Two months ago, I shared my review of The Collagen Diet by Dr Josh Axe. The key takeaway for me was how important adding collagen to your diet is. To find out why and what all the benefits of collagen are, give my review a read over here.
The key “method” he uses to get you started on a collagen-loaded diet is with his three-day collagen cleanse. As I quoted in my review and I’m going to quote again, of The Collagen Cleanse Dr Axe claims;
In just three days, the collagen cleanse can help you lose weight, normalise blood sugar, decrease cholesterol, promote growth hormone, help you think more clearly, slash inflammation, reset hunger hormones to healthy levels, slow the ageing process and possibly add years to your life.
It’s hard to not read his book and not be sold on collagen, but more impressively, I’ve never read a diet book that has sold me on a cleanse. The last time I attempted anything close to one was when Zissy coerced me into joining her disastrous celery juice experiment (you can read about that here), of which the only requisite was to drink a glass of celery juice every morning on an empty stomach; it had no influence on the rest of the day’s meals. This three-day cleanse that I had become so keen to sign on for involved a combination of intermittent fasting and a limited liquid diet!
The biggest obstacle (believe it or not) was finding a Kosher collagen powder and being that it is an important component of the cleanse, I couldn’t do the cleanse without it. Luckily, weeks of on and off research led me to this diamond on Faithful to Nature. I call it a diamond because it turned out to be an A+ product that I would use instead of any protein powder in a heartbeat and it was also exorbitantly expensive. But …. you can’t put a price on health, right?
With powder in hand, I was ready to begin. Begin planning to do the cleanse that is. This is no ‘wake up and dive straight in’ diet plan; it takes planning, prep and ideally a household that has agreed to do the cleanse with you. If that household comes with a chef who is experienced in making bone broth and creating a variety of delicious vegetable juices – you’re the perfect candidate to give this a try.
So, what is The Collagen Cleanse?
Dr Axe descries the collagen cleanse as;
A simple no gimmicks approach that allows you to take advantage of two incredibly powerful health-transforming strategies: intermittent fasting and collagen loading.
A cleanse is a dietary strategy that supports detoxification, something collagen is very good at. Intermittent Fasting is when you eat for a certain window during the day so that your body has a longer than usual stretch without food. “[Intermittent fasting can] activate molecular signaling pathways that “optimize physiological function, enhance performance, and slow ageing and disease processes.””
So how does it work?
By only consuming liquids, you reduce the amount of stress that your digestive system is typically subjected to on a daily basis. This provides your GI system an opportunity to rest and repair, all the while, healing your body with the nutrients that you are taking in.
The reason we do cleanses with fluid – and these fluids in particular – is that broth, veggie juice, and herbal tea are “serum soluble”. That means that your blood stream and cells can easily absorb them, so the nutrients they contain make their way quickly and efficiently into your body.
What separates the collagen cleanse from other cleanses is that it provides the trace minerals you need for ongoing energy, immunity, digestion, and cellular repair and he says that because other cleanses often lack electrolytes, they can cause brain fog, fatigue and moodiness. Furthermore, the addition of collagen-loading prevents the muscle loss that usually accompanies fasting-related weight loss.
- Consume only liquids
- Get two servings of collagen daily – one coming from real bone broth
- Have two cups of antioxidant-rich raw juice made mainly from vegetables
- Drink at least two cups of herbal tea
- Drink two to four cups of water
- If you want, you can have one to two cups of black coffee, but never after noon.
- Listen to your body. If you are weak, light-headed, or fatigued you can have an extra juice with collagen protein and if that doesn’t help, you can add a snack. He suggested a cup of steamed vegetables, an avocado or a handful of berries.
- He suggests you try an eight-hour eating window.
- If you’re exercising, he suggests doing it in the morning as you’ll get the biggest fat burn in a fasted state, but that you should have a serving of collagen immediately after.
My Experience of The Collagen Cleanse
First and foremost, I need to credit my family for being so eager to do this cleanse with me. It was something that we were all excited to try and doing it in a group made it a much more pleasant experience. If you’re attempting to half starve yourself, it’s easier if you don’t have a house mate biting into a donut next to you, or if they’re healthier, a steamed sweet potato, because let me tell you, by day three that’s what you’re going to crave. It was also useful to be able to exchange notes on how we were all feeling. Having said that, I have a sneaky suspicion that if I wanted to repeat this cleanse in the future, I’d be hard-pressed to get anyone on board a second time. The more you know.
I also need to credit my sisters for taking charge on all the prep work. In perfect CEO-like fashion, I managed to not only convince everyone to do it with me, but they were so invested that they did the leg work. To start with, sister 1 is the reason we found and bought the collagen powder, and sister 2 (Zissy) did everything else. She made all the bone broth, concocted vegetables juice and smoothie recipes that were way nicer than the recipes provided in the book, did all the shopping (which resulted in a boot load of fruit and veggies) and then made all the beverages. All I had to do was show up. I did however assist with one of the juice batches and clean up. Noble, I know.
Aside for prep work, you also need to pre-decide how to structure your days in accordance with the allowed eating windows. In the book, Dr Axe gives the option of six, eight and ten hours, but recommends eight. Despite this, we determined our eating window based on what would suit our day best and decided on ten, allowing us to have breakfast at 8am and dinner at 6pm.
The daily “meal plan” script he provides switches the order of what he consumes when, but they all contain two vegetable juices, one collagen smoothie and one bone broth serving. We chose to standardize, assigning the smoothies for breakfast at 8am, the juices for snack and lunch at 12pm and 3pm respectively, and the bone broth for dinner at 6pm.
Day 1 started out pretty great. Did it help that the night before was my mom’s birthday dinner, which ended with an epic warm oozy chocolate cake topped with ice cream, berries and chocolate sauce? Yes, it did. Because boy was I going to need extra calories stored.
Using his recommendation and our usual workout style, the day began with a strength workout at 6.30am, followed by our smoothie breakfast not long after.
For our first smoothie of the cleanse, Zissy combined raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and banana with the collagen powder and coconut milk. Despite the oddness of consuming a smoothie for breakfast in the middle of winter, it was enjoyable. I felt satisfied, not full – a theme that continued throughout the day.
I managed to keep a high level of focus throughout the day, but eagerly watched the clock for both juice windows. The first was a carrot, turmeric, and orange mix, the second was a green winner that we repeated on each day, consisting of apple, lemon, cucumber, spinach, and celery.
Zissy on the other hand wasn’t fairing as well. She complained about a headache and feeling very tired. In the afternoon, I caught her looking at a bread recipe. I asked her if she was window eating and this quickly became a joke throughout the 3 days. She was however not window eating and rather looking at instructions for the next phase of her carefully planned sour dough experiment, because the plan was to end the cleanse with an epic sour dough breakfast (we believe in balance).
Late into the day, I realised I should’ve weighed myself at the start of the cleanse so that I had one set of before and after figures to assess whether the claims of the cleanse did work.
Dinner proved to be the most successful. Bone broth bowls are delicious, especially in winter. Bone broth bowls without any vegetables or protein in it? Still nice but lacking.
In between meals, I made sure to get in my hydration and managed three waters, three green teas and one herbal tea.
I corrected my faux pas from day one and started the day by weighing myself. From what I estimated that I had probably weighed at the start, I had already lost about 600g. I already felt very skinny, like any additional amount of plumped up liquid had drained out of my body.
We started the day with a speed run as we assumed (correctly) that this was the last possible time during the cleanse that we would have enough energy for high endurance exercise. I coped but it was by no means speedy and by the time I got to the last hill, I struggled to conquer it. I had clearly burned through the last threads of my energy reserves.
At breakfast, I made sure to sip my pineapple, spinach and banana collagen smoothie extra slowly in the hopes it would really fill me up. Worked for a minute but mainly didn’t.
I had finally caught up to how Zissy was feeling on day one and still was, and had a tough time focusing on my work. I developed a light headache and was so tired that I needed a mid-morning one-hour nap. In general, I was craving eating real food, including a big bulky nougat caramel filled chocolate. This is the problem with cleanses!
Ironically, we must have all been suffering from brain fog because we didn’t attempt his tip of “listen to your body”, “add an extra juice with collagen or a light snack”. In all honesty, had it not been during Corona stay-at-home times, we probably would have needed to. Being at home, with beds nearby really helped.
As I sipped my first juice of the day (beetroot, apple, ginger and lemon), I tried to imagine eating a salad with the same ingredients. That’s a new definition of SAD.
By the time day three rolled around, we were all so super low energy that we couldn’t wait for it to end but at the same time, felt an immense sense of pride that we had almost done it. To do this cleanse takes an incredible amount of discipline and it felt good to test my self-control. However, I recognize how healthy my relationship with food is and knew I would not be left with negative after affects. I wasn’t going to feel bad about eating afterwards and I wasn’t going to crave redoing it over and over. This was a one time experiment.
Throughout the day, we all had thoughts of making use of the cup of steamed vegetables, but we felt that we were so close to the end and it would be cheating. Crazy. I know. This is the tricky thing about cleanses. They make you view food as forbidden (yes even steamed veggies!!), which if you’re prone to negative eating patterns can be harmful.
Despite how long it felt in the moment, it’s amazing how quickly three days goes. My general observation was that I constantly felt hungry but not starving. Zissy says she felt more weak than hungry, but she generally needs less calories than I do. If you’ve ever fasted – this is how you’ll feel for three days. By the time we woke up the next day to do our morning workout before breaking the fast, we were so out of energy that a simple strength workout was almost impossible to complete.
At this point, I decided to calculate how many calories we were actually consuming. I measured out every fruit, vegetable etc and imported the figures into cronometer. What I confirmed was not surprising but quite shocking.
For three days we had been living on between 400 – 500 calories a day, while still exercising every day, so essentially burning through half of these. For context, my body requires 1663 calories a day for maintenance weight, without exercise, and although I haven’t calculated it recently, I probably regularly eat between 1500 to 2000 calories a day. At a maximum of 500 calories a day, we were essentially starving ourselves – which is not something to take lightly.
So did it work and was it worth it?
Well honestly without having blood tests prior and post, I can’t know for sure if biologically it made changes within my body. I doubt so. For the Collagen diet to work, I believe you would need to take all his recommendations and implement them long term. After the cleanse, I felt clear and focused but was it because the cleanse did something or because I suddenly had introduced enough calories to feed me? I’m on the fence but jumping over to the ‘I had enough calories’ side.
Before ending the three-day cleanse (by biting into a delicious breakfast of fresh sourdough topped with avo and fried egg), I went to weigh myself again. In three days, I had lost 1.5kg. So yes, the weight loss claim is certainly true, but I had gained most of that back by the next day. I had also gained in equal measure a huge appreciation for chewable food, variation and not having to schedule my eating.
Dr Axe says that the people set to benefit the most from this cleanse are those with digestive disorders, suffer from fatigue and sluggishness or difficulty sleeping. We all agree that if you suffer from gut issues and bloating, this cleanse will certainly help with that. The only scenario we would attempt it again would be if we were having gut issues or feeling bloated and even then, one day might do the trick.
As I did with his diet plan in the book, I do have a note of criticism on the cleanse due to how he introduced it;
You’ve probably heard a lot about cleanses in the last few years, and you may have even come across some that require you to shell out a shocking amount of money for juices or other special ingredients. The collagen cleanse isn’t like that.
Well, if I’m being honest, after actually doing the cleanse, I think it actually is like that. The most accessible budget friendly item on this cleanse is bone broth (when made yourself). Given that it is so budget friendly, I do credit that he speaks of bone broth as the best source of collagen and truth be told, if this is all you had you could probably use it for your collagen smoothie instead of Collagen powder.
However, to do this cleanse as he prescribes, you need a few pricey items; namely, collagen powder, a juicer and a load of vegetables (it takes an astronomical amount of vegetables to produce one juice). Although he does describe how to make juice without a juicer, it sounds tedious and still requires a high-speed blender.
That being said, if you’ve ever considered doing a cleanse, this is the one I’d recommend. Want to give it try?
The juicer we used was by Greenis.
Some of Zissy’s juice recipes are here.
The Collagen Diet was given to us by Jonathan Ball Publishers and is available here. Jonathan Ball Publishers nor the author approved or reviewed this piece prior to publication. Opinions + images are our own.
Feige is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to code things, design things, and all things beauty.