Every January, millions of Americans ingeniously decide to improve their lives by doing things they really, truly don’t want to do: lose weight, drink less, go to the gym. With plenty of other self-improvement goals on my list, I’m checking off “diet” the lazy way: a one-day soup cleanse. And I’m doing it early, so others can benefit from my soupy experience. It should be easy enough because I already love soup—or so I thought.
Admittedly, I’ve eaten more than my share of less-than-healthy food over the last year—much of it for my job. How else would I know about the latest thing Burger King has devised, or what sort of fancy-pants buns Wendy’s is putting around its burgers? I’ve had a doughnut-bacon-egg sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts and wings at McDonald’s. I’ve gulped limited-time lattes as if the apocalypse were coming, and I’ve dabbled in unusual varieties of Pringles. Dear liver, I’m sorry, and this day of soup I dedicate to you.
Real Food Works, a diet startup in Philadelphia, recently launched a six-soup cleanse, a new spin on the $5 billion juicing business. “You’ll feel refreshed and rejuvenated, both during and after your cleanse,” its website promises. Perhaps it will make up for this year’s sins.
Here’s how the day-long cleanse went.
6:50 a.m. Wake up. Today, I cleanse! I immediately regret not having eaten a bigger dinner last night. I drink a glass of water and try to repress sweet memories of morning coffee as I get ready for work.
9:30 a.m. This is when I usually eat breakfast. Soup 1 is labeled “Detox,” and it’s the so-called anchor of the diet. The kale-based soup is watery and looks like something that’s already been digested. I reheat it in our office microwave and take the first sip. Bam: garlic. Not in a bad way. It’s just way more garlic than I should eat if I still want to have polite conversation this morning. I’m not hungry at the end of the bowl; I just don’t feel the type of full I’m used to after, say, wolfing down an egg-and-cheese sandwich. (Mmmm.) I need a mint, but that’s not part of the cleanse, is it?
10:39 a.m. I’m distracted by a primitive urge to chew on something and swallow it. Oh right, that’s called “eating.” Not today, wimp.
11:05 a.m. So hungry. Perhaps this glass of water will fill me up … oh, when will you stop lying to yourself? When?
1 p.m. Got caught up in work and haven’t had my second dose yet, so I’m ravenous for the smooth pumpkin-apple soup. The instructions recommend that I enjoy the soup “sitting at a table and pay attention to each mouthful.” But I’m so hungry, my only thought is how quickly I can pour it down my throat without choking. This serving is only eight ounces, and I’m ready for seconds.
2:10 p.m. I’m so cold. I bet Chris Hemsworth’s ginormous arms would keep me warm. (I’m blaming these delusions on the soup, by the way.)
2:30 p.m. Need more soup. Can’t wait to try Soup 3. Wait! What the. … It’s the same as Soup 1! But now it’s called “Purify.” I’m so disappointed. I angrily spoon the green liquid into my hungry mouth and pretend I’m not hungry.
4:16 p.m. My maximum walking speed is down to a sluggish crawl. It’s probably because I’ve consumed fewer than 200 calories all day.
5:30 p.m. One more soup before the workday ends. This time, it’s a beet soup. Yes, something new. (And sweet!) Actually, they’ve all tasted good.
7:30 p.m. I heat up Soup 5 at home. I’m suddenly not hungry any more. I’m just so tired of eating soup. Maybe if it were chunky soup with something to chew on, that would be better, but the soups are pureed to be easier to digest. Slurping down another meal just makes me feel bloated. It takes me nearly an hour to finish the bowl. I do notice that my winter-parched skin feels pretty good for the first time in weeks, as if all the soup I drank today is trying to escape through my pores.
10 p.m. The final stretch. Just one small dessert soup to go—a pear soup—but I am so ridiculously full. I force myself to finish it, one spoonful at a time. I don’t feel so great, but maybe I’ll feel fabulous in the morning. The six soups had fewer than 400 calories combined. Tonight, I’ll dream of turkey drumsticks. (Update: I didn’t feel fabulous, but I did feel good and oddly accomplished, as if I wanted a t-shirt to declare my survival.)
The six soups cost $72, so it’s not exactly priced for the average dieter. Lucinda Duncalfe, founder of Real Food Works, says she hopes users will do the cleanse once a week. This food reporter is personally looking forward to her next chewable meal.