depth, and there aren’t yet any studies supporting the benefits of the cleanse.