This past fall, Josh Wolkon, owner of Vesta Dipping Grill, Steuben’s, and Ace Eat Serve, mentioned to me that he and more than 50 of his employees were participating in a two-week cleanse. I’ve long been bemused by the lemon water–driven regimens (eye roll) that offer short-term results. Plus, I’d reason, with my job as food editor of this magazine, such programs weren’t something I could undertake.

This time, however, I surprised myself by considering the plan—and by signing up. The reason: For Wolkon and his employees to make such a commitment, the curriculum had to be more concrete than just lemon water by the gallon.

Indeed it was. For me, the Conscious Cleanse’s selling point was approachability. Sure, the list of food no-nos was 17 items long (and included dairy, soy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol), but the backbone of the plan was fresh vegetables, leafy greens, fruit, legumes, cold-water fish, nuts, seeds, lean animal protein such as bison, and even sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup. In short, I could eat real food.

Even so, I was up-front with founders and Boulderites Jo Schaalman and Julie Peláez that given my job (dining out, judging food and wine competitions), I couldn’t adhere to the cleanse 100 percent. They assured me this was fine. I went shopping and loaded my fridge so it was overflowing with all things leafy and fresh.

On Day One, blender issues nixed my green smoothie, and at my lunchtime meeting I managed to ingest 15 of the 17 no-no items. On Days Two, Three, and Four, I was woozy and unfocused. By Days Five and Six, my entire body ached. Schaalman explained this was my system detoxing. That experience frightened me. Despite dining out frequently, I consider myself a healthy eater: I juice, I buy organic, and I cook as often as possible. I exercise regularly. And yet, the daily post-lunch cookie and nightly scoop of ice cream; the after-work glass(es) of wine; the multiple restaurant meals a week…they were quietly assaulting my health.

Finally, on Day Seven, I felt more alive and clearheaded than ever before. I became more aware, more patient, more productive. My step was light, my skin glowed—I felt radiant. And so it went for the duration of the cleanse. I became keenly aware of foods’ effects on my body and mind. After a dinner out, I was sluggish and bleary-eyed the next morning. I began to crave the Conscious Cleanse way of eating, if only for the clarity and the feeling of functioning at full capacity. That sense of euphoric living is where Schaalman and Peláez have found success—they guide an average of five cleanses a year and have published a book called The Conscious Cleanse.

So, how to apply the lessons learned when real life creeps back in? Schaalman and Peláez refer to the 80/20 principle: Adhere to the cleanse blueprint 80 percent of the time, and enjoy those can’t-live-without foods (guilt-free) 20 percent of the time.

Now, several months post-cleanse, I often have one cocktail instead of two. I eat dessert when dining out instead of twice every day. And caffeine? I don’t need it. My mental clarity isn’t what it was during the cleanse, but on a daily basis I am more focused and less overwhelmed than I have been in years. I have a long-range goal, too: I’m already signed up for the November 2014 cleanse.

Bonus: In December, restaurateur Wayde Jester and culinary director Arik Markus opened Zeal in Boulder. The health-minded duo partnered with Schaalman and Peláez to create dishes adhering to the Conscious Cleanse guidelines (the menu is veggie-heavy, mostly gluten-free, and paleo-focused). Of note, the curried-carrot soup recipe below is pulled from Schaalman and Peláez’s book. Exclusive: Curried Carrot Soup recipe

Courtesy of the Conscious Cleanse; 8 servings

You’ll need:

3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons curry powder
8 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
4 medium stalks celery, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
5 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Directions: In a medium saucepan over low heat, cook coconut oil and curry powder, stirring, for
2 minutes. Stir in carrots, celery, and yellow onion; toss to coat; and cook, stirring
frequently for 10 minutes. Stir in vegetable broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low,
and simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are very tender. Allow to sit for 1 minute,
and skim grease from top of soup if necessary. In a blender, and working in batches of
no more than 2 cups, purée soup. Return soup to the pot, and heat through. Season with
lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper, and serve.

—Image from Trunk Archive