Trying a cleanse might seem like a total dread. Starvation, low energy, a short temper: Who has time for all of that? These were my thoughts, too. But I’m here to tell you that if you’re feeling like you need a total body reset but don’t want to put yourself through the trauma, an Ayurvedic kitchari cleanse might be just what the doctor ordered.
I tried it, and the results were incredible. Not only did I lose eight pounds in one week, but I feel lighter, more energetic, and more clear-headed than ever — and it was so easy! The best part? I got to eat three delicious full-sized meals a day, didn’t bite off any of my family member’s heads, and didn’t lose my day job! If it seems too good to be true, read on to find out what’s so great about an Ayurvedic cleanse, and how you can try one too.
What Is Ayurveda? — Why We Cleanse
Ayurveda — the Indian sister science of yoga — literally translates to “the science of life.” It is a traditional system of medicine that aims to promote optimal physical, emotional, and mental health by internally balancing the body with one's external environment using a combination of diet, self-care techniques, and herbal remedies.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, our organs enter a natural state of detoxification in the fall season. Unfortunately, we need a lot of rest during this time so that our organs can properly eliminate toxins that have built up in our bodies over the last year — but because of our modern lifestyles, it becomes difficult to do so. Instead, the body often ends up overly stressed and therefore reabsorbs those toxins, leading to lower immunity and an increased risk of sickness and poor health.
Ayurveda, however, has a solution. Ayurvedic specialists suggest that a short cleanse during this time is just what the body needs to expel toxins and achieve a perfectly balanced state of health so that we’re ready for the upcoming winter and can protect ourselves from illness.
What is kitchari?
The basis of an Ayurvedic cleanse is a monodiet (or a diet where only one type of food is consumed) of kitchari — a traditional Indian dish made with basmati rice and split mung beans — along with a few other optional foods, like fresh fruit, oats, and cooked vegetables. The rice dish is prepared with detoxifying spices and is cooked in ghee — or clarified butter — which helps to bring balance to the mind and body, regulate digestion, and rid the body of excess toxins.
Kitchari is known as the ultimate Ayurvedic food because together, the combination of rice and mung beans form a complete protein, as they contain all the necessary amino acids to keep blood sugar balanced and energy stable during the cleansing process. Kitchari is extremely nourishing, grounding, and easy to process, so it allows the digestive system to rest and reset itself.
How to Do an Ayurvedic Fall Cleanse
The cleanse is simple. You can eat your kitchari (recipe below) three times daily alongside some avocado or cooked veggies, or you can eat kitchari for lunch and dinner, and have a meal of simple oats in the morning for breakfast (try a recipe for simple oatmeal, like this one from Banyan Botanicals). In between meals, you can snack on fresh fruit or soaked almonds, but be careful not to overdo it. To aid your digestion, it is recommended that you take a triphala supplement at nighttime, either in capsule form or by mixing a powdered version, like this one from Banyan Botanicals ($13.99, Amazon), in a teaspoon of ghee and adding it to your evening kitchari.
During the cleanse, make sure that you’re getting at least eight hours of sleep, and that you’re not exercising rigorously (try a restorative yoga practice instead). It is absolutely crucial that you do not overly tax the body during this process, and that you allow yourself proper time to rest. Additionally, Ayurveda identifies the tongue as an excretory organ, and it is encouraged to scrape the tongue in the morning of excess "ama" — the filmy layer on the tongue which holds toxic buildup from the intestinal lining — using a tongue scraper, like this one from Health and Yoga ($6.95, Amazon). For a guide on Ayurvedic tongue scraping, check out this one from Banyan Botanicals.
Another grounding and detoxifying practice you can try during your cleanse is an Ayurvedic oil massage using coconut oil or avocado oil. Simply massage the oil onto your skin by making sweeping, upward motions on the arms and legs toward the heart, and clockwise motions on the abdomen and joints before getting into the shower or a warm bath in the evening. The oils and heat help to draw toxins out of the body through the skin, lubricate the joints, promote healthy circulation, and stimulate the digestive system. This practice should leave you feeling warm and nourished just before bed.
There are a variety of ways to approach the cleanse. Personally, I followed this diet plan for seven days, but you can follow it anywhere from three to seven days, or even up to 21 days! If this is your first time trying it out, I’d recommend limiting the cleanse to a week. Whatever you choose, just be sure that you’re listening to your body and following a plan that works for you.
A Kitchari Recipe for Cleansing
Kitchari is very simple to make, especially thanks to kitchari kits containing the basmati rice, split mung beans, ghee, and a kitchari spice mix, like this one from Banyan Botanicals ($49.99 for a seven-day supply, Amazon). With a kit like this, you don’t need to scramble for ingredients, and everything can be prepared in just one pot! To make a balancing Ayurvedic kitchari, follow the recipe below. Note: This recipe makes about one serving of kitchari, so adjust if you want to make enough for multiple meals.
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 1/2 cup split yellow mung beans
- 2-3 Tbsp. ghee
- 3 tablespoons kitchari seasoning
- 5 cups water (you can sub 2 cups of water with 2 cups of coconut milk for a more calming dish)
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. grated ginger
- 1-2 cups of chopped vegetables (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- salt and pepper to taste
Note: For the fall season, it’s best to favor vegetables like asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squashes, and okra. Avoid raw and other gas-producing vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and white potatoes for the time being.
- Soak your rice and mung beans overnight. This is an important step because it encourages the beans to "wake up" and sprout.
- Before making your kitchari, wash the rice and beans until water runs clear.
- Heat ghee in a medium sauce pan, then add garlic, ginger, onion, and spice mix. Sauté until fragrant.
- Add rice and mung beans to pan and stir. Sauté for about a minute, until rice and beans are fully coated.
- Add the water and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cover and let cook for 30 to 40 minutes, adding chopped vegetables halfway through.
- Serve garnished with fresh cilantro or cilantro chutney, lime, and a few slices of avocado.
Note: There is no "right” texture of kitchari, so you can make it according to your own tastes. If you prefer a more soupy dish, add more water to the above recipe and forego the coconut milk. If you prefer a drier rice, substitute some of the water with coconut milk, but keep an eye on your dish to ensure it doesn’t dry out too much. The kitchari will dry out more upon cooling.
Ayurvedic Cilantro Chutney
A cilantro chutney is the perfect accomplice to kitchari, offering a fresh burst of flavor as well as heavy-metal-removing cilantro for added detoxification. You can serve as much of this chutney with your kitchari as you want, and it keeps in the fridge for up to a week! To make an invigorating cilantro chutney, follow the recipe below.
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (stems and leaves)
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup shredded coconut
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
- 1/4 cup water
- sea salt to taste
- In a food processor, blend cilantro, lemon juice, and water until cilantro is finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients and blend to desired consistency. Store in a container in the fridge for up to one week.
What to Expect
I know what you’re thinking: There’s no way I’m going to feel better after eating rice and beans for a week. In fact, I also wondered if this was going to be the gassiest week of my life, since beans can typically have that effect on me. Well, it wasn’t. Soaking the mung beans overnight before making the kitchari really reduced the gas-causing effect that legumes can have on the gut, and I didn’t experience any discomfort the entire time. Be sure not to skip this crucial step when preparing your kitchari!
The most notable thing to mention is that the first three days of the cleanse were the hardest, not because I was hungry, but because I was confronting and breaking old habits. Before starting the cleanse, I gradually reduced coffee and caffeinated tea for about a week so that my body wouldn’t go into complete shock. At first, it is difficult to give up things like caffeine and sugar, but after the first three days, symptoms of withdrawal tend to subside — and you may find that you’re not as reliant on them as you thought.
After day three, I felt more energetic and levelheaded than I had in a while, and I was already down four pounds. My digestion was better, and I even noticed a reduction in anxiety. There were times that I felt a bit tired, but when the feeling hit, I did my best to allow myself to rest. By the end of the cleanse, I was down a total of eight pounds, and I feel like my tastebuds are completely changed. I'm more sensitive to — and more satisfied by — the different tastes in foods I’ve been eating for years.
The Ayurvedic cleanse is certainly meant to be balancing for the body, but it is also incredibly balancing for the mind. This experience really encouraged me to examine my relationship with food and my body, and I found it to be very transformative. When you force your body to only consume what it needs nutritionally, it becomes easier to notice where harmful cravings arise from. Sometimes we reach for a snack because we’re bored, and other times we overindulge because we’re stressed or sad or overwhelmed. Sometimes we forego taking care of our own wellbeing because we feel that our obligations are more important than we are. Bringing awareness to my habits has taught me how to consume food more mindfully while changing the way I approach both my physical and mental health, and I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone looking to improve their overall quality of life. Happy cleansing!